In an interview with Sportsnet’s Donnovan Bennett, BC Lions Quarterback Nathan Rourke had this to say about exploring NFL opportunities….“You have to understand that you’re giving that up and you have to say, ‘is it worth just being in the NFL?’ Because you’re probably going to have to pay your dues in that situation, right?
So you have to say, ‘is that more important at this point? Or maybe it will be there at another time in your career’.” Knowing that he has a chance to be the face, not just of the BC Lions but the entire CFL. He will be 25 in May, the same age Joe Theismann left the Toronto Argonauts to join Washington in 1974. Thiesmann would eventually win a Super Bowl in 1982 and be named the NFL’s MVP in the 1983 season. He had to wait four years until 1978 to finally become the full time starter in DC.
In 1995 the late legendary rap artist Tupac Shakur released a track these lyrics in the chorus “What more could I say? I wouldn’t be here today, If the old school didn’t pave the way.” That is exactly what I think of when I see Rourke getting his opportunities south of the border. Here is a look at players in the Super Bowl Era that went onto replicate their solid CFL numbers in the NFL.
Joe Kapp played 7 seasons in the CFL, playing in 2 Grey Cups, winning in 1964. Kapp would join former Blue Bombers coach Bud Grant in Minnesota and would lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl appearance in the ’69 season. He is only one of two quarterback’s in football history to start in a Grey Cup and Super Bowl.
Joe Theismann was the other quarterback to start in a Grey Cup and a Super Bowl. After being drafted by the Miami Dolphins out of Notre Dame, he would nix the Don Shula’s contract offer to join Miami and end up signing with the Toronto Argonauts in 1971. Toronto’s GM at the time, Leo Cahill, said signing Theismann cost him his relationship with Shula.
Dieter Brock, known as the Birmingham Rifle would join the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1974. Although he never managed to win a Grey Cup he was named the Most Outstanding Player in the CFL in 1980 and ’81. In 1985 he would become the NFL’s oldest rookie on record at the age of 34. In what turned out to be his only season in the league due to injury, he led the Los Angeles Rams to a 7-0 start and an appearance in the NFC Championship game.
Pro Football Hall of Fame member Warren Moon made his way up North to Edmonton in 1974 as he was not going to be given an opportunity to play quarterback in the NFL due to the colour of his skin. He made the most of his time up North being a member of an Edmonton dynasty that won five consecutive Grey Cups from 1978-1982. In 1984 he was brought onto the Houston Oilers by his former coach in Edmonton Hugh Campbell. Despite his first six professional seasons in Canada, Moon still threw for 49,325 yards in the NFL.
Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie started his professional career in 1984 with Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals in the USFL. He would get brief opportunities with the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots before having to go up to BC to continue his football career. After winning the CFL Most Outstanding Player Award six times in eight seasons to go along with 3 Grey Cups he got another opportunity with the Buffalo Bills. He would make a Pro Bowl and lead the Bills to the postseason and be named NFL comeback player of the year in the process.
Jeff Garcia would start his career backing up Doug Flutie with the Calgary Stampeders in 1994. In ’95 Garcia would have a breakout season with Flutie injured. From 1996-98 Garcia would be the full time starter, leading Calgary to a Grey Cup Championship in 1998. He would arrive in the NFL in 1999, making four Pro Bowls in his 10 years in the league.
Other quarterbacks have attempted to make the jump from the CFL to NFL but it just wound up coming back up north. Dave Dickenson, Henry Burris, Ricky Ray and Bo Levi Mitchell all took their shot but to no avail. All four did go back to the CFL afterwards and have solid careers, each winning at least one Grey Cup. Casey Printers was another player that was unsuccessful gaining employment in the NFL after a brief stint with the Kansas City Chiefs. Unlike the previous four qbs mentioned, Printers didn’t have much success in his return to the CFL. The attitudes and mentality rather than just the talent of the other four is most likely why they had the success Printers did not.
