After working out for NFL teams BC Lions starting quarterback Nathan Rourke has started receiving offers according to multiple sources. There have only been two Canadian born quarterbacks to start in an NFL game. Mark Rypien was the first but as someone who was raised from the age of 3 in Spokane, Washington he considers himself as an American.
Former Florida Gator Jesse Palmer from Ottawa was the other. Palmer perhaps just as famous for his role as the Bachelor in the award winning television series, has made his life in the USA and covers college football as an analyst. Rourke is more than likely to sign a reserve/futures deal with an NFL team, so talking about a 3rd Canadian born starting quarterback is still very premature.
Lions fans have seen many players attempt to make the transition to the NFL. Pro Football’s all-time point leader Lui Passaglia was signed by the Cleveland Browns in 1988 as a punter but ended up back in the CFL after a brief stint. The same would go for linebackers over the years, Daved Benefield (SF 49ers), Paul Lacoste (Indianapolis Colts) and Adam Bighill (New Orleans Saints).
There have been crossovers the other way, like defensive back Barry Wilburn who was a part of the 1994 Grey Cup winning squad. Wilburn had two interceptions in winning the Super Bowl in 1987 with Washington. Offensive Lineman Bobby Singh would win the Grey Cup with the Lions in 2006, after spending time in the NFL and XFL early in his career. Singh has the distinction of being the only player in pro football to win the championship in the NFL, XFL and CFL.
Joe Kapp led the Lions to a Grey Cup victory in 1964 before moving onto the Minnesota VIkings where he would guide them to a spot in the Super Bowl IV. They would lose 23-7 to the Kansas City Chiefs. Kapp is the only quarterback to have started in a Rose Bowl, Grey Cup and Super Bowl.
One thing that people must understand is that Nathan Rourke got hooked on football at a young age. Instead of watching cartoons like other kids, he would watch replays of Green Bay Packer games. To be in the show that he watched so avidly as a youngster would be a great feat.
A Canadian quarterback starring north of the border is something CFL fans have been waiting a long time for. Fans feeling like it was too short a stint for the promising young qb have a right to feel that way. With that being said, seeing someone fulfilling their lifelong dream is something to root for. Here are three Lions that have had success going from the Lions to the NFL.
In 2002 the BC Lions had Barrin Simpson, Carl Kidd and Brendon Ayanbadejo in the middle of their defence. Simpson and Kidd would go on to play many successful years in the CFL, Ayenbadejo would be done after one season. The Miami Dolphins would sign Ayenbadejo for the 2003 season, where he would hone his craft on special teams. In 2005 the Chicago Bears would come calling, there he would blossom. Making three straight Pro Bowls from 2006-08 while also playing in his first Super Bowl in the Bears loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the 2006 Super Bowl.
He would finish his career with the Baltimore Ravens winning the Super Bowl in 2011. Impressive for Ayenbadejo to find his niche as a special teams guru and parlay it into a successful NFL career. The two others we are going to look at had impacts both in the CFL and NFL at skilled positions.
When drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1983, Swervin’ Mervyn Fernandez was already coming off a successful rookie campaign with the Lions in 1982. After 5 seasons with the team, where the Lions would play in two Grey Cups, Raiders owner Al Davis finally persuaded Fernandez to play for his ball club. The CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 1985 and eventual hall of fame inductee didn’t disappoint in Los Angeles.
In 1988 he led all NFL receivers with an unbelievable 26.0 yards per catch. He would follow that up next season by leading all Raider receivers in every major offensive category. Those who had watched him in BC were not surprised with his success in the NFL.
Cameron Wake would arrive in BC after a solid career at Penn State. From the start fans could tell that the young man was special. Wake would be the first player in CFL history to win both the Most Outstanding Rookie and Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. As an encore he would thrash the competition in 2008 on his way to a unanimous selection as the CFL Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2009 he would sign with the Miami Dolphins. He would be named a pro bowler 5 times in his time there. In 2012 he would get the ultimate reward being named the best player at his position in the NFL. Wake would play one season with the Tennessee Titans in 2019 before retiring from professional football.
Shortly after Fernandez departed the Lions found a suitable replacement in his 1987 Raider teammate David Williams. In 1988, Williams would be named the CFL Most Outstanding Player and help get the Leos within six yards of a Grey Cup Championship. In 1990, Williams would make his way to Ottawa but the Lions lucked out replacing him with the Dallas Cowboys leading receiver in 1988, Ray Alexander. After Cameron Wake left, Wally Buono knew there was no replacing him.
Instead what the team did was build a complete defence that would win the Grey Cup in 2011. With Rourke about 80% sure of not being at Lions training camp come May, Vernon Adams Jr will be left to carry a weight of unfair expectations. When asked if he was comfortable with Adams Jr being the starter in 2023, Lions Coach Rick Campbell responded “100%”.
Since they became a franchise in 1954 the BC Lions have seen many individuals come and go. The Lions have seen two of their own have success in acting, Linebacker Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed) and 55-yard line girl Pamela Anderson (Baywatch). Former water boy Bob Ackles became a successful NFL executive and Super Bowl Champion.
Merced Solis briefly played for the Leos in 1976 before becoming a famous wrestler under the name Tito Santana. Every former member of the Leos knows that whatever their next venture brings them, the Lions faithful will always be behind them. Nathan Rourke will be celebrated by Lions fans regardless if he is playing football north or south of the border in 2023.
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