For­mer CFL coach Bran­cato dead at 88

Helped Ot­tawa Rough Riders to Grey Cup vic­to­ries, played in NFL, worked in Arena Foot­ball League

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS -

OT­TAWA — Ge­orge Bran­cato, who won Grey Cups with the Ot­tawa Rough Riders as a player, as­sis­tant coach and head coach, has died. He was 88.

The Red­blacks, Ot­tawa’s cur­rent Cana­dian Foot­ball League team, con­firmed Bran­cato’s death in an email Wed­nes­day.

Bran­cato, a na­tive of Brook­lyn, N.Y., was a half­back/de­fen­sive back with Ot­tawa from 1957 to ’62. The solid, five-foot­seven, 177-pound for­mer Louisiana State Univer­sity star earned his first Grey Cup as a player with the Riders in 1960 be­fore claim­ing a sec­ond in ’73 as an as­sis­tant coach with the club.

He took over as Ot­tawa’s head coach in ’74 when Jack Gotta left the CFL team for Birm­ing­ham of the now-de­funct World Foot­ball League. After cap­tur­ing the An­nis Stukus Tro­phy as the CFL’s top coach in ’75, Bran­cato guided the Riders to a 23-20 Grey Cup win over Saskatchew­an in ’76 in Toronto. Tight end Tony Gabriel ce­mented the vic­tory for Ot­tawa with a 24-yard TD grab late in the fourth quar­ter from QB Tom Cle­ments, a play af­fec­tion­ately dubbed “The Catch.”

Bran­cato and the Riders nar­rowly missed reg­is­ter­ing the big­gest up­set in Grey Cup his­tory five years later. After fin­ish­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son with a 5-11 record, Ot­tawa surged to a 20-1 half­time lead over the heav­ily favoured Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos (14-4-1).

But the Eski­mos, with Hall of Fame quar­ter­back War­ren Moon, ral­lied for the 26-23 vic­tory at Mon­treal’s Olympic Sta­dium. Kicker Dave Cut­ler’s 27yard field goal late in the fourth quar­ter pro­vided Ed­mon­ton with the fourth of its five straight CFL ti­tles (1978-82).

Bran­cato was fired fol­low­ing the ’84 sea­son after the Riders posted a 4-12 record. He com­piled an 82-90-4 reg­u­lar-sea­son record with the Riders, fin­ish­ing be­hind only the leg­endary Frank Clair (116) in vic­to­ries. Bran­cato’s teams were 8-10 in the play­offs.

It was dur­ing his CFL coach­ing ten­ure that Bran­cato earned the nick­name “The Ice Man,” be­cause he rou­tinely chewed ice on the side­lines.

Bran­cato re­turned to coach­ing in 1989 with the Arena Foot­ball League’s Chicago Bruis­ers. After the fran­chise folded, he served as an as­sis­tant with the Dal­las Tex­ans.

He re­joined the Riders in 1993 as a spe­cial-teams and sec­ondary coach on Ron Smeltzer’s staff. The fol­low­ing year he was an of­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor with the ex­pan­sion Shreve­port Pi­rates.

Bran­cato was also an as­sis­tant coach with Saskatchew­an (1985-86).

He fin­ished his coach­ing ca­reer in the AFL with Ana­heim and Florida, re­tir­ing after the ’99 cam­paign.

Bran­cato played both of­fence and de­fence, spend­ing time in the NFL with the Chicago Car­di­nals (1954-55). He made his CFL de­but as a run­ning back with the Mon­treal Alou­ettes in 1956 and played mostly on de­fence with Ot­tawa.

He was a CFL all-star in 1961 and in­ducted into the Ot­tawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Ge­orge Bran­cato was a player and coach for Ot­tawa. He won Grey Cups as a player in 1960 and head coach in ‘76.

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