Hamilton Tiger Cats

Frank Cosentino - Quarterback - 1960-66 - Western

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An eye for sport - Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury - 08-11-2011

One of the last Canadian quarterbacks to see significant playing time in the Canadian Football League, Frank Cosentino is long since retired, but far from inactive.

 

The author of 15 books, on topics ranging from football and hockey to the history of Almonte, the Eganville resident is now working on his third major book on the Canadian Football League. The book is due out in 2012, during the 100th anniversary of the CFL.

 

It has been more than 40 years since Cosentino retired from a CFL career that featured two Grey Cups with the Hamilton Tiger Cats. But football has remained a fixture in his life, as a coach, historian and fan.

 

He first played football in his hometown of Hamilton, Ont., where he had an inauspicious beginning in the sport, failing to make the first three teams he tried out for.

 

But he wasn’t dissuaded, especially when a growth spurt and successes as a baseball pitcher convinced others he might have quarterback potential.

About that time, his father died, leaving Cosentino reeling from the tragedy.

 

“I kind of went into a funk,” he recalls. “I didn’t do well in school.”

 

But life has a way of turning itself around. Growing about nine inches in Grade 11, he reached 6-foot-3, the same height he is today. He made the junior team that year, and the following season led the Cathedral High School seniors to the city football title.

At the time, he had no aspirations to play pro football. But he says sports may have saved him.

 

“Sports was a God-send,” he says. “If I hadn’t had basketball, baseball and football, I probably would have dropped out of school.”

Football continued when he headed off to the University of Western Ontario, but he still appeared headed for academic mediocrity, or worse.

Looking back, Cosentino said someone needed to light a fire under him, and that person turned out to be Monsignor Wemple, the dean at the university’s King’s College. Called into his office, Cosentino was told he had eight weeks to get his academic act in gear.

 

He did. By second year he earned a B average and was into business school, en route to a bachelor’s degree with honours.

 

But life was getting complicated. To pay his way through university, he worked with the Steel Company of Canada. Then, in his fourth year at Western, he and high school sweetheart Sheila McHugh (whose parents Charlie and Gertrude are from the Renfrew area) were married.

At university, he was holding his own as a quarterback, helping Western to two Yates Cups as the Ontario university football champion, including 1959 when they beat UBC for the Canadian university title.

 

He also emerged as the Hamilton Tiger Cats’ first draft pick, and his pro football career was underway.

 

Twice he emerged with Grey Cup rings, from Hamilton CFL titles in 1963 and 1965, when the team stars included defensive linemen John Barrow and Angelo Mosca, quarterbacks Bernie Faloney and Joe Zuger, and receiver Hal Patterson. The Cats went 10-4 each of those regular seasons, before prevailing 21-10 over the B.C. Lions in 1963, then 22-16 over Winnipeg two seasons later.

 

In 1963, Cosentino played his share during the regular season, but he never really got off the bench in the playoffs, except to hold for extra points.

In fact, one of his more exciting times as a Tiger-Cat included the previous season. The date sticks in his mind: Oct. 15, 1962.

 

It was one of Joe Zuger’s first games as quarterback, after previously playing defensive halfback. But Zuger polished his resume that day, throwing eight touchdown passes in a crushing defeat of Saskatchewan, before leaving Cosentino enough playing time to throw two TD passes of his own.

But Cosentino’s best seasons, as an individual, weren’t when Hamilton won the Grey Cup, but with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1967 and ’68.

After winning less than half their games in 1967, the Esks finished 9-6-1 for third in the Western Conference as Cosentino started 14 times and finished off the other two regular-season games. The Esks then lost a one-sided semi-final to Saskatchewan.

 

In 1967 he had one of his best statistical performances ever, completing something like 21 of 25 passes in a close loss to the Ottawa Rough Riders. That performance was followed by a visit to his hometown of Hamilton, where the Esks prevailed after star receiver Ted Watkins dropped a sure touchdown pass from Cosentino’s former teammate, Zuger.

 

The post-game coverage included a photo on the Globe & Mail’s front page of Cosentino hurdling a would-be tackler, as the caption referred to the former Tiger-Cat as Frankie Boy.

 

“I guess I was a fan favourite in Hamilton, but I was a reliever there. I knew my role,” recalls Cosentino. “But I also had a reputation for coming in and scoring a few touchdowns.”

 

During his CFL career, he completed 513 of 1,083 passes for a completion percentage of 47.4. He also threw 48 TD passes and 73 interceptions. His best stats were in 1968 with the Esks when he completed 169 of 330 passes for 2,809 yards. Sixteen passes were for touchdowns.

Cosentino was also active on the sidelines. The same year he won his second Grey Cup, in 1965, Cosentino helped found the CFL Players Association.

 

In Edmonton, Cosentino says it was different and refreshing to be out of the local spotlight, after playing in his hometown. But it wasn’t all rosy. There was a rough patch between him and head coach Neill Armstrong, who at one point decided to call all plays from the bench.

Following one shutout loss, Cosentino quipped to a reporter that he didn’t like losing, but that at least he knew his play-calling wasn’t to blame. He was hauled into Armstrong’s office and reprimanded.

 

That aside, throughout his football career, Cosentino says he carried his Christian faith with him. This included his customary prayer, during national anthems, to commit to playing the best he possibly could.

