December 16, 2010

Former Stamp All-Star Tom Forzani looks back

Brian Snelgrove

He may have followed in his brothers’ footsteps but he left an imprint that was all his own.

For more than a decade Tom Forzani was a reliable, go-to-receiver for the talent-laden Calgary Stampeders.

Five times he led the team in receiving. He was a CFL All-Star in 1977 and had 50 or more receptions for the Stamps in seven different seasons. He is tied for the club lead with Allen Pitts for most consecutive seasons with a reception with eleven.

“My older brothers were always an inspiration to me,” says Forzani. “They liked sports as much as I did but hey were so much bigger than me. Maybe that’s where I got my speed from.”

Brother John was an offensive lineman with the Stamps from 1971-76 and has been a part-owner of the Stamps since 2005. Joe was a linebacker and defensive end for eight years, from 1968-75.

Younger brother Tom played his entire CFL career with the Stampeders (1973-83). “I have lived in Calgary my whole life with the exception of the time I spent at Utah,” says Forzani who was an outstanding basketball player and actually attended The University of Utah on a basketball scholarship.

“One day the football coach approached me and said he owed my mom a favour because my two brothers had gone to Utah. He asked me to come out for the football team, so I did. I went out and made the team.”
In his first season with the Stampeders Forzani caught 62 passes for 731 yards and was Calgary’s nominee for Rookie of the Year. He was selected Calgary’s top Canadian on four occasions and was a Western All-Star three times (1973, ’74 and ’77). He retired with 553 receptions for 8,285 yards and 62 touchdowns. Those numbers all rank second best in club history for the Calgary native.

“Playing for the Stampeders was great,” says Forzani. “Growing up as a Calgarian, the Stampeders were always front and centre. Football is such a great sport to listen to on the radio and I used to listen with my Dad. I watched my brothers play and used to go to McMahon Stadium and sit in the end zone for a dollar. That’s why it was such a joy to play for the Stampeders in 1973 and being able to play with my brothers was a bonus. As a rookie it gave you someone to lean on as more than just a friend. They were very supportive of me and without a doubt made my transition to the CFL easier.”

“A guy that sticks out who I played with that I really admired was Pete Liske. When he came back from the NFL in ’73 he was my quarterback,” says Forzani. “And Terry Evanshan. Larry Robertson, Herm Harrison, Jerry Keeling, these guys were my childhood heroes. To be able to play with them was something. And Willie Burden and John Helton. When I first arrived I got Wayne Harris’ locker. You just do what you are told. Somebody had to use it so they put me there.”

Forzani played against some of the league’s best. “Larry Highbaugh and Joe Holliman from Edmonton, Dickie Harris in Montreal, they had a very good team, Bill Baker on Saskatchewan and Ottawa had Tony Gabriel and Tom Clements. As for Edmonton I didn’t like those guys much, we kept getting our butts kicked. Dan Kepley was a vicious guy.”

Despite racking up some impressive individual numbers Forzani never made it to a Grey Cup. “Sure that was my biggest disappointment,” he says. “In ’78 and ’79 we were close but lost out to Saskatchewan and Edmonton.” 

Forzani’s number 22 was retired by Calgary in 1984 and his name was added to the Stampeders Wall of Fame in 1994. “Having my sweater retired was a thrill,” he says. “It was in 1984 in a game against B.C. I think and Tom Scott, who had come over from Edmonton, was wearing number 22. At halftime he took it off and the Stampeders presented it to me. It was a super night.”

Now 59, Forzani is active in Stampeder Alumni events, and various fundraisers through The Forzani Group. He is in his fourth season as coach of the Calgary Colts junior football team and spent many weekends in the past watching his son John play football at Washington State. John, also a wide receiver, was a third round pick in this year’s Canadian Draft by Calgary and will saw his first CFL action this season. “Yeah that makes me proud,” says Forzani. “I am very excited and also a little bit nervous.”

“I also love to play golf,” says Forzani who also has two daughters. “That’s my passion right now and I play as much as I can.”

”You could say the key to my success was a love of the game,” says Forzani summarizing his outstanding CFL career. “The competition, the winning and losing, I have always been very competitive, even today. And I wanted to excel at it. That kept the drive going. After I left in ’83 I sort of stayed away for awhile. I don’t know why. It wasn’t for about ten years that I went back to football. But I did now and I am loving it again.”