Rick Cassata - Quarterback - 1968-76 - Syracuse
Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame - Class of 2002
Outstanding high school athletes frequently possess the tools of stardom in more than one sport, and indeed the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame features more than a few multi-sport notables. Even among that crowd, however, certain athletes stand out, including a player widely considered the best three-sport athlete ever produced locally on the high school level -- Rick Cassata.
A product of Buffalo's West Side, Cassata first served notice of future greatness at Tonawanda High School. A strong-armed quarterback, Rick attained All-Niagara Frontier League honors as a junior in 1962, and added All-Western New York and All- American citations in 1963.
During senior year at Tonawanda, football scouts from Miami University and Notre Dame beckoned (he was the No. 1 prospect for the Irish, even more highly coveted than eventual Heisman winner Terry Hanratty), but Rick stayed close to home by choosing Syracuse University. With Cassata and Csonka in the backfield, the mid-1960s was a golden gridiron era for the Orangemen, and Bowl appearances capped off each of Rick's last two seasons in college. Although the 1966 Gator Bowl featured a fine performance from Cassata, he saved his best for last. In a memorable 1967 clash in the Hula Bowl before a nationwide audience, he soundly outplayed his counterpart, UCLA quarterback and Heismann winner Gary Beban, and captured the game's MVP award.
Rick also captained the Syracuse nine senior year, and faced another fork in the road after graduation, as scouts from the New York Yankees and Washington Senators crowded pro football scouts on his doorstep. Rick opted
for the Canadian Football League. Cassata flourished as a quarterback in the wide-open CFL, and his stellar 7 season career north of the border included a Grey Cup win with the Ottawa Roughriders in 1973.
1973 Grey Cup - Call the 1973 Grey Cup the Backup Bowl.
The Ottawa Rough Riders were forced to start Rick Cassata at quarterback when Jerry Keeling couldnít play because of a knee injury. Many didnít think Cassata was deserving of an opportunity to perform on the national stage due to his previous ineffective play.
Meanwhile, Edmontonís starting quarterback, Tom Wilkinson, was knocked out of the game near the end of the first quarter by Ottawa defender Wayne Smith. The Eskimos offence fizzled after this, and Cassata and the Riders rallied for their third title in five years.
Before the game was four minutes old, Edmontonís Roy Bell took a handoff, ran to the left side and sprinted 38 yards for a touchdown.
But the Riders responded with a TD of their own. Rhome Nixon got in the clear behind Edmontonís Billy Cooper and Cassata connected with him on a pass for a 38-yard scoring play.
Ever cool under pressure, Cassata combined with rugged running back Jim Evenson and unerring kicker Gerry Organ to clinch a sixth Cup for the Rough Riders. 22-18 at Exhibition Stadium.
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