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NFL Greats Who Owe Their Early Success to the CFL

After reaching the heights of the Canadian Football League, some athletes get the opportunity to join the biggest league of them all. A trip down south doesn’t work out for everyone but, when it has worked, CFL players have made their mark on the NFL and made their hometowns proud. Ahead of the NFL season ending, let’s look back at a pair of American greats whose careers were made in Canada.

Warren Moon, 1978-2000

Warren Moon is best known as QB for the Edmonton Eskimos (now Elks since 2021) and the Houston Oilers in the NFL. After an explosive start to his career, he led Edmonton to five Grey Cup victories between 1978 and 1983. Then the Americans came knocking, where he racked up many impressive accolades during his decade with the Oilers. He later went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

He bowed out in 2000, long before the Chiefs made their recent Super Bowl appearances. Under Patrick Mahomes, they look set to do it again for LVIII against the San Francisco 49ers. According to NFL latest odds, the Chiefs are underdogs this year at 11/10 against the 49ers’ 3/4 odds. The Chiefs’ competitiveness since 2019 means they shouldn’t be discounted, however. While the Chiefs have made Super Bowl regularly in the last few years, Warren Moon never got that far.

Moon joined the CFL over the NFL after learning that he’d be unlikely for a first pick in the ’78 draft. The California native chose Canada instead, leading Edmonton to those Grey Cup wins we mentioned. Moon worked his magic alongside Tom Wilkinson, upholding the Edmonton dynasty and getting a CFL Most Outstanding Player award for his trouble. In the NFL, he led the league in passing yards twice, racked up 49,325 passing yards (on top of his 21,228 in the CFL) and made the Pro Bowl roster nine times. He finished his career by becoming the only player to be inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Doug Flutie, 1985-2005

Doug Flutie’s story is one where the CFL welcomed a player when they were struggling in the NFL. Another American by birth, Flutie found success early in his career with the ’84 Miracle in Miami. To this day, it’s one of the most iconic Hail Mary passes in American football. He even won the Heisman Trophy, though voting had finished just before he made that legendary throw.

After all that fanfare, it seemed Flutie had peaked too early in his career. Doubts started to set in, partially motivated by the fact he was small for a QB – just five foot, ten inches. His first five years in the NFL were underwhelming, until he left for the CFL in 1990. He joined the BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts in his time. He proved himself in the CFL by winning six Most Outstanding Player awards, more than any other player since. He also carried three Grey Cups for the Stampeders and the Argonauts.

Like a returning hero, Flutie went back to the NFL with a vengeance. He signed with the Buffalo Bills, immediately leading them to the playoffs and earning the NFL Comeback of the Year award. He did it again next year where, in a cruel twist of fate, he was benched while the opposing Tennessee Titans made a similar game-winning play – the Music City Miracle. Buffalo fans would remember it as the Music City Mistake, or the Curse of Flutie, starting a 17-year playoff drought seen as punishment for not putting Flutie on the field.

Flutie finished his career as backup for Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in 2005. His wild college throw landed him in the College Football Hall of Fame, and he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

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Priyanka Chaudhary
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