The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are going to tell it to Angelo Mosca’s face on August 27.
Mosca, a fearsome defensive tackle in the Canadian Football League and an equally ferocious professional wrestler, will have his iconic No. 68 retired that night as the Tiger-Cats host the Montreal Alouettes at Tim Hortons Field. The south plaza of the stadium also will feature a wrestling ring to commemorate Mosca’s time in the squared circle. Mosca was a rare athlete who was sought after by card collectors in two sports, and his cards have held their value through the years.
There are two things that are memorable about Hamilton, Ontario, which I drove through last month on vacation — Dundurn Castle, the home of Sir Allan Napier MacNab, the Premier of the United Canadas from 1854 to 1856; and Mosca, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound giant known during his career as King Kong, the Mighty Hercules and Big Nasty.
“Angelo Mosca has had a larger-than-life impact on the city of Hamilton, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and the Canadian Football League, so it is entirely fitting that we bestow our highest honor upon him by retiring number 68,” Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young said this week.
Mosca, now 77, announced in February that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. During his career in the CFL (1958-72), Mosca played in a record-tying nine Grey Cup games and was on the winning side five times — four with Hamilton, and once with Ottawa. He also saw action with Montreal in 1962.
He appeared in 168 regular-season and 19 playoff games and was a five-time all-star. Mosca ended his CFL career with a flourish, as the Tiger-Cats edged Saskatchewan 13-10 to win the 1972 Grey Cup. He was enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
“He was just one great athlete,” said former pro wrestler Jerry Brisco, who teamed with his brother Jack at least twice against Mosca in tag-team matches. “He could keep up with anyone.
“He was a true bad ass, fast as heck. A fun guy to hang with.”
Mosca had several CFL cards issued during his career, particularly by Topps, O-Pee-Chee and Post, and his items (cards, autographed photos, magazines) still get lively action on eBay.
He made his debut in the 88-card, 1959 Topps CFL set (No. 72); a PSA-8 specimen of Mosca’s rookie card was selling this week for $195. It is arguably the key card in the set, challenged only by the uncorrected error card of Jackie Parker.
Mosca’s card remained one of the key pieces of cardboard in Topps CFL sets from 1960 to 1965, He remained a marquee player when he appeared in the 132-card, 1968 O-Pee-Chee set. In 1970 he appeared in the main O-Pee-Chee set and also in the brand’s 16-card push-out inserts.
Even in retirement, Mosca was feisty. A memorable scrap with former CFL rival Joe Kapp in November 2011 went viral on YouTube as the two elderly men brawled on stage before a stunned audience. The incident stemmed from a hard hit delivered by Mosca during the 1963 Grey Cup, a late hit on Vancouver’s Willie Fleming that was a pivotal play in Hamilton’s 21-10 victory.
“He just couldn’t take a quarterback’s punch,” Brisco joked. “I asked Mosca about that and he told me he wasn’t looking.
Probably not with each other, judging from the video.
Mosca re-emerged in cards with an appearance in the 1982 Wrestling All Stars Series A set, pro wrestling’s version of the Holy Grail of card sets. Mosca joined stars like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Ric Flair and Terry Funk in Series A (a Series B with 36 additional cards also was released). A few signed and unsigned versions can usually be found on eBay.
Mosca began wrestling part time in 1969 during the CFL’s offseason, following the paths blazed by former American Football League stars Ed “Wahoo” McDaniel and Ernie Ladd. McDaniel began wrestling in the offseason after playing linebacker for the Houston Oilers in the AFL’s debut year of 1961. After retiring from football in 1968, McDaniel went full time and embarked on a memorable career.
Ladd followed suit in 1961, and “The Big Cat” began wrestling full time after his football days ended in 1969. A defensive tackle like Mosca, Ladd would become one of pro wrestling’s biggest heels, a rare feat for a black man who assumed an arrogant, taunting posture as he starred nationwide, including in the Deep South.
Mosca followed the same path. He debuted in pro wrestling with a victory on February 21, 1969, against Gil Hayes in Calgary. Turning full time in 1972, Mosca competed for another 15 years before ending his career with a draw in his 769th professional match against Big Daddy Siki on June 14, 1987, in Toronto.
Mosca’s chiseled face and physique and distinctive, growling voice made him a natural rival to Gene Kiniski, the National Wrestling Alliance heavyweight champion from 1966 to 1969 who was billed as “Canada’s greatest athlete.”
One could argue that Mosca was Canada’s most recognizable athlete. He was colorful, profane, outspoken, dirty and despised — and loved.
“In 1968, (Canadian prime minister) Pierre Trudeau was the most recognizable man in Canada,” Mosca said in a September 2011 interview. “I was second.”
That bluster paled in comparison to Mosca’s haunting, brutally candid self-published autobiography, “Tell It To My Face.”
Written with Hamilton columnist Steve Milton in 2011, “Tell It To My Face” traces Mosca’s turbulent life. Born in Waltham, Massachusetts, to a white father and black mother, Mosca wrote that he was beaten by his alcoholic parents and was basically a child of the streets. He ran dice games as a teen and avoided the fate of some of his friends — jail time — because of his athletic prowess.
He played collegiately at Notre Dame and began his football career in 1958 with Hamilton. Even though he was drafted in 1959 by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, Mosca remained loyal to Canadian football.
Mosca’s greatest wrestling successes took place in Florida, Georgia and southern Ontario. He won 11 different wrestling titles, including the Southern heavyweight crown in 1984. He held the NWA’s Canadian heavyweight title five different times between 1980 and 1984, was the Georgia heavyweight champ and held the Mid-South Brass Knuckles title in 1979.
The night before Mosca’s number is retired, the charity fundraiser known as “Still Mosca” will be held in Hamilton. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Angelo Mosca Fund in support of Alzheimer’s Canada research. A portion also will be earmarked for the CFL Alumni and Ticats Association to assist needy members.
Several football and wrestling stars will attend the event, including wrestling legend Ric Flair. It was a jubilant Mosca who carried Flair around the ring at Starrcade on November 24, 1983 in Greensboro, North Carolina, after the “Nature Boy” defeated Harley Race to win the NWA title for the third time.
Mosca said he was thankful for the efforts by his wife, children and community for the “Still Mosca” event and the “Angelo Mosca Night” hosted by the Tiger-Cats.
“It has brought out a great deal of emotion looking back at my life,” Mosca said in a news release. “I am very excited at seeing a few old friends with new teeth.”