Green Bay Packers in the Hall of Fame: The Versatile Tony Canadeo

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

Tony Canadeo lived for 84 years, from 1919 to 2003.

Although he was born and grew up in Chicago, Canadeo attended college in the far west, at Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington. There he acquired the nickname “The Gray Ghost of Gonzaga” due to his prematurely graying hair.

What Canadeo was best known for were his years as a member of the Green Bay Packers, for whom he played from 1941 to 1952 (with the exception of most of 1944 and all of 1945, at the end of World War 2, when he was in the army). He was also in the Navy for awhile in 1943.

The 77th pick of the 1941 draft, Canadeo’s career surpassed that of most, if not all, of those selected before him. After all, he’s the only player from the 1941 draft who ended up in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Much like Herb Adderley a couple of decades later, the Packers already had two stars in the offensive backfield when Canadeo was signed (Clarke Hinkle and Arnie Herber) – yes, eventual cornerback Herb Adderley was drafted as a running back, and the Packers already had Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor – but future Hall of Famers Hinkle and Herber were nearing the end of their careers.

In training camp, Canadeo competed with Herber as well as Cecil Isbell for the role of quarterback.

Herber was waived at the end of training camp, and Isbell got the starting quarterback job, but Canadeo did get his chances to both run and throw the ball. 

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Canadeo, at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, was not especially intimidating physically compared with other football players, even in that era, but his tenacious and determined style made up for what he lacked in pure brawn.

Although not even especially athletic – being neither very fast nor shifty – Canadeo managed to grind out 4.1 yards per run, retiring as the Packers all-time leading rusher (at the time).

In a 1942 game, Canadeo threw a one-inch touchdown pass to Don Hutson, primarily to beat the four-inch touchdown pass “record” Isbell had earlier thrown.

When Canadeo ran for over 1,000 yards in the 1949 season (with 1,052), he was only the third player in NFL history to have achieved that milestone.

Although mainly a halfback with the Packers, Canadeo demonstrated his versatility by also playing quarterback and defensive back, punting, and returning punts and kickoffs.

After contributing to the Packers 1944 Championship (although not playing in the championship game itself, due to his service in the Army at that time), being named an All-Pro multiple times, and also being named to the 1940s all-decade team, Canadeo was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame (in 1973), and had his jersey number (3) retired in 1952, immediately following his retirement.

Also, in 1974, Canadeo was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Amassing over 4,000 yards rushing in his career (4,197 to be precise), Canadeo also intercepted nine passes while playing defensive back, and was not only the Packers leading rusher in 1943, but also their leading passer. Additionally, he caught two touchdown passes that year.

Canadeo had 47 total touchdowns in his career – 26 on the ground, 16 passing, and five receiving.

He averaged 11.2 yards per punt return, and 23.1 per kickoff return.

After his career on the field, Canadeo was a television commentator for Packers in the 1960s, and was also a member of the team’s executive committee.

As of 2018, the Packers have only retired six jersey numbers: Canadeo’s #3, Don Hutson’s #14, Bart Starr’s #15, Ray Nitschke’s #66, Reggie White’s #92, and Brett Favre’s #4.

At the time of his death in 2003, Tony and his wife had been married for 60 years. In fact, the Canadeos got married during the 1943 season. After the Packers lost their next game, coach Curly Lambeau said there would never be another in-season wedding on his team.

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Anthony Robert “Tony” Canadeo was born almost a century ago, but is still remembered, or at least recognized, by Packers fans everywhere.