We The Italians | The Italian American stars in US sports: Football 1 of 3 (from 20s to 40s)

The Italian American stars in US sports: Football 1 of 3 (from 20s to 40s)

The Italian American stars in US sports: Football 1 of 3 (from 20s to 40s)

  • WTI Magazine #93 Jul 14, 2017
  • 43

At the beginning of the 1920s, the idea of "business of sport" was replacing the idea of the "sport of business". In 1920 the APFA-American Professional Football Association organized the first pro football tournament. Football, coming out of university campuses, summoned paying spectators, paid players and companies supporting the activity of the various teams. At the end of 1920 the Rock Island Argus newspaper chose the first All-Pro Team in history, indicating, role by role, the best players of the year.

In '22 APFA decided to change its name, becoming NFL - National Football League. In the same year the first shows in between the games were born: the Maroon Indians made their way into the field dressed like the Far West Indians, singing war songs and creating spectacular choreographies. In '25 the ever-increasing public and press attention began to encourage the best college football players to put aside possible prestigious out of Football careers and literally enter the fray. Red Grange, "The Galloping Ghost" who came out from the University of Illinois and was hired by the Chicago Bears, together with Baseball's Babe Ruth became one of the nation's most famous and best-paid sportsmen.

1926 saw the birth and the sudden disappearance of a new competing league of the NFL. The first competitor to try was the first AFL.

The 20s

Albert Felix "Al" Pierotti (born in Baston in 1895) was a pioneer, an athlete who made of sport his unique job. He played baseball professionally for two seasons with the Boston Braves and then football for 9 years, since 1919/20, with the Cleveland Tigers and then with New the York B. Giants (1921), the Milwaukee Badgers and Racine Legion (1923-24), the Boston Bulldogs (1926), the Providence Steamrollers (1927) and again with the Bulldogs in 1929. In the 100 yards field he was a good center, an expert guard and a fighting tackle, league champion in 1920.

Raffaello was born in Vinci, near Florence, on March 18, 1900. In the NFL data only the "American"documents of Ralph Vince exist: but he was born in Italy. No other reference exist to his original name, except for the name of baptism (Raffaello), the first letter of the second name, a D, and the date of birth, in addition to a surname very likely confused with his town country of origin (Vinci). Without information regarding his parents, I could not find a trace at Ellis Island, but I found signs of a very rich American life. On January 1, 1991, during the "Tournement of the Roses Parade", the event anticipating the Rose Bowl, one distinguished gentleman stood firmly for a few hours on the stage of the honor guests. He was a former 91-year-old judge representing Washington & Jefferson, one of the universities that over the years has won at least one edition of the celebrated college football game. His name? Ralph D. Vince. Having won a Rose Bowl with the college team and having graduated in law, Ralph started playing in the NFL in 1923 with the Cleveland Indians, playing all 7 games in the championship. In '24 he became the head coach of John Carroll University (he stayed for 9 years); in '25 he played again in the NFL with Cap Edwards' Cleveland Bulldogs and then, in '26, Ralph moved to AFL with the Cleveland Panthers. In '35, in addition to work as a law man and, on weekends, as a referee of college and pro football games, he run in the State Senate elections. In the years to come, he will be the director of the law department at University Heights and judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court.

Before football, there was no sport at all for the fullback Anthony "Tony" Latone (born in Spring Valley in 1897): no universities, no secondary education but 12 hours of hard work in the Anthracite mines in northeastern Pennsylvania. Orphan of his father at 11, he started working the only available job, that of the miner. Six days pushing the carts and, on Sunday, pushing the opponents. Tony excelled in the most physical aspects of football: a great runner, a big blocker, a great room supplier in line battles. He went straight to NFL, where he played for 6 years with the Pottsville Maroons (1925-28), the Boston Bulldogs (1929) and the Providence Steamrollers (1930), running more than 700 times gaining over 2,600 yards and scoring 25 TDs. Red Grange stated: "Latone was a great devil who came out of the mines, the most powerful football player I have ever seen."

In 1926 an exceptional event happened: in the roster of an NFL team (the Harford Blues) there were 3 players born in Italy, pioneers among the pioneers! Their names: Giuseppe "Scanlon" Santone (native of Campobasso), Giovanni "Jack" Bonadies (born in 1892 in Corleto Perticara in the province of Potenza) and Rocco "Rocky" Segretta (born in Italy in 1899, probably with the real family name "Segreto", originally from Sicily). Other Italian Americans of pro football in the twenties were the fullback Gus "Hope" Gardella (in '22 with the Green Bay Packers); Rosay Rosatti, a tackle who played for five years in the NFL with the Cleveland Indians (1923), then the Green Bay Packers (in 1924, 1926 and 1927) and the New York Giants in '28; Sam "Smoke" Salemi (born in New York in 1903), a windback who played in '28 with the New York Yankees; George Vergara, an end from the Fordham University who played with the Packers in '25; and Frank "Civy" Civiletto, wingback in '23 with the Cleveland Indians.

