Toronto’s newest Tiger-Cats fan
By Anthony J. Minna
The NFL has a marketing campaign that proclaims “Football is Family.” It’s a feel-good promotion intended to improve people’s perception of a league whose reputation has taken a few concussion-level hits in recent years. The commercials are well-made, though I admit that, until this spring, I found the ‘family’ angle a little smarmy. Now, thanks to a kind gesture on the part of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, I only wish the CFL had thought of it first.
It all started in a Toronto bar in 2015. While glancing at a CFL football game on the giant screen, I thought I saw the name Capicciotti on the jersey of one of the Ottawa Redblacks players. My mother’s maiden name is Capicciotti, so I when I got home I did a little research. Sure enough, one of the Redblacks’ defensive linemen, a CFL East All-Star that year, was named Justin Capicciotti. Could he be related? As far
as I knew, the name Capicciotti was shared by precisely no one.
I asked my mother, just a few months shy of her 80th birthday at the time, whether there were any other Capicciottis in Canada. To my surprise, she told me about cousins that her family used to visit when she was growing up on Clinton Street in Toronto. Justin, she thought, might be the grandson of Tony, Ernie, or Frankie. All contact between the two families fizzled out, however, many moons ago.
I had no idea about this wing of the family. Now my curiosity was really piqued.
I wrote to the Redblacks, but received no reply. Justin was traded after the 2015 season to Saskatchewan. I wrote to the Roughriders in early October 2016 asking if they could pass a message on to Justin and sell me a Capicciotti jersey. Again, there was no reply, and a week later Justin was traded to Hamilton. I was beginning to wonder if my emails were so annoying that they were causing teams to trade Justin.
Frustrated, but determined to know if I’m related to a guy who brings down quarterbacks for a living, I went unannounced to the head office of the CFL on Wellington Street in Toronto this past November. As it happens, it was the day after the underdog Redblacks’ exhilarating overtime win over the Calgary Stampeders in the 2016 Grey Cup. Expecting to be thrown out on the street once I explained why I was there, I was pleasantly surprised when a Marketing and Events specialist named Kelly kindly offered to contact the Tiger-Cats for me and relay my query about whether Justin might be related.
A few months passed without hearing back from Kelly, so I figured my appeal to the league itself failed as well. But in February of this year Kelly wrote me to say that she had just heard back from Hamilton and that Justin confirmed we’re related. The Tiger-Cats would sell me a Capicciotti jersey in my mother’s size at half-price and Justin would autograph it.
The jersey arrived the next month. “To Anne. Small world, big family. J. Capi 94.” The look on my mother’s face as she stared at her name on our newest family treasure was worth a hundred trips to CFL headquarters. Just imagine a child on Christmas morning getting the perfect gift.
That night we did a little more sleuthing and found out that my mother’s last surviving cousin, Justin’s great-aunt Rosie, lives in Barrie. My mother is the only one of her five siblings still living. We called Rosie and the two cousins talked for the first time in decades. We’re planning a family visit in the next few weeks.
The 2017 CFL season has finally begun. There are some new and very serious Ti-Cats fans in Argo Town who will be cheering every Capicciotti tackle and sack (every Cap Wrap, so to speak), and every Hamilton victory.
After all, Football is Family.