January 29, 2015

Luzzi’s legacy

There are two main ways a football player can be remembered – he can be very talented or he can be a colourful character.

Donato Antonio Luzzi Jr. – more commonly known as Don Luzzi — was both.

Starting in 1958 when the Villanova University alum joined the Stampeders, Luzzi ably demonstrated his abilities as a player. Not only did the 23-year-old Connecticut native earn the Schenley Award as the Canadian Football League’s top lineman during his rookie campaign, he earned all-star recognition as both an o-lineman and a d-lineman.

Luzzi went on to collect 10 division and league all-star honours over a 12-year career with the Red and White that was eventually recognized by induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and his addition to the Stampeders Wall of Fame.

On top of all that, Luzzi is the answer to the trivia question: Who scored the first touchdown in McMahon Stadium history?

Luzzi was also well known for some of his crazy antics.

For instance, there was the innovative way he found to beat the system when it came to training-camp fitness testing. You see, Calgary coaches at that time insisted that all players run a mile in less than six minutes and 30 seconds.

It’s a fairly low standard for a receiver or running back, but a challenge for a big lineman. So at the Stamps’ 1964 camp, Luzzi showed up to McMahon Stadium riding a horse and easily galloped his way to a qualifying time.

The coaches were suitably amused, but then they made Luzzi do the mile again, this time on his own two feet. This time, it took him more than eight minutes.

A year later, aggravated by the Stamps’ lack of playoff success – Calgary won only three playoff rounds during Luzzi’s first seven seasons and could not get any further than the West final – Luzzi had a novel idea. He announced he wasn’t going to shave until the Stamps played in a Grey Cup game.

Now the tradition of playoff beards is pretty firmly entrenched in sports these days, but the idea was quite radical in the 1960s.

In no time, Luzzi’s face was full of foliage.

“My wife didn’t speak to me for two-and-a-half weeks,” Luzzi told reporters at the time.

The stunt didn’t work as the Stamps were knocked out by Winnipeg in the division final. Undeterred, Luzzi tried to make the most of the situation.

“I think I might dye it white and play Santa Claus for the kids at Christmas,” he said.

It wasn’t until 1968 that the Stamps finally made it to the big game and it took until 1971, two seasons after Luzzi’s retirement, for Calgary to claim the Grey Cup.

Luzzi witnessed the Stamps’ championship season firsthand as he chose to settle in Calgary at the end of his career.

While his former teammates were marching to the title in 1971, Luzzi was trying his hand at politics. He was the Social Credit candidate for the provincial riding of Calgary-Buffalo and lost by just a few hundred votes.

He was also a businessman as he operated the McMahon Stadium concessions from 1977 to 2004 and opened and managed a Tony Roma’s franchise.

Luzzi was also committed to serving his adopted home as he served on the board of directors of healthcare organization Carewest including a term as chairman.

He died on Oct. 30, 2005, at the age of 70, but the big man with the big heart will always be fondly remembered by Stamps fans.