 

The third and last CFL team he played for was the Toronto Argonauts. While playing in Edmonton in 1967 and 1968, he worked on his master’s degree in the history of sport. Then he was dealt to Toronto.

 

But first, he had the opportunity to accept a prestigious scholarship, retire from football, and finish his PhD at the University of Alberta. He elected to play one more season, with the Argos, before continuing his doctorate. It was a busy time, but Cosentino says it was made easier with Sheila ‘holding down the fort’ at home with four kids.

 

In Toronto, Cosentino joined other striking Argonauts, as they held out for training-camp pay. They got the pay, and the Argos went on to place second behind the Ottawa Rough Riders, with the help of such long-haired renegades as Mel Profit, Dick Thornton and Dave Raimey.

“The spirit on the team was tremendous because all the players were where they wanted to be with the players they wanted to be with,” says Cosentino of the ’69 season, his last as a CFL player.

 

Tom Wilkinson was the starting QB, but Cosentino still saw plenty of action.

 

As proud as he is of his time as a pro player, he says the biggest moments in his life didn’t involve the CFL.

First has to be meeting and marrying Sheila. Second was the birth of their first child, Tony. And another big moment, reserved for football, didn’t happen in the CFL.  Cosentino says it was winning the 1971 Vanier Cup as head coach of the University of Western Ontario Mustangs, in a nail-biting win over the University of Alberta.

 

The Mustangs would also win another Canadian title in 1973, the year after he finished his doctoral degree with a thesis on the history of Canadian sport.

 

After retiring from the CFL, Cosentino stepped into his second major career, as a university teacher and coach. He was an assistant professor of physical education and head football coach at the University of Western Ontario from 1970 to 1974, before becoming the physical education department head in 1975.

 

In 1976 he moved to York University where he was a professor and chairman of the department of physical education, recreation and athletics, and later named professor emeritus and senior scholar. At York, he was also convinced to return to coaching on two occasions, for another seven years of work on the sidelines.

 

Now retired, he’s not really. He enjoys playing tennis and golf, and his writing continues.

 

By the early 1970s, his list of authored books began to grow. The 15 books he has authored or co-authored include Canadian Football: The Grey Cup Years; A Passing Game: A History of the CFL, 1969-1994; and works on world-class 19th-century rower Ned Hanlon, Almonte’s sculptor R. Tait McKenzie and basketball founder James Naismith, the Renfrew Millionaires hockey team, and the 1972 Canada-Soviet Union summit series.

“I like the research,” says the 74-year-old. “And I like to find the stories behind the stories.”

More than 40 years after his CFL career, he maintains a fascination for the game, as a fan and an author-historian, along with life philosophy that has gone basically unchanged.

 

As a quarterback, it was inevitable he would be second-guessed, just as other high-profile athletes are. But in becoming conditioned to handle that role, Cosentino said, “I wasn’t going to second guess what I did, or what anyone else did, not that you don’t try to reshape it.”

As a quarterback, he saw himself mostly as an encourager.

 

“And we brought up our kids that way too,” he explains. “Praise is a terrific way to bring out the best in people.”

The Cosentinos’ other children are Mary, Teresa and Peter, who has two World Series rings, from his days as marketing vice-president for the Blue Jays.

 

As a Hamiltonian, Cosentino continues to enjoy watching the Tiger Cats. However, he most enjoys watching the Montreal Alouettes, under the direction of QB Anthony Calvillo, or teams coached by Wally Buono, whose B.C. Lions have reversed a horrible start to this season. “(Buono) seems to be composed and thoughtful on the sidelines, and he always seems to come up with a good quarterback and the kind of athletes he wants,” says Cosentino.

 

Whomever he’s watching, the Eganville resident says it’s no surprise the CFL’s attracting a lot of attention. After all, rosters are larger than several years ago, and players are faster, stronger and bigger than ever.

 

-- statistics --

 

 

Frank Cosentino       Western  
    Passing        
Yr Team Att Cmp Yds Pct. TD Int Lg
1960 Ham 1 0 0 0.0 0 0 0
1961 Ham 59 23 356 39.0 2 4 41
1962 Ham 145 68 1,182 46.9 6 8 95
1963 Ham 30 16 370 53.3 3 3 57
1964 Ham 28 16 387 57.1 4 2 65
1965 Ham 121 51 876 42.1 6 12 58
1966 Ham 128 57 1,252 44.5 7 11 62
1967 Edm 330 169 2,809 51.2 16 24 66
1968 Edm 139 68 858 48.9 5 5 59
1969 Tor 102 45 800 44.1 9 4 74
Total 10 1083 513 8,890 47.4 58 73 95

 

  Rushing      
Yr Team C Yds Avg Lg TD
1960 Ham 1 4 4.0 4 0
1961 Ham 16 77 4.8 13 0
1962 Ham 49 364 7.4 33 4
1963 Ham 28 231 8.3 33 2
1964 Ham 22 127 5.8 24 1
1965 Ham 29 76 2.6 18 2
1966 Ham 19 75 3.9 22 0
1967 Edm 35 151 4.3 22 2
1968 Edm 23 89 3.9 17 0
1969 Tor 19 99 5.2 25 1
Total 10 241 1,293 5.4 41 12