Many an argument has been fought over whether the smaller field and four down football of the NFL is better than the no fair catches and three down football of the CFL. In some ways it is Canada versus the United States. Really the games are quite different and appeal to players with different skill sets. Some football players have tried out both types by playing in both professional football leagues. Here is my list of the top 10 football players who have played in both the NFL and CFL.
10) Brandon Browner: NFL Teams – Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks. CFL Team – Calgary Stampeders. Position – Defensive Back. There have not been many pro football players who have been all-stars on both sides of the border. Defensive player Browner is one of the few. In his final three years with the Stampeders (2008-10) the corner back was named an All-Star and was named to the Pro Bowl team while with the Seattle Seahawks in 2011. Browner was with the Calgary Stampeders team that won the Grey Cup in 2008. His speed and effort level have made him a fan favourite wherever he has played.
9) Cameron Wake: NFL Team – Miami Dolphins. CFL Team – BC Lions. Position – Defensive End. This is a player who has been excellent in both leagues and yet is an overlooked player. He only played two seasons in the CFL but he recorded an amazing 39 quarterback sacks over that short time. In his rookie season (2007) with the BC Lions he won the Most Outstanding Rookie Award and in both seasons he won the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award. In both seasons he was named an All-Star. He signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent before the 2009 season. In the 2011 season he was named to the Pro Bowl team. After being changed to defensive end for the 2012 season he had his best season so far in the NFL. Once again he was named a starter in the Pro Bowl and was named First Team All-Pro for the first time.
8) Mervyn Fernandez: NFL Teams – Oakland Raiders. CFL Team – BC Lions. Position – Wide Receiver. Fernandez spent his whole six year CFL career (1982-86, 1994) with the BC Lions. In his first season he made a big impact with over 1,000 yards receiving and winning the Outstanding Rookie Award. When the Lions won the Grey Cup in 1995 he was a key player and won the CFL’s Outstanding Player Award. He ended his CFL with being named an All-Star two times and being named to the BC Lions Wall of Fame. Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, persuaded him to make the jump to the NFL in the 1986 season. He played for six seasons with the Raiders with his best season being 1989 where he had 1,069 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
7) Mike Vanderjagt: NFL Teams – Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys. CFL Teams – Toronto Argonauts, Saskatchewan Rougriders. Position – Kicker. Vanderjagt forged a career that made him one of the most accurate kickers in pro football history with an 86.47% success rate. He was the most accurate kicker in both the CFL and NFL history with at least 100 attempts when he retired in 2008. Born in Oakville, Ontario, Vanderjagt started off his professional career in 1993 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He then moved on to the Toronto Argonauts and was their placekicker and kicker for their two Grey Cup victories in 1996 and 1997. In the 1996 Grey Cup he was named the game’s Outstanding Canadian. In 1997 he led the league in yards per punt. After the 1997 season he signed in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts. He was their placekicker through the 2005 season. In 1999 he led the league in scoring. In 2003 he went through the whole season including the playoffs without missing a point after attempt or a field goal.
6) Joe Kapp: NFL Team – Minnesota Vikings. CFL Teams – Calgary Stampeders, BC Lions. Position – Quarterback. Considered one of the best quarterbacks of the1960s, Kapp led his BC Lions to a Grey Cup victory in 1964. His #22 jersey is one of only eight retired by the BC Lions and was named to the CFL Hall of Fame, the BC Wall of Fame and the BC Sports Hall of Fame. Known as a tough player and a great leader. Once in the NFL he also led the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.
5) Joe Theismann: NFL Team – Washington Redskins. CFL Team – Toronto Argonauts. Position – Quarterback. Despite the fact that he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 1971 draft Joe Theismann decided to play with the Toronto Argonauts. Contract talks with Miami did not go as he wanted so Theismann decided to take his skills north of the border despite the fact that he would only make $50,000. Toronto was happy as he led the Argos to a 10-4 record, led the Eastern Division in passing statistics and brought them all the way to the Grey Cup game. A fumble late in the game by the running back cost Toronto the game and the Calgary Stampeders won. In 1972 his season was shortened by injury and his final season in the CFL was 1973 when he was named a league All-Star. In the NFL Theismann played his entire career with the Washington Redskins. He started off as a punt returner then became the starting quarterback in the 1978-79 NFL season. In 1982 he led the Redskins to their first Super Bowl Championship in 40 years. Theismann also brought his team back to the Super Bowl the following year but was not successful. By the end of his career he had set several Redskins team records.
