CATCHING ON – ONE GREAT CFL RECEIVER REMINDS US OF ANOTHER (again!)

CATCHING ON – ONE GREAT CFL RECEIVER REMINDS US OF ANOTHER (again!)

Brad Sinopoli has a habit. That habit is catching. Catching a lot of balls in the CFL in fact.

In the midst of a terrible season for the Ottawa REDBLACKS, Sinopoli has set another personal milestone.

Along with the rest of the team his production has slipped this year. Following 4 consecutive 1,000+ yards receiving seasons he has fallen back.

However that should take nothing away from a career accomplishment.

Which is two-fold. In a recent loss to the Argos, the REDBLACKS receiver went over 500 career CFL receptions. He also became the all-time leading pass catcher from an Ottawa CFL team.

He now has 447 catches, moving past Ottawa Rough Riders receiver Tony Gabriel’s 444.

Sinopoli as a catalyst to memory

For players and coaches active in the CFL they are always interested in the now. The next game up, the next opponent is all that really matters.

Yet for fans there is something enjoyable about reflecting on the history of the game too.

Brad Sinopoli keeps helping us do that. He had a great 2018 season. During which he set records that triggered looks back to the careers of Mookie Micthell, and Ben Cahoon.

Now by surpassing Tony Gabriel’s career number for an Ottawa receiver he has shone the spotlight on another great.

An Ottawa Rough Rider Great

Gabriel was not a pure pass receiver like Sinopoli. He was a pass catching Tight End.

So good was he at catching the football from the tight end position in fact that he arguably helped revolutionize offensive passing in the CFL. By the end of his career the Slot Back designation had appeared.

If you know football history then you know positional play is always developing. At one time Tight Ends were primarily extra linemen who caught the occasional ball out of the backfield.

What the Tight End did not do was lead as a team’s primary receiving target. Something Tony Gabriel helped to change – people perceiving the TE as a true pass catching threat.

First – Hamilton

Gabriel’s rookie season with Hamilton in 1971 saw him catch 20 passes for 285 yards. Workmanlike, but not spectacular. In 1972, he improved to 49 catches for 733 yards, finishing second in the East in passes caught.

Gabriel caught 40 passes in 1973 and then in 1974 caught 61 passes for 795 yards to lead the East in pass receiving. 

Then – Ottawa

That would be his last season as a Tiger-Cat as they traded him to Ottawa. He promptly responded by leading the East in receiving for the next four seasons (1975-78) and went over 1000 yards in each of those seasons. 

In 1977 and 1978, Gabriel led the league in reception yards with 1320 and 1362 respectively.

Gabriel’s numbers were down in 79 and ’80 although he caught 48 and 55 passes in those years. Good numbers for the era. The old Tight End went out on a high in 1981 as he caught a career high 73 passes and once more passed the 1000 yard barrier, for the fifth time in his CFL career. 

It says something that Tony Gabriel retired in 1981 and that was the year the CFL started using the term Slot Back for one of its All Star Selections.

The Catch

If you are an NFL fan in the UK, then ‘The Catch’ probably triggers thoughts of Joe Montana finding Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone to win the 1981 NFC Championship game.

If you are a CFL fan however ‘The Catch’ has different connotations. Particularly in Ottawa.

The 1976 Grey Cup was a tight affair between Ottawa and Saskatchewan. On a frosty night in Toronto the Rough Riders trailed 20-16 late in the final quarter.

With 20 seconds left and stationed on the Saskatchewan 24 yard line, Ottawa threw for the end zone. Tony Gabriel slipped behind the Saskatchewan secondary and reeled in QB Tom Clements’ throw in the back of the end zone.

‘The Catch’ has gone down in Ottawa sporting folklore.

Multiple Honours

Tony Gabriel had a hugely successful CFL career that ultimately saw him elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame, and the Ontario Sport Hall of Fame.

Gabriel was nominated for Most Outstanding Player in 1977, ’78 and ’81. He actually took that award home in 1978.

He was voted Outstanding Canadian 4 times (1974, 1976, 1977 and 1978). 

There was also the fact he was a ten time Eastern All-Star, being named to the team from 1972 through 1981.

In those same 10 years, Gabriel was an All-Canadian on 7 occasions too. An award he only missed on in 1973, ’75 and ’81.

There were 3 Grey Cup appearances for Gabriel, in 1972, ’76 & ’81. He took home a winners ring twice. Once with Hamilton in 1972. But he will always be remembered for the one he took home with ‘The Catch’ to win it for Ottawa in 1976.

Banner image: Tony Gabriel hunting the catch during his time as a Rough Rider. Image from Regina Leader-Post

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