Bob Gaona was a fierce competitor and self-described `pretty rough guy" during his football playing career at Wake Forest under coaches Peahead Walker and Tom Rogers.
A two-way performer at tackle, he earned all-conference honors after nearly ending his college career prematurely with aspirations of joining the Marine Corps during the Korean War. Fortunately for the Deacons, those plans for military service never materialized, and when Rogers contacted Gaona to see if he would be willing to return to Wake the following fall, he was only too eager to do so.
Gaona was a fifth-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1953 and spent four seasons with the club as an offensive tackle. He played his final season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1957 before back problems and a trade to the Los Angeles Rams prompted Gaona to retire as a player. He was selected by owner Art Rooney as a member of his personal all-time Steelers team in 1982.
Following his retirement from football, Gaona and his wife Dorothy remained in Southern California where he spent nearly 30 years with the Rockwell International Corporation and worked closely on the development of the NASA space shuttle program. He remained actively involved in football as a youth league coach and as an official on the high school and college levels. He also re-established ties to Wake Forest through his younger son Michael, who accepted a swimming scholarship to Wake and graduated from WFU in 1979.
In 1995, Gaona and Dorothy returned to North Carolina - a promise he had made to his wife when they had tearfully departed the area in the early 1950s.
Gaona was inducted into the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 24, 1998. He was also a member of the Beaver County (Penn.) Hall of Fame, the Ambridge (Penn) Hall of Fame, the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame and the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity Sports Hall of Fame.
Gaona was born Jan. 31, 1931 in Ambridge, Penn. He died on May 23, 2001.
George earned All-America distinction as a tough, quick and extremely strong defensive tackle. He was a three-time selection to the All-Southern Conference team.
The native of Waynesburg, Pa., was a tremendous all-around athlete. In addition to playing a full 60 minutes in nearly every game, George also handled the placekicking duties for the Deacs. The school did not have a wrestling team, but he competed in the Southern Conference Championships as a heavyweight and won the league title three consecutive years.
In 1952, George became a second-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears and went on to enjoy a professional career that is still a large part of that famous team's history.
George joined the Bears as a middle guard and was part of a five-man defensive front. In a 1954 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, instead of rushing the passer in passing situations, George began to drop back into pass coverage. And then he started lining up off the center and on two feet rather than in a three-point stance. Thus, he is credited with "inventing" the position of middle linebacker. George was named All-Pro eight times and his No. 61 jersey was retired by the Bears and his No. 47 jersey has been retired by Wake Forest.
George played in the NFL for 15 seasons, the first 14 with the Bears and his final season in 1966 with the Los Angeles Rams.
George was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 1974. He was named to the WFU Hall of Fame in 1998.
George was born Oct. 27, 1929 and died Sept. 30, 1982 as a result of an auto accident in Wisconsin.
Yes, the guard from Weirsdale, Fla., did become affectionately known as "the Smiling Deacon" because of the grin that he seemingly always wore on the court throughout his brilliant career. Of course, he had plenty to smile about.
Wake Forest teams won 78 games and advanced to two NCAA tournaments with him in the lineup. As a senior, he led the Deacs to 14 consecutive wins to open the 1981 campaign and a ranking of third in the country, the highest regular-season standing for a Wake squad until 1996.
Individually, Johnson was named All-America in that senior year while attaining first-team All-ACC honors after being a second team all-league selection as a sophomore and junior. He scored 1,749 points as a Deacon (12th all-time) and became one of the program's all-time great playmakers with 460 assists, the seventh-highest total in school history. His total of 204 steals ranks third.
That career concluded in dramatic fashion when the 12th-rated Deacons defeated No. 3 Virginia 73-66 in overtime in Johnson's final home game on Feb. 25, 1981 - an evening that ended with him on the shoulders of adoring fans, clipping down the nets in old Memorial Coliseum.
Johnson continued to excel in the NBA as a first-round draft pick by the Washington Bullets. He scored nearly 5,000 points with the Bullets and Houston Rockets before playing three years in Italy, then returning to the U.S. and helping the Phoenix Suns to the 1993 NBA Finals.
Johnson was an assistant coach with the Suns from 1996-97 until his promotion to head coach on Feb. 17, 2002. He directed the team the remainder of that season and all of 2002-03.
Instead, the imposing Tiddy had come to Wake Forest to pursue his first love in another sport and his alma mater proudly salutes him for a life's devotion to that love and his work in helping others enjoy it to the fullest as well.
Dick Tiddy's love, of course, was golf. While a member of Wake Forest teams for four years, he helped the Deacs to a Southern Conference title in 1950 and two Top 10 finishes in the NCAA championships. Individually, among his honors was that of NCAA "Long Drive Champion" during he school's participation in the 1950 national event.
Following his graduation from Wake Forest, Tiddy remained involved with golf as a player on the PGA Tour and as a teacher. He served as a head professional in Charlotte for 12 years before accepting a position with his former Deacon teammate Arnold Palmer at the famed Bay Hill Club in Orlando. At the Bay Hill Club, Tiddy built his reputation as a premier golf instructor.
In 1989, Tiddy was named Director of Golf at Bay Hill and served as the Director of Instruction for the Arnold Palmer Golf Academies. He worked with students of the game that have included a number of prominent PGA competitors. Tiddy was inducted into the WFU Sports Hall of Fame on January 24, 1998.
Dick Tiddy passed away in May of 2004.
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