I remember the day I met Angelo Mosca.
Actually, I don’t remember so much the day, as I do the hugely thick fingers and massive hand that reached down from the towering hulk of darkness standing in front of me and enveloped and shook my own six-year-old hand, wrist and part of my arm.
It was 1971. It was outside the entrance to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ locker room under the concrete and metal underside of the southeast corner stands at Ivor Wynne Stadium. My Dad took me to the game and we sat with my Mom and sister in the very last row – either Section 29 or 30 – wayyy up high and overlooking the huge expanse of field and stands that filled my entire field of view.
It all made an impression on me. It must have, since I also remember writing a “What I Did This Summer” story for my Lake Avenue Public School grade one class that September.
I called it “I Met Angela Moscow.”
I knew as much about football back then as I did about gender and geography. Not much. But that’s okay because, at that age, it was about going to the game as a family, something I don’t recall we ever did again. My Dad either lost interest in going to games or lost interest in taking us to the games.
Over the years, while in my 20s and 30s, I went to Tiger-Cats games with my own family of friends, sitting in Box A seats closer to the field and cheering on my own defensive line heroes that came after Angelo Mosca but were created in the same mould as the man who wore number 68.
Mike Walker, Ben Zambiasi, Grover Covington, Joe Montford – all of them tough, relentless, beasts on defense. All of them smiling, friendly and approachable off the field. Like Mosca, they have come to epitomize what it’s like to be a Hamiltonian, a Tiger-Cats fan, and a fan of the Canadian game.
Apart from the times you would see him walking along Balsam Avenue to watch football games at Ivor Wynne, I met Mosca again in 1996 when a coworker and I were invited into his apartment in downtown Hamilton. We were working on a wrestling project and I was there to shoot some photos.
“King Kong” Mosca was his moniker. Bigger than life. I knew nothing of Mosca’s wrestling career. Never liked wrestling. I was intimidated that day because this was the man who raised the Grey Cup in 1972 in front of a home town crowd. This was a CFL football legend and I was in his home. I’m sure it was air-conditioned but I sweated with nervousness and insecurity as I used my Canon EOS 650 and flash connected to an off-shoe cord to avoid the harshness of straight-on light. This was back in the days of film, so it would be days before I knew whether anything I shot on that afternoon had ‘worked’.
Mosca was warm, inviting and unbelievably friendly and patient. I told him my Grade One story about meeting Angela Moscow and he laughed heartily.
That, too, has been burned into my memory.
So it’s a good feeling to know the team will be retiring the jersey number Mosca wore while playing in Hamilton from 1958-59 and 1963-1972. Only the second jersey number to be retired by the team after Bernie Faloney’s number 10 was taken off the field, the ceremony will be held at home on Tim Hortons Field August 27 when the Ti-Cats play the Montreal Alouettes.
It’s a good feeling, too, that it will be done now, this year, while Mosca knows it is being done. Diagnosed with Alzheimers earlier this year, it is possible that, at some point, Mosca may not remember what the number 68 represents to him and his fans.
But Mosca being Mosca, he’s going to fight his toughest battle the only way he knows: one play at a time, one day at a time and swinging that cane at adversity the way he swung it at Joe Kapp during Grey Cup festivities in Vancouver in 2011. Take that, Alzheimers, you son-of-a-bitch!
Let’s hope, on August 27, some Dad or Mom will bring their son or daughter to the game, watch Mosca’s jersey number being retired, and get to shake those big, lovable meat hooks of his.
It will be a memory worth cherishing.