Born: September 30, 1918
Died: December 26, 2007
James Vincent Castiglia was born September 30, 1918 in Passaic. Strong and athletic, Jim excelled in a variety of sports. He was an unstoppable running back and a first-rate baseball catcher and left-handed slugger. He was named All-State is those two sports as a senior, as well as basketball. He was also a terrific handball player.
Jim stood a hair under 6 feet tall and weighed an even 200 pounds. He teamed with Augie Lio to power the Passaic High Indians in the mid-1930s. Lio would later gain fame as a sportswriter. In 1937, both players were offered scholarships to Georgetown University, which had a top football program at the time. Lineman AL Blozis, from Jersey City, joined them on the team a year later.
Jim starred for Jack Hagerty’s varsity as a two-way back from 1938 to 1940. During that time Georgetown reeled off 23 wins in a row. His final college game was the 1941 Orange Bowl against Mississippi State. The Hoyas lost 14–7. Jim scored the team’s only touchdown. He was also the star of the Georgetown baseball team, playing for Mickey Murtagh, a former NFL player who had played baseball and football for the school in the 1920s.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Jim in the 1941 NFL draft. That summer, the owners of the Steelers and Eagles swapped rosters, meaning he began his pro career as a member of the Eagles. Jim returned kicks and played fullback for Philadelphia, which won just two games. He led the Eagles with 183 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns.
The following spring, Connie Mack of the Philadelphia A’s offered Jim a spot on the team as a pinch-hitter and bullpen catcher. Despite never playing an inning of minor-league ball, Jim held his own against big-league pitching (depleted as it was with the start of World War II). He caught a handful of innings and came to the plate 19 times over the course of two months, collecting 7 singles and a walk for an average of .389. In late-June, he enlisted in the Army, ending his time in the majors.
To honor the sacrifice of its players in service, the NFL pictured several young stars on the cover of its 1942 Guide, along with the branch of the military they had entered. Jim was right at the top, wearing #31.
Like many well-known college athletes, Jim served as a training officer during the war, attaining the rank of captain. He played service football and baseball for his base in Greensboro, NC , and was a member of the powerhouse Tech Hawks diamond squad, which included big leaguers Taft Wright and Grady Hatton.
Having stayed in good shape, Jim hit the ground running after being discharged in the fall of 1945. He got into one game for the Eagles that season, then returned to the roster full-time in 1946. The star of the team’s backfield by this time was Steve Van Buren, so Jim was relegated to blocking duties. Jim also rejoined the A’s in 1946, but when he didn’t make the team in spring training he quit baseball instead of going to the minors—although he would continue to play semipro ball in the 1950s.
In 1947, Jim signed to play with the Baltimore Colts of the fledgling All-America Football Conference. The Colts dropped him after two games and he was snapped up by the Washington Redskins, who had a great quarterback in Sammy Baugh but a dismal ground attack. Jim walked onto the squad and became the team’s featured runner in the second half of the season. He led the ’Skins with 426 rushing yards and 5 touchdown runs, and also caught 11 Baugh passes. A photo from that season (left) showing Jim lunging for the goal line suggests that he was one of the first players to wear a full “cage” facemask.
The following season, Jim was the team’s leading ground gainer again, but at age 30 he was looking to start a new chapter in his life. Jim’s father-in-law was in the moving and storage business. He worked in that industry throughout the 1950s, and also stayed active as a player and coach in baseball, and played handball to stay in shape. Jim was enshrined in the Georgetown Athletic Hall of Fame in both football and baseball in 1953. In 1958, he became the first president of the Redskins Alumni Association. In the 1960s, he got into the insurance business, eventually establishing the firm of Castiglia & Johnson in Maryland. He later served as chairman of the board of Morrow & Brooks before retiring in 1984. He also helped establish a fund for ex-NFL players who had fallen on hard times. Jim passed away in Maryland at the age of 89.