Tony Gabriel - Tight End - 1974-1981 - Syracuse
Tony Gabriel enjoyed 7 All-Star seasons with the Ottawa Rough Riders. The Burlington native began his CFL career in 1971 with the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Gabriel had been highly recruited out of Syracuse University as one of the few Canadian born players in NCAA football at the time. Coming out of college Gabriel did have inquiries from the New York Giants but ultimately decided that his best opportunity was in the Canadian Football League. As a true tight end Gabriel enjoyed success with Hamilton. The team did advance to the Grey Cup in 1972 and Gabriel was a key contributor in Hamilton's 13-10 victory with several key catches on the winning drive.
On-going contract disputes with Hamilton General Manager Ralph Sazio eventually culminated in Gabriel getting traded to Ottawa in 1975 in a 5 player deal. Gabriel was already a star having been named the leagues top Canadian in 1973 and '74. It was with Ottawa that Tony would have his greatest impact. Gabriel did start his career with a contract dispute in Ottawa with then coach Frank Clair then in his words:
"Finally, on 26 June 1975, five days before the exhibition season opened, less than a month before the regular season's start, I signed a new contract with the Ottawa Riders. Smartest move I ever made." -Double Trouble-TonyGabriel&Stanley Filmore, Nelson pg.82
Tony was a true star in the Canadian Football League over the next four seasons he eclipsed 1,000 yards received every year. He was named the League Most Outstanding Player in 1978. Included in those years was his defining moment in professional football. In the 1976 Grey Cup contest versus Saskatchewan Gabriel caught a pass from Tom Clements or what is simply known as "the Catch"
It's known simply as "the catch." The scene: the 1976 Grey Cup. A frosty Toronto night. Late in the fourth quarter. Ottawa trailing Saskatchewan 20-16. Cue the comeback. Ottawa quarterback Tom Clements dropped back for a pass from the Saskatchewan 24-yard line hoping for a miracle. His prayers were answered when tight end Tony Gabriel slipped behind the Saskatchewan secondary and reeled in Clements' throw in the back of the end zone with 20 seconds left on the clock. Pandemonium ensued, as Gabriel was mobbed by teammates and fans. Ottawa held on for a 23-20 victory. Gabriel finished with seven receptions in the game, but none were any bigger in his 11-year, Hall of Fame career than "the catch."
Tony played with Ottawa through the 1981 season and had another great year with over 1,000 yard receiving and capturing his final Most Outstanding Canadian award. Ottawa was a suprise entry into the Grey Cup game with a 6-10 record. Led by upstart Quarterback J.C.Watts the Rough Riders and Gabriel faced the mighty Edmonton Eskimos. Tony was suffering from a partial ligament tear in his left knee but went on to play in what would be his final game. Ottawa would lose a heartbreaker to Edmonton 26-23 in what would be the last game of the incredible career of Tony Gabriel.
Fittingly the Ottawa Rough Riders would never reach the Grey Cup game again.
The last of a CFL era of tight ends Tony Gabriel was a true legend of Canadian Football and the Ottawa Rough Riders.
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