Professional Football Player
In the often-changing world of pro football, the greatness of a player must be judged in the context of his era. However, even in the 1940s period of two-way play and versatility in the NFL, no player contributed to his teams in more different ways that the speedy, elusive “Albion Antelope,” Tom Colella.
Young Tom parlayed a brilliant three-sport career at Albion High into four years of magic at Canisius College. Colella is still considered the most exciting college football player ever produced by a local college, as well as one of the most versatile players in college football history. Colella’s multiple talents as a running back, passer, kicker, punter, defensive back, and kickoff and punt return specialist earned him not only Little-All-American honors three straight years, but a permanent place in Griffin gridiron lore. While Canisius’ 1940 upset of the previously unbeaten and bowl-bound Long Island Blackbirds remains a special moment for Canisius alumnae, Colella’s kickoff-return for a touchdown, two extra point conversions, and stellar defensive play added up to just another day at the office. Tom’s exploits earned him the first spot in the inaugural class of the Golden Griffin Sports Hall of Fame in 1967.
Colella was a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 1942; after two years with the Lions, Tom was traded to the Cleveland Rams and helped spark their championship run in 1945. When the Rams left town for Los Angeles, Colella jumped to Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns of the All- American Football Conference. Colella starred as a defensive back, setting a league record with ten interceptions in 1946, and also saw duty as the team punter, as a running back, part-time quarterback, and kickoff and punt returner. The Browns won the AAFC crown all three years that Tom played for the team, and with good reason. Although those Browns were loaded with stars at every position (quarterback Otto Graham, fullback Marion Motley, receivers Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie), they also possessed in Colella the ultimate weapon, a player who excelled on both sides of the ball and could (and frequently did) score in every manner in which points can be scored in a football game.
In 1949, Colella was traded to the Buffalo Bills of the AAFC, and thus enjoyed the distinct (true to this day) of being the only athlete to play for his hometown team in high school, college, and in the professional ranks. Today, the “Albion Antelope’s” place in football history, and in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, is secure, not as a distant memory from a bygone era, but with an ongoing ranking as the most talented pro football player ever to spring from the Buffalo area.