Everywhere you looked at the 13th Annual Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner last Thursday night, you saw someone wearing a button. Considering that the Casino in the Park in Jersey City has been the site of several political rallies and functions in the past, one might think that this was some sort of election-related event.
Although the buttons were in full force, honoring a Secaucus politician, the evening had nothing to do with politics whatsoever. It was a night of reminiscence and remembering, honoring some great athletes and sports figures of the past.
The buttons? They adorned the face of Councilman Fred Constantino, but from his playing days, when he was a standout All-American quarterback at St. Mary's of the Plains in Dodge City, Kansas.
More than 150 people were wearing Constantino's football head shot on a button throughout the evening's festivities.
"I was flabbergasted by the amount of people who were wearing that button," said Constantino, who was one of three Secaucus residents who were among the 18 Hudson County sports figures inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Felix Addeo and the late Michael Tanner.
"I never envisioned anything like that," Constantino said. "With all the buttons, I really was touched and taken back. Other than my marriage and the birth of my children, this was the highlight of my life."
Before entering the realm of politics, Constantino was a standout athlete, first at the now-defunct St. Michael's High School in Union City and later St. Mary's of the Plains College.
Constantino, a Union City native, was a football, basketball and baseball star at St. Michael's from 1955 through 1958, playing varsity every year. While he participated in all three sports, he made his mark as a football player. Constantino was a three-time honoree on the Hudson Dispatch All-County team, even making the team as a 5-foot-4, 140-pound halfback as a sophomore. Constantino continued to make the team the next two years as he grew physically, but he only made it to 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds as a senior, the smallest member of the 1957 All-County team that included greats like Tom Liggio of St. Joseph of the Palisades (the current Hudson County Freeholder), Bob Lisa of Hoboken and fellow Hall of Famer and legend, the late Lou Rettino of St. Peter's Prep.
Constantino held his own as a basketball player, despite his diminutive stature. He was part of the St. Michael's team that captured the 1954 Parochial A state championship, with teammates fellow Hall of Famer Danny Waddleton and Paul Tagliabue, now the commissioner of the National Football League.
After graduation, Constantino went to St. Mary's of the Plains College in Dodge City, Kansas, which, at the time, was a familiar spot for Hudson County athletes. In fact, Constantino was joined out there by Lisa, whom he used to lock horns with during his high school days.
In college, Constantino was shifted from halfback to quarterback, where he earned Associated Press Little All-American honors in 1958 and 1959. Constantino was inducted into the St. Mary's of the Plains Athletic Hall of Fame in 1957.
"You can never duplicate the things we were able to do in college," Constantino said. "Being there to receive the award brought back such great memories, recalling all the great friendships I had and the episodes I was involved in. While I was speaking, I kept flashing back all the time. I really had to concentrate on what I was saying."
Constantino said that he was glad to attend college with so many Hudson County products.
"I think it was good for us," Constantino said. "We were able to get away and everyone did well."
Constantino said that he vividly recalls playing a school called New Mexico Military that featured two players who would distinguish themselves later on in life, namely Don Perkins of the Dallas Cowboys and a guy named Roger Staubach, who won the Heisman Trophy at Navy before becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback with the Cowboys.
"No one knew back then that they would become who they were," Constantino said.
Addeo was a standout three-sport athlete (soccer, basketball and baseball) at St. Aloysius High School in Jersey City, graduating in 1970. At St. Aloysius, he was the captain of the soccer and basketball teams, earning All-County, All-Parochial and All-State honors in soccer and All-Hudson County honors in basketball.
Upon graduation from St. Aloysius, Addeo went to Montclair State College, where he played soccer for two years. He first became a teacher in the Jersey City school system, then the Manchester Township (Ocean County) school system, before returning to school to become a certified public accountant.
While in college, Addeo began his career as a basketball official, where he earned his reputation as a solid and fair referee. He officiated at several state semifinals, state sectional finals and county finals in his career. He later became the president of the North Jersey Board of Approved Basketball Officials (Board 33), president of the New Jersey State Basketball Officials Association and was an executive committee member, representing New Jersey, for the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO).
