He was a five-time Grey Cup champion and is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
But Angelo Mosca will forever be remembered for the controversial hit that knocked tailback Willie Fleming out of the ’63 CFL title game, and subsequent fight with Joe Kapp, Fleming’s teammate, more than 40 years later.
The often colourful Mosca died Saturday at the age of 84. His wife Helen Mosca announced his death in a Facebook post.
“It is with great sadness that the family of Angelo Mosca announce 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.”
— x – Hamilton Tiger-Cats (@Ticats) November 6, 2021
Mosca was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after his 78th birthday in 2015.
Around the CFL on Saturday, Mosca was remembered as a “superstar” and a “legend.”
“Tough as nails, he overcame a hardscrabble childhood and became a household name,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. “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.”
Mosca was born Feb. 13, 1938 in Waltham, Mass., and played college football at Notre Dame. He joined the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1958 before being selected in the 30th round, 350th overall, in the ’59 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mosca elected to remain in Canada and was dealt to the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1960, eventually earning the first of his five Grey 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 Grey Cup win over Saskatchewan in 1972.
“The thing about Angelo, he was just bigger than everybody else and nastier than everybody else,” said former Toronto Argonauts quarterback Joe Theismann.
“He was just flat nasty. Fortunately he only landed on me a few times. That’s why I was still able to keep playing.”
The Ticats called Mosca the most legendary player to ever wear a Hamilton jersey.
“His contributions to the game of Canadian football, to our organization, and to the Hamilton community will never be forgotten,” the club said in a statement.
A five-time all-star, Mosca appeared in nine Grey Cup games but gained national notoriety for his vicious hit on Fleming in the ’63 contest. Fleming took the ball on a pitchout and was running to his right. He had been tackled just inside the sidelines and was lying on his stomach when Mosca came flying over top the Lions’ player. Fleming took a minute before rolling over and appearing visibly stunned. 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 the Grey Cup 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 Grey Cup. But he and the Lions gained some revenge by downing Mosca and the Ticats 34-24 in the ’64 title game at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium for the B.C. club’s first-ever CFL championship.
However, it appears time doesn’t heal all wounds. In November 2011, the two old foes were guests at a CFL Alumni luncheon during Grey 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.
Once Mosca was helped up on to a nearby chair, Kapp apologized to the crowd for the incident but shortly afterwards relayed a bizarre story about Fleming having a dog he named Angelo and how he beat the animal daily. Kapp and Mosca were supposed to talk about the Fleming hit, then the audience was to vote on whether it was a good or bad hit afterwards.
Prior to the incident, both Kapp and Mosca were reportedly seated at the same table when Mosca extended his hand to Kapp but the former Lion didn’t accept it.
Mosca also apologized to the crowd and called the altercation “embarrassing” but, predictably, wasn’t about to back down.
“It’s kind of sad. I don’t go to bed thinking about Joe Kapp every night. But Joe Kapp must go to bed every night thinking about Mosca hitting Willie Fleming,” Mosca said. “I have nothing against Joe Kapp and I don’t care about Joe Kapp.”
Following his football career, Mosca turned to pro wrestling and performed in main events at top venues like Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens and Madison Square Garden in New York. He also had a short stint as a broadcaster with the World Wrestling Federation. When that ended, he managed son Angelo Jr.’s wrestling career.
Mosca had lived for years in St. Catharines, Ont., with his wife, Helen. Mosca also wrote a book with Hamilton Spectator columnist Steve Milton entitled Tell Me To My Face, which was released in September 2011.
Mosca was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2006 in a TSN poll of the top-50 players in CFL history, Mosca was ranked No. 37.
“On Grey Cup Sunday, and for years to come we’ll lift up the story of Angelo Mosca as a shining example of what can happen when an incredible person and our amazing game come together,” Ambrosie said.
Helen Mosca said funeral arrangements will be shared at a later date.