Dr. Tom Catena has achieved many great things in his life. The Amsterdam native was a Rhodes Scholar candidate while attending Brown University. After graduate school at Duke University, he served five years in the United States Navy, including a stint as a Naval flight surgeon. He worked at mission hospitals in Africa for seven years before becoming the medical director and physician/surgeon at Mercy Mission Hospital, the only hospital in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains. His work in the war-torn nation earned him recognition from Time Magazine as one of its 100 most influential people in 2015 and the Aurora Prize in 2017.
Catena received another honor Saturday, August 4, when he was one of 18 individuals and two teams inducted into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Red Lion Inn in Colonie. Though he could not be there in person, Catena sent along a message that was relayed by his brother, Felix.
“I loved it. I loved everything about football, except perhaps the double sessions in the August heat,” Catena wrote.
Felix said his brother wanted to make the trip halfway around the world to be there with the other inductees, but it was impossible.
“Because of the rains and the monsoon [in Sudan], he couldn’t physically leave,” said Felix. “Plus if he had left, there’s no one who can do the work for him. It’s killing him that he can’t be here tonight.”
Catena was a star defensive lineman for Amsterdam High School during his three-year career. In his senior season, Catena was named to several regional all-star teams and was a third team all-state selection.
After graduating in 1982, Catena played nose guard for Brown University – a position that did not have the best of reputations in terms of intellect, according to Catena’s coach.
“My college football coach used to scream at me, ‘Catena, you’re the nose-guard and that’s the position for the village idiot,” Catena wrote in his message.
Catena played his position smartly, though. He received the Class of 1910 Football Award from Brown following his junior year, and he followed that up with first team honors from the Ivy League and an honorable mention All-American from the Associated Press in his senior year in 1986.
The Catena family often made road trips to see Tom play for Brown. Felix recounted a couple of plays that stood out in his memory.
“They were playing Rhode Island in Rhode Island, and my brother sacked the quarterback in the end zone for a safety,” said Felix. “When they played Yale at Yale, I remember it was fourth down and 1 [yard]. They handed the ball off to their running back, and Tom burst through the line and tackled him for a huge loss.”
Catena wrote that the lessons he learned playing football have helped him as a surgeon in a war-ravaged nation.
“Working together as a unit, sacrificing yourself for the good of the team, continuing to perform despite fatigue and stress are all things I learned playing football 35 years ago,” his acceptance speech read. “When it’s late at night and 80 badly wounded arrive at the hospital gates, the game is on and it’s time to get the job done. The last operation at 3 a.m. is like the start of the fourth quarter and you’re behind – time to suck it up!”
Felix said representing his brother at the induction ceremony was an honor. “He was a heck of an athlete,” he said.