Addeo has also dedicated much of his life to helping kids, as the coach of the Secaucus Recreation Biddy Basketball team for three years, competing for the 1996 National Championships in Puerto Rico, as a coach in the Secaucus Little League program and was the pioneer of the Secaucus Recreation Soccer program in 1990.
"I was so happy to be associated with the group that I went in with," Addeo said. "I had associations with Nick Mastorelli (of Union City) and Freddie Constantino. I refereed games that Jimmy Boylan (of Jersey City) played in. There were so many people present who I knew through my associations with sports, either as an athlete or a referee. Every time I go into a gym, a piece of me is with me, a piece of Hudson County. My heart is Hudson County through and through. I was able to reminisce about those great days."
The late Mike Tanner, a native of Secaucus, was a three-sport (football, basketball and baseball) at St. Joseph of the Palisades High School in West New York who eventually made his mark as a quarterback at Cornell University.
Tanner attended St. Joseph (1971 through 1974) and definitely left a legacy of greatness at the school. First, as a quarterback for the Blue Jays, Tanner earned All-Hudson County honors in both his junior and senior year and was selected as the Hudson County Back of the Year by the Fifth Quarter Club in 1974. He also earned Third Team All-State honors from the Newark Star-Ledger and was First Team All-Parochial.
"I remember the first time I saw him," said Gerry Bellotti, a fellow Hudson County Hall of Famer and one of Tanner's first coaches and long-time friends. "He was so big that I thought he was a lineman, but he insisted he was a quarterback. There was a group of kids from Secaucus who went to St. Joseph and they all grew up together. It was a natural fraternity, but Mike was always a little ahead of the rest.
Added Bellotti, "Mike could throw the ball across the field with ease. His arm strength was amazing."
Tanner was also a fine baseball player, earning All-Hudson County honors twice as an outfielder for the Blue Jays.
Upon graduation from St. Joseph, Tanner headed to Cornell, repeating the path taken by another Blue Jay legend and fellow Hall of Famer Don Fanelli, who accepted the award on Tanner's behalf Thursday night.
Playing for future San Francisco 49er coach George Seifert, Tanner was the starting quarterback as a sophomore, but suffered a season-ending injury. Seifert once said that Tanner was "one of the most coachable and cooperative players I have ever worked with."
Tanner alternated as the starting quarterback in a two-QB platoon during both his junior and senior year. In 1979, Tanner's final season at Cornell, he led the Big Red in passing with 595 yards and eight touchdown passes, while rushing for 205 yards.
After Tanner graduated from Cornell, he had a tryout with the Cleveland Browns. The Browns' coach at the time, Sam Rutigliano, said that Tanner "had a pro arm, but we think he's a little too small."
Tanner then concentrated on his career as a bond trader and began to work for Cantor Fitzgerald in 1983. He continued to work for the company, until Sept. 11, 2001, when his life tragically ended as part of the World Trade Center tragedy.
"I called his wife (Michelle) that day and I asked what building Mike was in and she said it was that one," Bellotti said. "I know I started crying. I hoped that he would have been able to get out. It was a tremendous loss to his family, but it was a tremendous loss to all of us. Mike just gave and gave of himself. I know he loved me and I loved him. He was a great athlete, but an even better person. I miss his friendship. I miss playing golf with him. He was a competitor all the way. I really lost a friend that day. We all did."
Tanner, 44, left his wife and two daughters, Sasha and Gianna. Ironically, Sasha Tanner is now being taught by Bellotti's wife at High Tech High School in North Bergen, completing yet another cycle.
"I coached for so long, for 20 years," Bellotti said. "Having the privilege to coach someone like Mike Tanner makes it all worthwhile."
When Fanelli finished speaking about Tanner Thursday night, the room rose to their feet. There was not a dry eye to be found.
Constantino said that he will never forget the emotions of the evening.
"It really rejuvenates you," Constantino said. "It was like I was living it all over again. It ignited me with a flair. It's something that I will never forget."
Nor will many others who attended the affair.