Five Greatest NFL-CFL Crossover Stars

Cameron Wake of the Dolphins, David Onyemata of the Panthers and Brandon Zylstra of the Vikings count themselves as former CFL players currently contributing in the NFL. Minnesota, Carolina and Miami aren’t favorites for NFL futures lines this season, according to info sites like Canada Sports Betting, but ex-CFL have factored into NFL championships in the past. These five CFL-NFL crossover stars excelled in both leagues, earning Grey Cups and Super Bowls.

Warren Moon

NFL – Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs

CFL – Edmonton Eskimos

Undrafted despite an illustrious college career that included a Pac-8 title and a Rose Bowl MVP nod, Warren Moon enjoyed a unique, record-breaking career which stretched across North America. No NFL team wanted Warren, so he decided to join the Edmonton Eskimos, where he won five consecutive Grey Cups while becoming the first pro QB to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season.

After dominating the CFL, Moon signaled his intent to jump to the NFL, creating an instant contract war for his services. He landed with the Houston Oilers, eventually signing a then-record $10 million contract over five years in 1989. A year later, he would lead the NFL in passing yards, completions and TDs while matching Marino’s record with nine games of 300 passing yards or more.

Moon would finish a 17-year NFL career with nine Pro Bowl selections, an MVP award, 49,325 passing yards and 291 TDs, but he never progressed to the conference round of the playoffs. Combining NFL and CFL production, he passed for an incredible 70,553 yards and 291 TDs. Warren Moon entered the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 2006 as the first African-American quarterback elected and the first undrafted member, voted into history in his first year of eligibility.

Joe Theismann

NFL – Washington Redskins

CFL – Toronto Argonauts

There was an era in which the CFL competed with the NFL to sign the best college talent. Joe Theismann was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy during his standout years at Notre Dame, but he fell to he fourth round of the draft and experienced a tough negotiation with the Miami Dolphins. The Toronto Argos leapt at the opportunity to hire Joe at $50,000 per season.

Joe quickly established himself as an elite pivot in the CFL, earning an all-star nomination in 1971 and 1973 with the Argos, leading the team to a Grey Cup appearance. His years in Toronto proved his worth as a QB, which spurred Washington to exchange a first-round pick with the Dolphins for the rights the Theismann.

A few seasons of inconsistency at the NFL level eventually translated into a pair of outstanding seasons for Joe, who lead Washington to a Super Bowl victory and two consecutive NFC Championships. Theismann was named MVP in 1983, accumulating a 22-3 record during his peak with Washington. Joe also endured the unfortunate distinction of suffering one of the worst career-ending injuries in North American pro sports, when his leg snapped during a Lawrence Taylor sack.

Cookie Gilchrist

NFL – Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins

CFL – Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Toronto Argonauts

Rushing was central to professional gridiron football during the middle of the 20th century and Cookie Gilchrist was one of the most freakish physical talents of the era. As an athletic fullback, he ran over the competition with a 6’3”, 250-pound frame. Before transitioning to pro football, he was an MVP in the Ontario Rugby Football Union with the Sarnia Imperials.

He started pro gridiron with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, winning the Grey Cup in 1957. He played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for a season before settling with the Toronto Argos for a few years, earning an all-star nom in five of six seasons with the CFL.

Cookie signed with the Bills in 1962, enjoying three legendary seasons in Buffalo. He set AFL records as the first 1,000-yard rusher in league history while notching 13 TDs in 14 games, earning an AFL MVP award.  In 1963, Gilchrist set a new single-game rushing record with 243 yards and five TDs against the Jets. Gilchrist donated his brain for CTE study before he passed away in January 2011.

Doug Flutie

NFL – Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers

CFL – BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders, Toronto Argonauts

One of the most electric playmakers in college, the CFL and NFL, Flutie was a Heisman Trophy winner who transcended the stigma of quarterbacks under six feet tall. He made the unfortunate decision of crossing the picket line during an NFL strike in 1987, which lead to tensions between he and fellow teammates.

He would transfer to the B.C. Lions in 1990, where he would dominate the league after a rough first season. Flutie won three Grey Cups with Calgary and Toronto, along with a trio of Grey Cup MVPs. He was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player six times, setting the record for most passing yards in a single pro football season with 6,619 yards. Flutie’s the only pro pivot to pass for 6,000+ yards in two seasons.

Doug was named the greatest CFL player of all time, but he didn’t experienced a lot of success in the United States, never making an impact in the playoffs. He still enjoyed the occasional moment in the sun, including setting a record as the oldest player to rush for a TD. In his final game with the Patriots, he dropkicked an extra point, the first time this method was used since 1941.

Joe Kapp

NFL – Minnesota Vikings

CFL – Calgary Stampeders, B.C. Lions

Another legend of the golden era, Joe Kapp started his pro football career with the Calgary Stampeders in 1959, before he transferred to the BC Lions for five seasons. He was named to the CFL all-star team in 1963 and 1964, winning the Grey Cup in 1964 and making the finals in two consecutive seasons, gaining notice as an elite pivot in North America.

Kapp was drafted by Washington, who didn’t bother to contact Joe after the draft, which forced Kapp to the CFL. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 1967, where he started slowly with a 48.2 passer rating and a 3-5-3 record. In 1969, Kapp lead the Vikings to a 12-2 regular season record, including a seven TD game and the only NFL Championship for the franchise.

Despite his status as a championship quarterback, Kapp’s career ended quickly afterwards due to a dispute with NFL ownership, launching an antitrust case against the league. His lawsuit won, creating an important legal precedent for free agents in professional sports.

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