WADSWORTH — Former Wadsworth High teammates were saddened to learn of the death of Ezra Eugene “Gene” Gossage, but there were a lot of laughs Friday when they traveled down memory lane.
Gossage, a 1954 Wadsworth graduate who went on to play on the Philadelphia Eagles’ 1960 NFL championship team, died Sunday in Old Saybrook, Conn. He was 76.
“When he came to Wadsworth as a fourth-grader, he was bigger than the rest of us, so he acted pretty tough,” recalled fullback Tom Marrin. “As time went on, he really wasn’t that kind of guy. He was mild-mannered.”
A two-way lineman who was 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Gossage also played basketball at Wadsworth, as did Marrin, who still remembers one particular rebounding drill with his teammate.
“Gossage and I used to get paired up in everything, whether it was gym class, boxing, whatever,” Marrin said. “Well, the coach was mad because we weren’t rebounding, so he threw the ball up and told us to fight over it.
“Neither one of us got a handle on it, so we ended up under the bench and it went flying, with guys scampering everywhere. I don’t remember who got the ball, but I remember that hassle lasted for two or three minutes. He wasn’t about to give in and I wasn’t about to give in.”
Gossage, a 1996 Medina County Sports Hall of Fame inductee, started his college career at Cincinnati and then transferred to Northwestern, where he was a two-time All-Big Ten selection under coach Ara Parseghian.
Gossage played defensive end and tackle for the Eagles, who picked him in the 28th round (328th overall) of the 1958 NFL Draft, but Joe Arpad remembers his former Wadsworth teammate was also a darn good playground running back.
As kids, Arpad, Gossage and several other friends invented a game they called Tackle Tag, which they played when heavy snow was on the ground. One person was “it,” making it the duty of the rest of the group to tackle him.
“Gene would tackle somebody very quickly, then he’d be it,” Arpad remembered. “We’d chase him all over the place, but no one could tackle him.”
Arpad, who was a year behind Gossage at Wadsworth, does remember getting the best of his teammate on one freakish occasion.
“I played tackle, so we were constantly going one-on-one,” Arpad said. “He was as strong as can be. The only way I ever got the advantage on him was when I broke his leg in his senior year in practice. I got to play the rest of the year.”
Gossage, who played 40 games for the Eagles from 1960-62 and then spent two seasons with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, suffered from asthma at Wadsworth and frequently took breathing treatments during timeouts and at halftime.
On the field, he often knocked the breath out of opposing players.
“I just remember how big and good he was,” said Gary Barnard, a sophomore when Gossage was a senior. “I was 140 pounds as a sophomore, and I’m holding the (tackling) dummies in practice for those guys.
“He was always nice to us younger kids. Now, it doesn’t seem like much, but back then it meant a lot. He always treated us well. When he would come back, he was always friendly with us.”
Gossage, who was born in Columbia, Tenn., on Feb. 17, 1935, is survived by wife Jacqueline, son Gene II, daughter Jennifer Carr and grandson Hudson Carr.
Gossage was part of the Philadelphia team that beat Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers 17-13 in the 1960 NFL championship. That Eagles team was led by Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Norm Van Brocklin, who played quarterback, and center/linebacker Chuck Bednarik.
It also featured a Wadsworth graduate who is remembered as a gentle giant and powerful blocker by his former teammates.
“I remember down at Wooster we got in a bunch of trouble because I changed the play at the line of scrimmage and we ended up fumbling,” Marrin recalled. “The next time we got down there, I ran behind Gene. Sure enough, the hole was there and we scored.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remembering gentle giant Gossage