4) Raghib “Rocket” Ismail: NFL Team: Carolina Panther, Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys. CFL Team – Toronto Argonauts. Position – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner. Despite the fact that he was American he spurned the NFL in 1991 to sign an unheard of $18.2 million contract with the Argonauts to play in the CFL. His legend was born when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his first CFL game. The speed demon was named an All-Star in his first CFL season and was the runner up for the Rookie of the Year Award. The Argonauts went all the way to the Grey Cup that year and won it. Ismail was named the MVP of the Grey Cup game. He played one more season in the CFL but even though he broke the team’s record for kickoff return yards was frustrated as his team struggled to a 6-12 record and missed the playoffs. In the NFL he played for three different teams and accumulated two 1,000 yards receiving seasons.
3) Jeff Garcia: NFL Teams – San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. CFL Team – Calgary Stampeders. Position – Quarterback. Garcia was not drafted by the NFL as he was considered too small to play quarterback (6’1”) so he signed with the Calgary Stampeders in 1994. He started off as a backup to Doug Flutie. In 1996 when Flutie signed with the Toronto Argonauts, Garcia became the Stampeders’ starting quarterback. In 1998 he led his team to a Grey Cup victory over Hamilton and was named the game’s MVP. He was also named to the CFL’s All-Star team in 1998. He was named to the Stampeders’ Hall of Fame in 2012. Garcia made his NFL debut in the 1999 season with the San Francisco 49ers. He was named to the Pro Bowl team three seasons in a row – 2000, 2001 and 2002 and then for a final time in 2006 as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He led his team to the playoffs in five of his eleven seasons in the NFL.
2) Doug Flutie: NFL Teams – Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers. CFL Teams – BC Lions, Toronto Argonauts, Calgary Stampeders. Position – Quarterback. Despite the fact that he won the Heisman Trophy in college while playing for Boston College because he was only 5’10” he was considered too short for the NFL. After playing in the USFL and briefly for the New England Patriots, Flutie signed with the BC Lions of the CFL in 1990. While playing for eight seasons in the CFL he went on to become one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the league. He set many records and went 99-27 as a starter. His ability to scramble and prolong plays really served him in the CFL. He won three Grey Cups (1992, 1996, 1997) and was named the MVP in each of those Grey Cup victories. Due to his stellar career in the CFL, in which he was named the league’s Outstanding Player six times, he is the only non-Canadian to be in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. During the 1998 season he returned to the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. He ended his NFL career in 2005 with a career record of 37-28 as a starter.
1) Warren Moon: NFL Teams – Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Oilers. CFL Team – Edmonton Eskimos. Position – Quarterback. What else can be said about a guy who quarterbacked a team to five straight Grey Cups. Warren Moon was a star. He was the rare type of player who was a star in both the NFL and CFL. Probably due to racism, as he was a black quarterback, despite the fact that he played in the Rose Bowl, Warren Moon was not drafted by teams in the NFL. Not willing to have his football career be over Moon decided to play in the CFL. After signing with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1978 he went on to become the dominant quarterback in the league for six seasons. Moon was the first quarterback to throw for over 5,000 yards as he did in the 1982 season. He won the MVP Award in the Grey Cup in both the 1980 and 1982 seasons. Moon finished off his CFL career by winning the Outstanding Player Award in 1983. After signing with the Houston Oilers he went on to have a very successful NFL career in which he broke several records, was named to the Pro Bowl nine times and elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Combining his CFL and NFL statistics he is the most successful quarterback to have ever played in both leagues.