Cameron Wake Cashes In: NFL Players Who Got Their Start in the CFL
A smile came across my face as I read the announcement that the Miami Dolphins have re-signed defensive standout, Cameron Wake, to a 4-year extension worth $49 million, with $20 million guaranteed. The deal was a necessity for Miami, as Wake was only set to earn a measly $650,000.
The Dolphins linebacker was so effective for the Dolphins that Pro Football Focus (http://www.profootballfocus.com) rated him as the league’s premiere pass rusher. Amassing 28 sacks with 112 tackles, Wake has been a tremendous success story since arriving in Miami from the CFL’s BC Lions. In fact, he has led the Fish in sacks and tackles for the past two seasons.
As great as Cam is doing on the field in the NFL, I admired him well before that. He burst on the Canadian scene in 2007, and in only two seasons with the Lions, he dominated the defensive line. With 39 sacks in two seasons, he was routinely controlling offensive lines, earning Rookie of the Year honours in 2007, and was a West Division All Star and Defensive Player of the Year both seasons. His success was noticed south of the border, and he was given a shot with Miami.
We couldn’t have CFL and NFL chat without mentioning by far the most successful player to have played in both leagues – Warren Moon. Moon, the only player to be inducted in both league’s Hall of Fame, was an Edmonton Eskimo from 1978-1983. During his years in Alberta, he won five consecutive Grey Cups, a record still in tact. Considering the Grey Cup will be played for the 100th time this year, that’s quite a feat. He also threw for over 21,000 yards in those six seasons, leading to him being scouted and signed by Houston in 1984. Between Houston, Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City, he threw for almost 50,000 yards and appeared in nine Pro Bowls. Most CFL fans regard him as one of, if not the best, to have ever played the position in Canada.
If Moon isn’t the most talented to have played in the North, perhaps Doug Flutie tops the list. Flutie, who became a household name with his “Air Flutie” hail mary pass vs. Miami in 1984 to win the Orange Bowl, dominated the CFL for much of the 1990′s. After several stops in the NFL including Chicago and New England, Doug joined the BC Lions in 1990. Playing also for Calgary (where other NFL quarterbacks tutored under him, including Jeff Garcia) and Toronto, Flutie threw for over 41,000 yards in only 8 seasons, for an average of over 5,000 per season! Flutie was also known for his scrambling, which he perfected in the CFL as he ran for over 4600 yards. Whispers of whether the NFL was calling surfaced for the last few years of Flutie’s career in the CFL, and they were finally answered by Buffalo, which is only 90 minutes down the highway from his former Toronto Argonauts. Flutie’s diminutive size, ferocious attitude toward the game, and never-say-die mentality, earned him a great following in Buffalo. Perhaps nothing is more memorable then when Flutie was replaced by Rob Johnson by then coach Wade Phillips, who later said he was told to by owner Ralph Wilson. This was on the heels of a season where Flutie filled in for Johnson, leading the Bills both on the field and in the locker room. After Buffalo Flutie made stops in San Diego and finally New England where he retired. A fan or not, you cannot deny the appeal of Flutie, and his Flakes.
You may remember Joe Theismann as much for his “Sore Muscle” cream as you do for his CFL career. Joe played his college ball at USC and was drafted by Miami. After a deal couldn’t be reached with the Fish, he opted to play in the CFL for the Toronto Argonauts for three seasons. He led the team to the Grey Cup in 1971, which he lost as a result of one of the most famous fumbles in league history. Late in the fourth quarter, with Theismann’s Argos pressing, back Leon McQuay fumbled near the goal line, costing the team the Grey Cup. In 1973, the NFL came calling in the form of the Washington Redskins, where Joe began as a punt returner. Huh? A punt returner? Anyway… Joe set numerous Redskins passing records and made several trips to the Pro Bowl. His career was cut short when he was sacked – really, really hard – by the most talented defensive player to ever have played (my opinion, disagree below in comments), Lawrence Taylor. Taylor tried to get medical attention for the pivot as he lay on the turf, but the damage was done, Theismann’s leg was in shambles, and his career was over.
The list certainly goes on, but these are the three stand-outs for me, during my 28 years watching both leagues pretty closely. I alluded to Jeff Garcia, who certainly had a great CFL career in Calgary, and decent-enough NFL career as well. And I would be remiss if I didn’t add Cookie Gilchrist, the long time Hamilton Ti-Cat and Buffalo Bills player who not only was a stand-out on the field, but is very memorable for what he did for civil rights in the US in the 60′s. But not having seen him, I can’t speak to his dominance personally.
Back to Cam Wake.
You can see there is a rich tradition of CFL players making the jump to the NFL. Whether Cam Wake joins the company of the legends aforementioned has yet to be seen. Simply, he was a beast in the CFL and is doing the same in the NFL, and I for one and proud of that fact.
…and that is the last word.