Who are the greatest CFL quarterbacks to play in the NFL? Surprisingly, in a pass happy league like the CFL, you’d think there would be more than there are. In the history of the Canadian Football League, there have been those quarterbacks who’ve risen to the occasion, and won enough to get a shot in the NFL. In fact, on a number of occasions, Canadian Football League quarterbacks are players that were asked to play different positions in the NFL. More often than not, they simply didn’t fit the mold of the prototypical NFL quarterback. Football in the United States requires tall, pocket passers, able to see far down-field and go through their progressions. In Canada, it’s entirely different. Quarterbacks up north must be fleet of foot, able to evade pressure and throw on the run. So, who were the greatest CFL quarterbacks to play in the NFL?
The Canadian Football League has often been viewed somewhat as a developmental or second tier league to the National Football League. Because of the size of the contracts and salary, level of play, and type of players, the NFL is generally regarded as having the more superior football players. While some fans may disagree, in general, the NFL does posses the better quality players of the two leagues. As such, the NFL generally has an established set of criteria for the positions on the field. Typically, there are specific sizes and attributes for players in the CFL, that don’t often lend well to playing in the NFL.
1. Warren Moon: CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos, NFL’s Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, and Kansas City Chiefs
An undrafted player in the NFL, Warren decided to pursue his career as a quarterback with the Edmonton Eskimo’s in 1978. One of only two people ever enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and the National Football Hall of Fame, Warren Moon currently sits second on the all time pro football’s list of career passing yardage with 70,553 yards (both CFL and NFL included). A five time Grey Cup Champion, nine time NFL Pro-Bowl selection, and three time NFL All-Pro, nobody threw a prettier pass than Warren Moon. His touch and abilities were second to none, and he excelled in the late 80’s and early 90’s with Houston’s early Run n Shoot offense. Aside from Dan Marino, Warren Moon is likely the best quarterback never to win a Superbowl. He is currently the only African American quarterback in the Pro-football Hall of Fame.
2. Jeff Garcia: CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders.
Another undrafted player out of college, Jeff Garcia started his career in 1994 with the Calgary Stampeders as the back up to Doug Flutie. After Flutie left Calgary for the Toronto Argonauts in 1996, Jeff assumed the reigns of the Stampeders and guided them to the Grey Cup Championship in 1998. After wards, he migrated south to the San Francisco 49ers, where he achieved three straight seasons with 30 or more touchdown passes. A four time Pro-Bowl selection, and with an ability to escape pressure, he would continue to amaze with stints in Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Not your prototypical NFL quarterback, his toughness and accuracy are second to none. Perhaps his greatest achievement came after signing a one year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006. Replacing an injured Donovan McNabb, Garcia guided the Eagles to 5 consecutive victories and the NFC East Division Championship. He currently sits 17th on the all time pro football’s list of career passing yardage with 42,015 (both CFL and NFL included).
3. Joe Theisman: Toronto Argonauts (CFL), Washington Redskins (NFL)
Drafted in the fourth round in 1971 by the Miami Dolphins, Theisman instead chose to play for the Toronto Argonauts. As a rookie, he led them to a 10-4 record and a birth in the Grey Cup. He left the CFL in 1973 and played for the remainder of his career in Washington with the Redskins. A two time Pro-Bowler, and first team All-Pro selection in 1983, he is this lists only Superbowl winning quarterback when he captured Superbowl VXII with the Washington Redskins with a 27-17 victory over the same Miami Dolphins, who had drafted him 11 years earlier. He went on to set several Redskin Team records and was famously known for being the last quarterback to wear the single bar on his helmet. Unfortunately, his career was cut down in 1985 with a brutal hit from New York Giant Lawrence Taylor. He retired the following year.
4. Doug Flutie: New Jersey Generals (USFL), Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, B.C. Lions (CFL), Calgary Stampeders (CFL), Toronto Argonauts (CFL), Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers
The Heisman Trophy winning journeyman quarterback who astounded everyone when he played for Boston College, had one of the greatest plays in NCAA history with a Hail Marry Pass to upset Miami on Thanksgiving day in 1984. Going undrafted until the eleventh round in 1985, the knock on Flutie was of course his size. Regardless of his arm strength, many teams felt he would not succeed in the NFL. Therefore he opted for signing with the USFL’s New Jersey Generals. After a brief stint with both the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots of the late 1980’s, Flutie took his one man show up north. A three time Grey Cup Champion and three time Grey Cup MVP, Doug Flutie only had one Pro-Bowl season in 1998 with the Buffalo Bills. However, he proved all the pundits wrong by excelling everywhere he played. In his last season with the New England Patriots, he successfully converted the first drop kick in the NFL since 1941. He retired from football at the young age of 43 and currently sits 6th on the all time passing yardage leaders.
5. Dieter Brock Winnipeg Blue Bombers & Hamilton Tiger-Cats (CFL) Los Angeles Rams (NFL)
Perhaps the least well known of these 5 quarterbacks was Dieter Brock. Nicknamed the “Birmingham Rifle”, he had a gun for an arm and led the Canadian Football League in passing four straight years while playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award twice, and led Hamilton to the 1984 Grey Cup against these same Blue Bombers. Unfortunately, Hamilton lost the game and Brock never won the Grey Cup. In 1985, he signed with the Los Angeles Rams and in his only season in the NFL, led the Rams to the NFC Championship game against the Chicago Bears. Considered a rookie, he set Ram records for yards and touchdowns. In a surprising move, he retired at the height of his NFL success.
While it is true that a certain pedigree of player excels as quarterback in the NFL, every once in a while a player comes along from the Canadian Football League who ventures north and breaks the mold. The CFL gave Warren Moon the jump-start his career needed, and while playing for the Houston Oilers of the NFL, he often had a small Canadian Flag on the front of his helmet. These players must be considered when discussing the greatest CFL quarterbacks to play in the NFL. Most of these players were smaller, faster and more agile, and while they didn’t fit the typical frame the NFL was searching for, they still excelled when given the chance.