Earlier this week old time Ti-Cats fans were saddened by news of the death of one of the all-time best players ever to play for the team - John Barrow.
Then this morning - more sad news waking up to the headline that one of Hamilton's all-time favourite Ti-Cats - Angelo Mosca - was diagnosed with Alzheimer's this week.[url=http://www.thespec.com/sports-story/5453067-former-ticat-angelo-mosca-battling-alzheimer-s/]http://www.thespec.com/sports-story/545 ... zheimer-s/[/url]
There had been small signs of memory loss before, but it was an incident in January that scared the hell out of Helen Mosca.
Her husband — the legendary former Hamilton Tiger-Cat, a member of the CFL Hall of Fame and one of the league's most beloved and notorious figures — didn't recognize her. She had spent a week away in Florida, leaving Mosca at home with his adult daughter. And when Helen Mosca walked into their lakefront bungalow, her husband of 16 years thought she was his daughter.
"He said, 'You've got the same hairdresser as my wife, because your hair looks exactly the same,'" Helen recalled. It took two days for him to remember his wife.
There had been other incidents in the months before: In the middle of the night, Mosca would wake up in a panic, not knowing where he was, or speeding down the highway, at more than 140 km/h, before he realized he was going way too fast. And then, a few weeks ago, Mosca was knocked to the ground when his car — which he thought was safely in park on his sloped driveway — rolled into him.
That was enough for Helen. Terrified that her husband would kill himself — or someone else — she took Mosca for an MRI test to find out what was going on. On Wednesday, they sat together in a clinic to receive the results. Mosca was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, less than two weeks after his 78th birthday.
"The MRI showed a lot of brain damage," Mosca said. "I couldn't believe it. I wasn't bitter. I was hurting. "This was a real tough day."
When the doctor saw how badly damaged Mosca's brain was, he asked: "Did you get in a lot of fights as a kid?"
The doctor didn't know that Mosca was, for years, one of the most feared defensive linemen in the CFL — and followed that up with a career as a pro wrestler. On the suggestion of doctors and his wife, Mosca decided — then and there — to give up his driver's licence.
"I have to give him credit for making that decision, because that was tough," Helen said.
The couple is, not surprisingly, still digesting the diagnosis. Those with this type of dementia live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Mosca's long-term memory is still sharp. While showing off his memorabilia, the CFL legend clearly enjoyed talking about the past, often wisecracking to keep the mood light.
Despite the difficult news of that morning, Helen Mosca said it was good that a reporter and photographer were visiting and that he didn't break his appointment. "It was a good distraction," she said.
Mosca doesn't need to go far. He's a homebody. But they are considering moving closer to Niagara-on-the-Lake, where shops are more accessible to Mosca, and he can ride his new motorized scooter. "It's too secluded here," Helen said, gazing out the window at a large deck that overlooks Lake Ontario.
Mosca, listed at six-foot-four when he was on the Ticats roster, is slightly stooped, and he uses a cane — which he famously wielded against former B.C. Lions quarterback Joe Kapp over an old grudge. He weighs 315 pounds now, 40 pounds over his playing weight.
Dressed in a sweatshirt and sweat pants, Mosca lifts up his pant legs to reveal two badly scarred knees; those rebuilt joints, and two artificial shoulders, are testament to the physical punishment he took over the years. An artificial hip may be next.
What Mosca didn't know was how badly his brain was being damaged.
Alzheimer's is similar to CTE, but the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy usually present in younger athletes and involve problems with impulse control and aggression instead of mostly memory loss. Yet the presence of CTE has been found in more than 20 deceased professional football players, the New York Times has reported. The NFL, which settled a class-action lawsuit by retired players for an estimated $1 billion, expects about 6,000 former players to develop Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia in the coming decades. In hockey, the deaths of Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard were related to CTE, and Steve Montador died Feb. 15 at age 35 after lingering concussion symptoms.
Like Montador, Mosca said he would consider donating his brain to science.
Through this turmoil, his wife has been Mosca's rock. They met in 1996 in the middle of the football field when Mosca — by then a much-loved alumnus — was signing autographs after a Ticats game. Mosca had been divorced twice. Helen was previously married. Mosca was taken by her and he asked her to call him. "You know what? I don't call men," Helen said, but deftly slipped her business card into his pocket. A month later, Mosca called to arrange a date.
Helen was a little surprised when he showed up with three grandchildren in tow. It didn't make for the most romantic evening, but it reflected how much family meant to him. They were married in 1998. Between them they have sevenchildren and 13 grandchildren, including newborn twins who Mosca recently cradled in his arms like footballs.
"He's a teddy bear," Helen said quietly, so Mosca didn't hear.
Mosca said he sometimes gets teary-eyed at family functions, and it seems like a big step for him to admit this. After all, he has cultivated an image of being tough and nasty.
After the 2011 scuffle with Kapp, Helen was at home when the flood of calls came in, and the video of the fight turned into a YouTube sensation. "The first thing my wife says to me is, 'What the hell is going on down there?'" Mosca said with a big belly laugh. Helen is thankful that no real harm came to her husband.
"What people don't realize is that there was plate glass window behind the curtain," she said, "and he was very lucky he didn't fall through that."
Talk turned to the recent death of John Barrow, another legendary Ticat, and the issue of aging, and Mosca fumbled for words. "No, it never really bothered me," he said. "It's just that …. How can I put it?"
Silence. More than 30 seconds went by. Helen, seated next to him, wonders what he'll say. Is this too much? Did he forget the question? Or should we just move on?
"Yeah," Mosca said. "Next question."