Tony Golab

Anthony Charles “Tony” Golab, CM, football player (born 17 January 1919 in Windsor, Ontario;  died 16 October 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario). Known as the “golden boy” of Canadian football, Tony Golab was a hard-charging, versatile player with the Ottawa Rough Riders. He played with the team from 1939 to 1941 and again from 1945 to 1950, serving as an RCAF flight lieutenant and pilot during the Second World War. Golab played offence and defence for Ottawa, where his spirited style made him a fan favourite. He appeared in four Grey Cup games, winning in 1940, and was named Canada’s male athlete of the year (now known as the Lionel Conacher Award) in 1941. He is a member of the Order of Canada, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

Early Years

The son of Polish immigrants, Golab was a talented multi-sport athlete at Kennedy Collegiate Institute in Windsor. He excelled at track and field (particularly discus and shot put) and football, leading the  team to two consecutive championships and a 19-game unbeaten streak over two years. He also played alongside future Toronto Argonaut Joe Krol on the school’s basketball team, which won the provincial championship in 1938.

Football Career Highlights

Golab began his football career with the Sarnia Imperials of the Ontario Rugby Football Union (ORFU), winning a championship with the team in 1938. As Tom Hawthorn of the Globe and Mail noted in 2016, “The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Mr. Golab quickly earned a reputation for ferocious, bone-jarring tackles, as well as fearless plunges into the opposing line while carrying the ball. He also handled punting duties. Both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Rough Riders tried to lure him during the off-season, while the Imperials sought to keep their new-found star. In the end, he opted for the nation’s capital.”

Golab joined the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1939 and helped lead the team to three consecutive Grey Cup appearances, including a victory in 1940. Golab was named a Big Four (now East Division) all-star three times as a running back (1939, 1940, 1945) and twice as a flying wing, similar to a slotback (1947, 1948).

Nicknamed “golden boy” for his blonde hair and sunny disposition, as well as the “pile-driving Pole” for his punishing tackles, Golab’s spirited style of play made him a fan favourite in Ottawa. He made a memorable play in the team’s losing effort in the 1941 Grey Cup, kicking a high punt, sprinting out to recover the ball and running it in to score a touchdown. Also in 1941, he was named Canada’s male athlete of the year (now known as the Lionel Conacher Award) by the Canadian Press.  

Rough Riders’ coach Ross Trimble once said, “Golab is not only the greatest football player I've ever seen, but the finest boy a coach ever had to handle.” After seeing Golab play his first game for the Rough Riders after the war, sports writer Jim Coleman wrote, “Anthony Golab looked as terrific as ever. It was unfortunate that he chose the Air Force as his service, because the Army certainly could have used him as a high-speed tank.”


Career with Air Force

As an RCAF flight lieutenant and pilot during the Second World War, Golab took part in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and flew reconnaissance missions over Italy and North Africa. He was shot down twice and was once reported missing in action; he suffered severe shrapnel injuries but was fortunate to have been found by members of the Italian resistance, who transported him to an Allied hospital. (His brother, Frank Marion Golab, was less fortunate, spending four years in a Japanese POW camp after being captured in the Battle of Hong Kong.)

After his second stint with the Rough Riders ended in 1950, Golab worked his way up the chain of command with the RCAF. He eventually oversaw an air force base in Nova Scotia and a flying school in Saskatchewan. He was also on the staff at a NORAD base in Washington state and was battle wing commander at an air force base in California.

Coaching and Executive Career

Golab coached the Hamilton Panthers (1952–53) of the ORFU and the Royal Military College, Kingston (1954–58) football team, leading the latter to three consecutive conference championships. In 1968 and 1969, he served as general manager of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. He was also a consultant for Sport Canada from 1972 to 1984.

Honours

  • Inductee, Canadian Football Hall of Fame (1964)
  • Inductee, Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame (1966)
  • Inductee, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1975)
  • Inductee, Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame (1981)
  • Inductee, Canadian Forces Sports Hall of Fame (1994)
  • Inductee, Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (1997)
  • Member, Order of Canada (1985)

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