HAMILTON, Ontario — Angelo Mosca, the five-time Grey Cup champion defensive lineman best remembered for a controversial hit and a subsequent fight with Joe Kapp 40 years later, died Saturday. He was 84.
Mosca’s wife, Helen, announced the death in a Facebook post.
“It is with great sadness that the family of Angelo Mosca announces his passing … after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s,” Helen wrote. “Angelo was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather as well as friend to so many.”
Elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1987, the former Notre Dame and Hamilton Tiger-Cats star was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015 shortly after his 78th birthday.
“Angelo Mosca was a superstar,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. “Tough as nails, he overcame a hardscrabble childhood and became a household name. A phenomenal football player, he played in nine Gray Cup games and won five, one with the Ottawa Rough Riders and four with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“Savvy, smart and ahead of his time, he built his bad guy personae into a personal brand that was bigger than life. Unloved in some markets, where he was the villain, his stature was unmatched in Hamilton, where he was a hero, and when he traded his shoulder pads for wrestling tights, he enthralled Mosca fans in countries near and far.”
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Mosca gained national notoriety for his hit on British Columbia’s Willie Fleming that knocked the running back out of the 1963 CFL title game.
Fleming took the ball on a pitchout and was running to his right. He had been tackled just inside the sideline and was lying on his stomach when Mosca came flying over on top of the Lions player. No penalty was called on the play but many — including then-Lions quarterback Kapp — felt Mosca’s hit was not only late but dirty.
With Fleming no longer able to play, Hamilton went on to win 21-10 and further enhance Mosca’s reputation as the CFL’s meanest player, something he later promoted during his pro wrestling days as bad boy “King Kong” Mosca.
Kapp never shook Mosca’s hand following the ’63 Gray Cup. But he and the Lions gained some revenge by downing Mosca and the Tiger-Cats 34-24 in the ’64 title game at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium for the BC club’s first-ever CFL championship.
In November 2011, the two old foes were guests at a CFL Alumni luncheon during Gray Cup week in Vancouver. The former players were called onstage before the crowd when the then 73-year-old Kapp attempted to give the 74-year-old Mosca flowers as an apparent peace offering but Mosca rejected the gesture with an expletive.
Kapp then shoved the flowers in Mosca’s face, prompting Mosca to attempt to push them away with his hands. Kapp then swatted Mosca with the flowers, and Mosca retaliated by swinging his cane and striking Kapp in the head. Kapp then landed a right hand to Mosca’s jaw, then a left that felled Mosca.
Born in Waltham, Massachusetts, Mosca went from Notre Dame to the Tiger-Cats in 1958 before being selected in the 30th round, 350th overall, in the 1959 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Mosca elected to remain in Canada and was dealt to the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1960, earning the first of his five Gray Cup rings that year.
Mosca spent two seasons with the Riders before joining the Montreal Alouettes in 1962. He returned to Hamilton in 1963 and remained with the Ticats until his retirement following the club’s home Gray Cup victory over Saskatchewan in 1972.
Mosca lived for years in St. Catharines, Ontario, wrote a book with Steve Milton entitled “Tell Me To My Face” that was released in September 2011.