The 30s

The tackle and guard George "Moose" Musso was the prototype of the "Monsters of the Midway", the winning Chicago Bears of the thirties and the forties (he played there from 1933 to 1944): rocky, combative, fundamental player of the offense (he also was a 1935 All-Pro) and then of the defense, from his fifth season, when he started playing as a defensive guard. In '37 he was the first player to be selected in the NFL All-Pro both in the offense and in the defense. Moose was the captain of the Bears for nine seasons and played with them seven NFL Championship Games, winning four of them. The great George Halas called him "the greatest guard in professional football". Once retired, he entered in the catering business and was for many years the Sheriff of Madison County. He has been included both in the College Football Hall of Fame and in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Other Italian Americans in the NFL in this decade: John Dell'Isola, guard and center of the New York Giants from 1934 to 1940, NFL champion in 1938; Flavio "Bull" Tosi, an end famous for his speed, who played with the Boston Redskins from 1934 to 1938; Ben "Scaggie" Ciccone, a center who played up to 39 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1934-35), the Cleveland Rams (1936 AFL), the Cincinnati Bengals (1937, AFL) and again in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals in 1942; Silvio Zaninelli, fullback of the Pittsburgh Pirates from '34 to '37; Armand "Nic" Niccolai, a guard, kicker and punter for nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1934-1942) with a good result in points scored.

The 40s

After a great experience in college football with Gonzaga University, Anthony "Tony" Canadeo (born in Chicago in 1919) debuted in pro football with the Green Bay Packers, ending up being one of the best in the history of the Wisconsin team (his jersey, the # 3, is one of the five retired from the Packers during their significant sports history). Canadeo remained in Green Bay from 1941 to 1952, and he was a very versatile athlete: runner, returner, kicker, receiver, with an average of 25 yard gain per game throughout his career. In '49, despite the team's losing year, he run for over 1,000 yards (he was the third in NFL history to overcome this limit). He was be named in the 40s All-Pro and placed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Charles "Charlie" Trippi, son of Joseph, a miner, and of Jamie Attardo, a housewife, was born in '22 in Pittston (Pennsylvania). After a brilliant university career (All-American, College All-Stars) Charles decided to choose Football over Baseball thanks to the Chicago Cardinals and one of the most important salary of the entire NFL. Quickly successful among the professionals, he became one of the most versatile players in the league: runner, receiver, quarterback and punt returner. NFL champion in 1947 (Chicago Cardinals - Philadelphia Eagles 28-21), in '53 Charlie also became a defensive back and a very useful punter. He is a member of the College Football and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Many others were the successful Italian Americans Football players in that decade. Gary Famiglietti, fullback with the Chicago Bears (1938-1945) and the Boston Yanks in '46, three-time Pro All-Stars with three NFL Championship Games. The receiver Jack Ferrante of Philadelphia Eagles (1941, 1944-1950), 1940s All-Pro, playing three consecutive NFL finals and winning two of them. Dante Magnani, 1942 Pro All-Stars fullback who played from 1940 to the 50's with the Cleveland Rams, the Chicago Bears, the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions, scoring 2 TDs in 1943 Championship Game and another in that of '46. Joe Maniaci, fullback who played with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Chicago Bears, third best runner in the '39 NFL, Pro All-Stars in '40 and in '42. The guard Al Baisi played and won two Championship Games with the Chicago Bears in '41 in '42, he went to war and returned in '46 to win another NFL title. The guard Aldo Forte, Pro All-Stars in '40 and in '41. Amedeo Bucchianeri, guard, NFL champion in 1944 with the Green Bay Packers. Achille "Chick" Maggioli, who made 13 interceptions in his career (1948-1950) with the Buffalo Bills, the Detroit Lions and the Baltimore Colts. Enio Conti, born in Naples, guard for the Philadelphia Eagles, Pro All-Stars in 1942 (NB: you can read his story on "FIRST & TEN. Pro Football Players Born in Italy" recently released in digital and paper versions in Italian and English). Tommy Colella, a defensive back and halfback of the Cleveland Browns, AAFC champion in the 1946-1948 triennium.