Canadian Football League champions reunite in Italy with Bergamo Lions

A pair of Grey Cup winners have reunited on the football field – in Italy.

A real “Coaching for Pizza” story.

Legendary CFL head coach and general manager Adam Rita is coaching the Bergamo Lions who play in Italy’s first division. Helping him with receivers over the past month has been former Toronto Argonaut (1981-1985) and BC Lions   (1986-1990) receiver Jan Carinci.

Carinci, who arrived in late January, stayed until Bergamo played their first game this past weekend, a loss to the Bolzano Giants, and then headed home after helping coach the Lions receivers, enduring six weeks of cold Northern Italian weather.

Normally based in the sunny climes of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, Carinci had posted pictures of himself on Facebook making traditional Italian Christmas ravioli and Rita, who had actually shared ownership of a house in Vancouver with Carinci during their BC Lions days together in the late 1980s, happened to see it and reached out to Jan.

Would he like to come to Italy and coach some football?


Bergamo was hit by a cold snap while Carinci was there. A little snow would never deter a Canadian Football League player though.

There is no money available Rita was quick to point out, but Carinci said no problem. To him this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Carinci’s father is originally from Albenga, Italy (on the Mediterranean) and his mother is from Elmshorn, Germany but was raised in the UK. Jan, born in 1959, moved to Toronto with his family in 1966 and started playing football two years later. However, until the move to Canada, every summer was spent in Albenga or Germany.

Since reading John Grisham’s book, “Playing for Pizza” 17 years ago, Carinci has harbored a dream of experiencing the football side of Italy.

The last time Rita and Carinci were together was with the BC Lions, 1986-1989 when Adam was the offensive coordinator and had managed to pry Carinci away from the Toronto Argonauts in a trade. Carinci spent five season with BC, leaving football at the end of the 1990 season.

Jan Carinci with BC Lions circa 1988

Since then, then closest he came to the field or sideline was coaching a national caliber women’s flag team from Vancouver.

“This was a dream come true. Being back together with Adam, who I have the greatest respect and admiration for. We were not only coach and player but also good friends. Adam builds a family atmosphere as a coach and he has definitely done that in Bergamo.”

Carinci won a Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts in 1983, beating the BC Lions. Rita has six Grey Cup rings, two with the BC Lions (offensive coordinator & general manager), three with the Argonauts  (head coach, offensive coordinator & general manager) and one with the Edmonton Eskimos (offensive coordinator).

Carinci, who headed home after spending the last six weeks in northern Italy, has definitely enjoyed the experience.

“These players really want to learn. Not that I can still replicate the moves I could make when I was playing, but at least they can see the slow motion version.”

Carinci and Rita were not happy during a weekend loss

Being away from the game has definitely meant doing some homework.

“I had no idea what an RPO was when I saw the playbook. We did not have a run pass option in my day. But helping receivers get separation, adjust their routes, come back to the quarterback, those are things I have been able to help them improve on.”

For Rita, it has really been a boon to have Carinci.

“I loved having him here. The players loved him and he got along so well with everyone. Unfortunately, everything he was teaching the players did not materialize on the field – yet.”

The game itself was an eye opener for Carinci:

“The game was quicker, much quicker than I expected, even at this level in Italy. But this was an absolute blast. I loved every minute. It felt like I won a huge prize on a game show. I only wish I could have spent the entire season.”




Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.