Before There Were Helmets: Tony Canadeo

Tony CanadeoA continuation of our series on Packer greats from before the 1943 NFL helmet rule. If you missed the others in the series, you can find them here.

Tony Canadeo entered the league in 1941, just two years before the helmet rule. He started his career with the Packers, ended his career with the Packers, and continued contributing to the organization long after he had hung up his cleats.

Tony Canadeo “The Grey Ghost of Gonzaga”

Ted Thompson isn’t the only one who can find gems in the deeper rounds of the draft. The Packers drafted Tony Canadeo in round nine. He was undersized, lacked speed, wasn’t particularly elusive, he didn’t possess explosive power, but he had something intangible that made an immediate impact.

Opposing defensive players would comment that they never knew where Tony was going to pop out. And when he did pop out from between two massive linemen, he was a wild man.

Tony’s hair had already started to grey while he was in college, hence the name Grey Ghost of Gonzaga. But the man could do it all. He ran the ball, he threw the ball, he caught the ball, he played offense and defense. Tony was rarely on the sidelines and always had his motor running.

Canadeo played with the Packers from 1941-1944 before Uncle Sam called him away to fight in WWII. When he returned to the Packers in 1946, the team was changed. It was no longer a contender. But Canadeo was.

In 1949, Tony became the first Packer player to leave 1,000 yards and a slough of fallen bodies in his rear view mirror. At the time he was one of only three players in the entire NFL to accomplish a 1,000 yard season.

Packers Attempt to Retire Tony Canadeo’s Jersey

In 1952 the Packers retired Tony Canadeo’s number three jersey. It was just the second Packer number to be retired. That retirement lasted nine years before the stubborn little jersey decided to come out of retirement and play again. In 1961 Lombardi brought in a kicker to replace Paul Horning and issued to the new kicker, Ben Agajanian, the retired number 3 jersey.

I guess you can’t keep a good jersey down.

The Grey Ghost generated 4776 yards from scrimmage in his career as a Packer and 8667 all purpose yards. Fifty years after his retirement, only three other players have generated more yards on the ground wearing a Packers uniform. Those players are Jim Taylor, John Brockington, and Ahman Green.

Canadeo’s Continued Contributions

When Tony retired from football, he immediately moved to the broadcast booth but his contribution to the Packers organization was only beginning.

In 1955 Tony became a part of the Packers’ board of directors and he was a member of the executive committee that was responsible for bringing Vince Lombardi and a good dose of pride back to the Packer fan base.

Tony and Vince hit it off famously. Both had Italian roots, both were catholic, and both loved the game of football. They became close friends, so close that Tony didn’t have the heart to mention to Vince that he’d just given Tony’s retired number to a kicker.

On November 29, 2003, Tony Canadeo died. What he left behind was a legacy as a great football player, but more than that, he played a part in making the Packers what they are today through his efforts both on the field and off.

Before There Were Helmets: Tony Canadeo