Ben Zambiasi - Linebacker - 1978-88 - University of Georgia
Class of 2004 - By Ted Michaels CFL Editor - Sports Network
If the Canadian Football League needed a marketing slogan to attract US-born players to Canada, perhaps Ben Zambiasi said it best.
"It's a league that allows undersized players to overachieve."
And that possibly best describes why Zambiasi will be heading into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame this fall. The native of Valdosta, Georgia, came to Canada in 1978 after a brief stint with the Chicago Bears. For the next 10 seasons, the 6-foot-228 pound middle linebacker was part of a ferocious Hamilton Tiger-Cat defense that helped lead the Tabbies to four Grey Cup appearances before finally winning the big prize in 1986. Zambiasi tore up the league, virtually from day one. In his inaugural season, he grabbed the Most Outstanding Rookie Award and was named an Eastern All-Star and CFL All-Star. In all, he was a league All-Star six times, an Eastern All- Star eight times, and won the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in 1979.
The Tiger-Cats won the Grey Cup in 1986, and while many would think that was the highlight of the 1986 season, Zambiasi begs to differ.
"The 1986 Grey Cup win in Vancouver was almost anti-climactic," said Zambiasi. "We had a two-game total point Eastern Final against Toronto the previous two weeks. After the first quarter of Game Two, we were trailing the Argos by 26 points. To come back and win the series was just beyond belief. I think that in the minds of every player, coach and fan, we were going to win the game against Edmonton. Even though up until that point, I had never been on the winning side against the Eskimos."
Zambiasi keeps busy these days as the produce manager of a local food chain. And, he admits he would like to get into coaching, so he expressed gratitude when he told me that Tiger-Cats head coach Greg Marshall had invited him to be a guest coach at Tiger-Cat training camp, which starts May 22. Marshall, no doubt, is hoping some of the Zambiasi magic rubs off on the players he'll be coaching. Zambiasi, on the other hand, just wants his charges to realize what a great game the CFL is.
"I knew from the first time I came up here, from the wider field, to the extra man, the unlimited motion, special teams, that my size was perfect for this league. But, this league allows guys like Pinball Clemons, (current Argo head coach) and myself to play. You can't measure a guy's heart."
The Hall of Fame has strict criteria when it comes to inducting new members, and that criteria goes through several levels. While it's easy for some to point the finger and criticize who's in, and who should be in, or slam the selection process itself, there is a protocol to follow. In Zambiasi's case, it was almost a revelation from his nominator.
Mark DeNobile, a former Tiger-Cat employee, was the organizer of last year's annual Wall of Honor ceremonies, where the names of former Tiger-Cats are put up on the south side facade at Ivor Wynne Stadium. During last year's event, which saw Zambiasi join other illustrious players, something struck him as a little odd.
"He was the only guy on the Wall of Honor, who wasn't in the Hall of Fame," said DeNobile.
"I thought it was long overdue. He was a stalwart in that whole era, and if you look at his numbers, they rank right up there with the best of them .."
So, DeNobile officially put forth the University of Georgia grad's name to the selection committee for discussion.
College: University of Georgia (1974-77) *** First-team All-America selection at linebacker in 1977 *** All-America selection in 1976 *** Helped Georgia to 1976 Southeastern Conference Championship and 10-1 regular season mark *** First-team All-Southeastern Conference in 1977 *** First-team All-Southeastern Conference in 1976 *** Second-team All-Southeastern Conference in 1975 *** Through 1994, Georgia's all-time leader in tackles with 467 *** Totaled a school-record 246 solo tackles during his four-year career *** Set Bulldog mark with 96 solo tackles in 1977 *** Led Georgia in tackles for three straight years (1975-1977) *** Fourth on Georgia charts in career tackle assists through 1994 with 221 *** Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Game in 41-0 1976 rout of Clemson *** UPI Defensive Player of the Week in 1976 21-0 victory over Alabama *** Received 1977 annual William K. Jenkins Award as Georgia's top lineman *** Named Georgia's Outstanding Defensive Player in 1975 and 1976 *** Recepient of 1977 Wallace Butts Memorial Award, presented annually to the Georgia football player who "pays the best price" to be a success *** Awarded 1977 Wallace Butts Family Scholarship, given annually to the Bulldog who best combines athletic and academic skills *** Academic All-SEC in 1976 *** Hall-of-Fame coach Vince Dooley says: "In all my years of coaching, I never coached a more intense and tenacious football player than Ben Zambiasi."