Tony Canadeo, a Green Bay Packers icon whose active relationship with the storied franchise lasted more than 50 years, died Saturday November 30th at age 84.
Canadeo passed out at his Green Bay home and was taken to St. Mary's Hospital Medical Center, where he later died, said his son, Tony Jr. The cause of death was not immediately known, but Canadeo, a longtime kidney transplant survivor, had been in poor health in recent months. He died around 4 p.m., according to a Packers spokesman.
Of all the players, coaches and executives who left an imprint on the Packers organization, none did it for longer than the affable Canadeo.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back joined Curly Lambeau's team as a ninth-round draft choice out of Gonzaga University in 1941 and was an active member of the team's board of directors and executive committee from 1955-'93. He served as a television broadcaster on Packers games along with Ray Scott after his retirement in '53.
In 1974, Canadeo was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Through the years, the Chicago-born Canadeo was a loyal member of the Packers organization, a figure well-recognized in National Football League circles as well as in his adopted home of Green Bay. He was a member of the executive committee when the Packers hired Vince Lombardi in 1959, and the two became close friends.
"I would say he would be classified as an icon among all those who were part of the Packers," said Robert Parins, the team's president from 1982 to 1989. "I think his contribution to the Packers really was with people away from Green Bay. He had great name recognition wherever he went."
Known as the "Gray Ghost" because of premature graying that started in college, Canadeo had his best years on the field came during some of the Packers' worst times. He played for Lambeau from 1941-'43 and then went off to serve in World War II.
When he returned, he began to flourish as a halfback in Lambeau's offense, finishing in the top five in the NFL in rushing from 1947-'49, despite the team posting records of 6-5, 6-5-1 and 3-9. In 1949, Canadeo became only the third player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, totaling 1,052 yards on a team that finished 2-10. He was the lone bright star in an otherwise dark period for the Packers.
"He was one of the greatest we had," said Tom Miller, a teammate of Canadeo's in 1946 and one of his best friends. "Everyone in the league knows him and how good he was. He could not only carry the ball and field punts, but he could catch passes. "He was a good receiver and a good guy. He was liked by everybody. He didn't have an enemy in the world."
Former Green Bay Press-Gazette editor Art Daley remembers Canadeo toiling through that '49 season without much help from anyone else. "The poor guy, they only won two games that year," Daley said. "It was Canadeo right and Canadeo left. He was the first real Hall of Famer for the Packers, and he did it during a losing period."
Before his postwar years, Canadeo played with the famed Don Hutson for three seasons and was a complementary player in the backfield. Hutson was charismatic and graceful, and Canadeo was tough and gritty. One had all the natural talent, and the other had tons of heart.
Some people still think Canadeo was the best running back the Packers ever had. He is the team's fourth all-time leading rusher with 4,197 yards. He led the team in rushing in '43, '46, '47, '48 and '49. He's a member of the Packer Hall of Fame. "He was one of the best-liked guys in Green Bay and a hell of a football player," Miller said.
Canadeo was the second Packers player to have his number - 3 - retired, following in the footsteps of the great Hutson.
After his retirement, Canadeo worked as a broadcaster with Scott, doing color commentary on Packers games. On March 7, 1955, he became a member of the team's board of directors, and on April 28, 1958, he was elected to the executive committee. On May 3, 1982, he was named a vice president.
It was shortly after he became a member of the executive committee that he was involved in the hiring of Lombardi, a little-known assistant coach from the New York Giants. According to Parins, team president Dominic Olejniczak and Canadeo interviewed Lombardi before his hiring.
After Lombardi joined the team in 1959, Canadeo struck up a friendship with the dictatorial head coach. The two shared Italian heritage and Catholic religion in a town very different from where both grew up. "They were very, very close friends," Parins said. "Even after Vince left, their families remained close. Tony spent a lot of time with him after games."
Canadeo remained behind the scenes during his years on the executive committee, but often he was front and center during league meetings. He was so well-known around the NFL that he helped give the Packers an identity when he and Parins traveled to NFL functions.
Though not a native of Green Bay, Canadeo embraced it like his hometown and the Packers like his family. He attended games until his health began to fail and remained a director emeritus with the Packers until his death.
"He was quite close to the organization all of the time," Parins said. "He loved the organization. He loved the Packers. He died when they lost and rejoiced when they won."
He received a kidney transplant from his son, Bob, during the early 1980s but continued to serve the Packers organization as he had in the past. He, Daley and Miller regularly went out to dinner and were still doing so before Canadeo's death Saturday.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced. The Packers have plans to honor Canadeo at their next home game, Dec. 7 against the Chicago Bears, and will wear a number 3 decal on their helmets for the remainder of the season.
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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