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The CFL’s Poker Superstar: T.J. Cloutier

Over the years, it’s fair to say that the Canadian Football League has undoubtedly provided the perfect platform for some talented sportspeople to learn their trade. While some have gone on to further sporting success, others have transitioned into other activities and similarly thrived.

O.J. Brigance won the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, and of course, who can forget Warren Moon, the five-time Grey Cup-winning Edmonton quarterback who went onto a 16-year-career in the NFL. Moving away from football, Carl Weathers became a movie star alongside Sylvester Stallone after a couple of years with the B.C. Lions and T.J. Cloutier went from wide receiver for the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts to become a star of the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour, reaching the very top of his profession.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Cloutier would become a success over his career; he was one of those guys that could almost turn his hand to anything. He started his career in the limelight when the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team drafted him, and in the organization’s rookie league side, he turned heads with his ability at-bat; Cloutier was a definite prospect for the MLB. Still, he sidestepped into football when doubts were cast over his knees, so he took on an athletic scholarship at the University of California.

Cloutier was a success at UC Berkeley; being close to his family home of Albany, California, certainly helped, and he went on to feature in the 1959 Rose Bowl when the Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Bears. However, Cloutier had to call time on his sporting career, electing to drop out of his scholarship to help his father pay for his ailing mother’s medical bills, which led to him being drafted by the U.S. Army.

During his time in the Army, Cloutier would often be seen picking up a deck of cards, but his love of football hadn’t dwindled as he returned to the game by signing for the Alouettes. However, it was a turbulent time for the Alouettes, who hadn’t recovered from the trade which saw Bernie Faloney and Don Pacquette leave the franchise a couple of years earlier. Undeterred, Cloutier tried his best at the Percival Molson Memorial Stadium. The coaches certainly appreciated him as he was an ever-present in the team, playing all 14 games in 1962, averaging 16.6 yards per carry, and scoring one touchdown.

However, he was on the move again in 1963 as the Toronto Argonauts came calling, but after just one season he was forced to retire through injury. After football, Cloutier became a golf caddy, and it was on his off days he rekindled his love of poker, so he went all in to become a success on the green felt after missing out on success on the football pitch.

Cloutier’s ability to read his opponents led him to glory, playing in the World Series of Poker and being ranked amongst the best ever players by CBS Sports. The now-82 year old, has picked up over $10 million in live tournament winnings since taking to the table in both the WSOP and the World Poker Tour, which is astonishing.

However, it’s football which was Cloutier’s first love, and who knows what would have happened without that spell in the CFL, which started him on his path to success. But it shows that being a footballer can lead to many paths in later life, in and out of the game.

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