You see that there have been a lot of quarterbacks that have got their shot at the NFL from the CFL. The history of the CFL providing solid play at that position no doubt has helped Rourke get his opportunity. BC Lions fans have seen players got to the NFL and have great success. All-time great receiver Mervyn Fernandez would join the Los Angles Raiders in the mid-80’s and have an immediate impact.
After two seasons where he racked up 45 sacks, defensive end Cameron Wake joined the Miami Dolphins for a start at a prosperous career. If Rourke replicates their success down south, Leo fans will be supporting him every step of the way. It will be like how the fans of the team that shares BC Place, support their former stat Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich.
The way Nathan Rourke has been able to take on the pressure of being the next great Canadian quarterback has shown his maturity at such a young age. Being compared to legend Russ Jackson is a great compliment. There haven’t been many Canadians that have been given the opportunity to start in a CFL game. Frank Cosentino, Gerry Datillo and even former Alberta premier Don Getty all got their shot as Canadian signal callers back in the infancy of the CFL.
Brad Sinopoli converted to receiver in the CFL despite a solid career as qb at the University of Ottawa. Andrew Buckley seemed destined to get a shot at being a starter in the league but retired in his mid-20’s to focus on his career as a medical professional. Brandon Bridge looked poised to become the next big Canadian qb and was even given the nickname Air Canada. He couldn’t replicate his early success and now works as a police officer just outside of Toronto. MIchael O’Connor hasn’t transferred his university success onto the Canadian field and is running out of chances. Tre Ford will look to improve in his second year in Edmonton. It is painfully obvious why everyone is clamouring to Kid Canada, Nathan Rourke.
There have been only two Canadian born Quartebacks to have started in the NFL. Former Super Bowl Champion Mark Rypien was born in Calgary but moved to Spoakne, Washington at the age of 3. Other than using his Canadian birth certificate in a bluff saying he was going to play in the CFL during contract negotiations with Washington, Rypien is 99% American and 1% Canadian. Jesse Palmer was born and raised in Ottawa and played college ball with the Florida Gators.
He started his NFL career with NY Giants and eventually would land in Montreal with the Alouettes. Upon realizing that he could not just displace starter Anthony Calvillo and his father’s failed attempt to revive a franchise in Ottawa, Palmer turned to other aspirations. He would be cast as the bachelor in the hit show with the same name before going into football broadcasting.
Nathan Rourke’s year was cut short and his critics will mention that you can’t prove much in half a season of football. They will also mention the amazing numbers both former Lions quarterbacks Casey Printers and Jonathan Jennings put up in their second seasons in the league. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, Rourke only had the highest completion rate (78.7%) in CFL history in 2022 while leading the league in touchdown passes and passing yards per game.
The awareness he brought to the CFL and Canadian quarterbacks even led to TSN airing Ohio University games where his brother Kurtis Rourke was playing. Just because he is Canadian isn’t the only reason that he has got the opportunity.
Christian Strong from Brampton who played his college ball at Seton Hall will attest it is not easy to make the CFL as he has spent the last four years since graduating plying his craft first in Australia and now as a starting quarterback in the European League of Football.
Chris Strveler is the only former CFL quarterback on an NFL team, but he is more like a Taysom Hill. Never going to be a starter but if he does get into a game will be a utility player. Rourke is not interested in being a gimmick but is serious about being among the best signal callers in the world. A
s a young boy he would watch endless replays of Green Bay Packers games while other kids were watching cartoons. If right opportunity isn’t presented, Rourke is wise enough to comeback and guide the BC Lions to the Grey Cup Championship. A league next year with two Canadians in Rourke and Ford, solid arms in Chad Kelly and Jake Maier plus some established veteran presence at the qb position will set up a tantilizing 2023 CFL season.
All that would be left is calling up Damon Allen to bring back his quarterback challenge before the season begins. Wherever Nathan Rourke ends up in 2023, BC Lions fans as well as those all over the CFL will be paying close attention.
Big Announcement: CFL Unveils Free Live Streaming Platforms
Get Alerts & Stay ConnectedCFL iPhone App
CFL Android App