On Sunday evening in Edmonton, the Canadian Football League championship will be decided when the 106th Grey Cup game takes place. The Calgary Stampeders will have plenty of supporters rooting for them, including their most famous fan, WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart.
But, while the Stamps will have “The Hitman” cheering them on, their opponents will have a hitman playing for them on the field courtesy of the Garden State.
Rookie Anthony Cioffi has made his first season in the CFL a memorable one. A defensive back by trade, the former Rutgers star has been shining as the SAM linebacker (while playing some safety too) for the Ottawa Redblacks. The Springfield, New Jersey product has been all over the place for Rick Campbell’s crew. Cioffi has created havoc in his inaugural campaign north of the border, registering two sacks, forcing two fumbles, and recovering another. The biggest play made by this perennial ball hawk came last week in the East Division final when Cioffi intercepted Hamilton’s Jeremiah Masoli in the second quarter. The Cioffi pick was a major reason a close game turned into a lopsided contest that ended up being all Redblacks in the end. This is what Cioffi did as a Scarlet Knight and he continues to be Mr. Opportunistic in Canada.
Cioffi is one of the top rookies in all of the CFL. His skill set has a lot to do with that. Cioffi is fast and tough. He can run and he can really hit. Perhaps his best quality though is his work ethic. Just like his tight knit Italian family back home in Jersey, Cioffi continues to use the values he was taught as a boy to his full advantage as a man, often as the man.
In 2017, Cioffi spent four productive months in Oakland Raiders camp, only to be waived on the final cut day. The last place Raiders are missing out. Meantime, Cioffi is doing just fine as a Redblack, and while his stay by the Bay may now be bygone, he’s bringing some good old American firepower to Bytown.
Cioffi is playing in Canada but his play as well as the response to it has been unmistakably American. Cioffi has thrilled Ottawa fans with his tenacity and bone crushing hits. He’s old school on the field, like his hard working family is off of it. Cioffi plays football the way it was meant to be played. From Jonathan Dayton High School to Rutgers to Oakland to Ottawa, Cioffi has consistently brought the wood, and with it, he’s brought plenty of excitement to those watching him play.
The CFL and the NFL are different animals. The field size, three downs instead of four, twelve players on the field; the list goes on and on. But, there are certainly similarities in the two leagues, and Cioffi is experiencing it all first hand. Just like the NFL, the CFL has its share of ‘experts’ that talk a tough game behind the safety of a keyboard. Not unlike the jealous reporters in the U.S. who constantly hope for ball players to fail, Canada has its share of wimps who have a lot to say about a game they know little about.
After Cioffi lit up Hamilton wide out Luke Tasker in Week 19, some were pouting because the Redblacks rook wasn’t given supplemental discipline. Any real football person that saw the hit knows there was nothing egregious about it. Cioffi plays how he was taught. He plays like the tough guy that he is. After the Tasker play, the Twitter muscles were flexing. Some milquetoasts went after Cioffi personally for his hard nosed play. One clown even took pot shots at Cioffi’s family. Cioffi’s response? He went out and beat Tasker and the Tiger-Cats when it counted most, making the biggest play of his first pro playoff game. That’s how real men settle things. While losers continue to cry online, winners continue to excel on the field and in life. Just because Cioffi is in the CFL doesn’t mean he’s not getting the total professional football experience. The bumps and bruises on the field and the criticism off of it is just as real, no matter the country.
Whether the fans are eating cannolis in New Jersey or BeaverTails in Ottawa, Anthony Cioffi continues to put on a great show for all of them. If his rookie season is any indication, Cioffi has a bright football future ahead of him. While his faith in God, his love of country, and his traditional values may not fit in the NFL of Roger Goodell, his performance on the gridiron certainly indicates he’ll get another crack at playing back in the USA. That would be a sight to see. The XFL is set to launch in 2020. You would think Cioffi would be a perfect fit there. Whatever the case, there will be lots of pulverizing hits and timely takeaways to come courtesy of Cioffi. And if Cioffi stays in Canada, making a living playing football while playing for championships year after year, that’d be pretty cool too, eh? Fugetaboutit.
Follow Kevin Scholla on Twitter @kevinscholla