Born: October 31, 1935 (Delray Beach, Florida)
Died: February 17, 2015 (Missouri City, Texas)
Canadian Football Hall of Fame (1976)
Tiger-Cats Wall of Honour (2001)
John Barrow was a dominant defensive lineman in the CFL in the 1960s, a feared hitter and perennial all-star. In 14 CFL seasons, all with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he played in nine Grey Cup championship games, winning four.
An outstanding college player at the University of Florida, Barrow came north to join the Ticats for a $10,500 contract in 1957. He played both ways for the first four seasons of his professional career, handling duties as an offensive tackle as well as defensive tackle. He had been drafted by the Detroit Lions and turned down later offers from the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers to play in the NFL.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound athlete was an Eastern All-Star at defensive tackle or middle guard for 12 of his 14 seasons, including 11 consecutive times from the start of his career. He was the anchor of a storied Ticats line including the hard-hitting likes of Billy Ray Locklin, Marty Martinello, Dave Viti and the feared (and hated) Angelo Mosca. The quintet gave the black-and-gold Tabbies a fearsome physical presence on the field.
“I establish something immediately the first time I face a young player,” Barrow told Paul Rimstead of The Canadian magazine in 1967. “Perhaps it will be a strong forearm across the face on the first play of the game. I’ll foul him in some way. If he doesn’t retaliate with a foul against me on the next play, or if he backs up, I’ve got him — maybe for the whole season.”
In 1962, Barrow was named the league’s top defensive player. He was named an All-Canadian for four consecutive years from the initiation of the honour in 1964. In 1967, as part of Centennial celebrations, he was declared the CFL Lineman of the Century. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1976 and added to the Tiger-Cats Wall of Honour in 2001.
Born in Delray Beach, Fla., Barrow played football for Seacrest High in his hometown before transferring to the Georgia Military College in Milledgeville for two terms. He earned a football scholarship to the University of Florida, arriving as an end before becoming a guard. He was named an All-American in his senior year, serving as team captain. (The vote was so overwhelmingly in his favour, no alternate captain was named.) Later, he was named a Gator Great as a member of the University of Florida Gators Hall of Fame.
In his early pro days, he had some success on offence. He scored a 36-yard rushing touchdown on a lateral in 1960, the same season in which he caught a 31-yard pass for a major.
Though he initially played as an import, Barrow was eventually reclassified as a Canadian player.
On a visit to Florida in 1968, he told the Palm Beach Post that football would always be in the shadow of Canada’s favourite sport. “The boys will play football in Canada only when you can get a hockey stick out of their hands,” he said. “Canada is hockey country and football just comes second.”
After retiring as a player after the 1970 season, Barrow became general manager of the Toronto Argonauts, a post he held for four seasons. He fired coach Leo Cahill after the Argos finished last in 1972. The coach took his revenge with several critical comments about Barrow in his candid memoir, “Goodbye Argos,” written with Scott Young.
Barrow had several business interests in Hamilton, not all of them successful. He lost most of his signing money on a device that attached to cars to improve fuel efficiency. He later operated a 24-hour bowling alley with another player. He did marketing for Carling Breweries and operated his own shop handling sales promotions. The Huddle Steak House was a later venture.
In 1965, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive line featured (from left) Billy Ray Locklin, John Barrow, Marty Martinello, Angelo Mosca and Dave Viti.