The National Football League (NFL) is considered one of the best in the world, with millions of football enthusiasts following its every update. However, not all NFL stars began their careers in the league. Many played for Canadian teams initially and eventually made the big move across the southern border.
Several Canadian players continue to impress in the NFL. We want to say it was because their path was already paved by some of the most reputable and well-known players that originated in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and started their impressive journey on Canadian teams before being drafted for the NFL.
Below, we’ll cover the top Canadian football teams that have bred NFL stars and remind you of the leading Canadian players who have made an impression on the Super Bowl league.
Founded in 1945, the Calgary Stampeders compete in the West Division of the CFL, and their home games occur at McMahon Stadium. They are one of the Canadian league’s longest-active franchises. The Stampeders were home to three excellent football players who eventually made their way to the NFL.
Born in 1967, Harald Hasselbach was a defensive end for the Denver Broncos. He played seven seasons in the NFL between 1994 and 2000, but before that, he spent four seasons at the Calgary Stampeders.
During his career at the Stampeders, Hasselbach was part of the winning team that took the Grey Cup home. He remains among the few players who won both the Super Bowl and the Grey Cup. Due to his incredible career, he was inducted into the B.C. Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
Jeff Garcia began his professional career at the Calgary Stampeders as a free agent in 1994. He was a four-time CFL All-Star player whose debut in the NFL came in 1999 with the San Francisco 49ers.
Although initially dubbed too small and not strong-armed enough for the NFL, Garcia became a four-time NFL Pro Bowl player, proving his impeccable skills were well worth it for both the CFL and the NFL.
Joe Kapp managed the impressive feat of playing for two of the teams listed in this article: the Calgary Stampeders and the B.C. Lions. After starting his career in the CFL, Kapp was drafted into the NFL, where he joined the Minnesota Vikings and the Boston Patriots.
Kapp is a member of several Halls of Fame, including the Canadian Football, B.C. Sports, B.C. Lions, the College Football, and the University of California Athletic Hall of Fame. To this day, Kapp remains the single quarterback to have played in the Super Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Grey Cup.
Doug Flutie is yet another player dubbed too small ever to play the NFL. He received six CFL Most Outstanding Player Awards and won three Grey Cups while playing with the Calgary Stampeders. The Sports Network named him the most outstanding player ever in the CFL.
He played briefly with the Chicago Bears before becoming a Canadian football superstar. Later in his career, Flutie returned to the south of the border, where he spent several seasons with the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers and finished his career with the New England Patriots.
Based in Hamilton, Ontario, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats play the East Division of the CFL. Their home games take place at the Tim Hortons Field. The team, known initially as Hamilton Tigers, merged with the Hamilton Wildcats from across town, later adopting the name Tiger-Cats. The team won eight Grey Cup championships, having the last one being in 1999.
Having an impeccable record already in high school, Cookie Gilchrist played as a fullback and linebacker. His impressive performance during his teenage years led the Cleaveland Browns to try and sign him immediately after graduation. However, when that deal fell flat, the player went north and joined the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where he won a Grey Cup in 1957.
Later, Gilchrist moved to the Toronto Argonauts, having played for three years in Toronto. His career soon crossed the border when he joined the Buffalo Bills in the American Football League. Besides his impeccable football career, Gilchrist was also an activist, having successfully boycotted New Orleans as the destination of the 1965 American Football League All-Star Game.
The Montreal Alouettes were founded in 1946, and its history is full of ups and downs. The team was folded and revived twice, having won the Grey Cup championship for the last time in 2010. Even though their performance hasn’t been as good as before, they were the home of one of the most prominent CFL players.
Ed George’s performance at Wake Forest University didn’t go unnoticed, and he was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL in 1970 by the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the player decided to play in the CFL, having been part of the Montreal Alouettes between 1970 and 1974.
He joined the Baltimore Colts in 1975, having moved to the Philadelphia Eagles for the seasons between 1976 and 1978. Soon after, he joined the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where he finished his career in 1980. George won two Frey Cups with the Alouettes in 1970 and 1974.
Based in British Columbia, as the name suggests, the B.C. Lions have competed in the CFL since 1954. The team has played every season since then, being the oldest professional sports franchise in the province. The Lions have taken part in the Grey Cup championship ten times, having won six titles.
Mervyn Fernandez, also known as Swevin’ Mervyn, was a wide receiver with the Lions. He was a CFL All-Star in 1984 and 1985, having been inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. He later joined the Los Angeles Raiders, playing the same position as in the CFL.
The Canadian sports network, TSN, named Fernandez one of the Top 50 players ever to have been part of the CFL, ranking him at 42. He was also voted a member of the B.C. Lions All-Time Dream Team.
Founded in 1873, the Toronto Argonauts are the oldest existing professional sports team in North America that still keeps its original name. It is also the longest-surviving team in the CFL and the East Division.
Raghib Ramadian Ismail, more often referred to as Rocket Ismail, is a wide receiver and kick returner that made history in both the CFL and the NFL. After playing college football at Notre Dame, Ismail moved on to play for the CFL between 1991 and 1992, returning south of the border to play at the NFL in the following seasons up to 2001.
He was a CFL All-Star in 1991 and named the Most Valuable Player in the 79th Grey Cup. His career in the CFL happened due to the excellent decision of the Argonaut’s owner, Bruce McNall, who locked the player with an $18.2-million contract before the NFL draft.
What to expect from the current NFL players who started in the CFL?
As you can see, there are long decades of history where CFL players succeeded in their careers in Canada and the NFL. The talent currently available remains the same, if not higher.
Football enthusiasts from both countries are likely to continue comparing the players of both leagues. Still, the truth is that football talent is always welcome regardless of where their career started.
Players such as Erik Harris, Alex Singleton, and Tevaughn Campbell will all take a turn playing for the NFL after starting their professional careers in the CFL. Many football fans have also started betting on which will perform the best in the long run.
The Super Bowl is approaching each passing day, and many football fanatics have already started to look for where to bet on the Super Bowl. Regardless of your picks, we can all agree that there are some impressive talents making moves in the NFL, and it’s all because they have benefited from the coaching and career start they got while playing in the CFL.