The Top 10 NFL Players and Coaches Who Started Out in the CFL

The Canadian Football League is the oldest professional football league in the world. It has a history of sending big-time players to the NFL and a lot of players have gone from the NFL to the CFL. Today we are going to look at players that started out in the CFL and ended up having memorable NFL careers.

10) Mervyn Fernandez

Was a two-time CFL all-star with the BC Lions (1982-1986, 1994) amassing a total of 6,690 receiving yards and 57 touchdowns. In 1987 he headed to the NFL where he spent all six years there with the Raiders, amassing 209 catches for 3,764 yards and 19 touchdowns in 86 games.

9) Raghib Ismail

Ismail received the largest contract in professional football history with the Argonauts at the time. He took little time to prove his worth in the CFL; leading the Argonauts to a victory in the 79th Grey Cup and earning an appearance on the 1991 All Star squad.

In his second and last season in the CFL, Ismail set the Argonauts’ single season record for kick-return yards. He played for the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders in 1993 moving on to the Carolina Panthers in 1996 and then the Dallas Cowboys in 1999. He retired in 2003.

8) Joe Kapp

Kapp joined the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL for his rookie season in 1959. The following year, Kapp led Calgary to their first playoff appearance in years. The season was a difficult one, because he injured his knee against the Toronto Argonauts early in the season, but did not miss any games, because he played heavily taped.

In 1961, the BC Lions, then the CFL’s newest franchise, traded four starting players to the Calgary Stampeders for Joe Kapp. The move paid off for the Lions when Kapp led the team to a Grey Cup appearance in 1963. The following season, Kapp led the Lions to their first Grey Cup victory in 1964. However, the Lions proved unable to defend their championship in 1965.

Kapp signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 1967 and led them to Super Bowl IV in 1969 where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.

7) Joe Horn

A member of the now-defunct Shreveport Pirates and the short-lived Memphis Mad Dogs, Horn spent only two seasons in the CFL before moving south of the border to play for the Kansas City Chiefs. Horn was used sparingly by the Chiefs.
Horn signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent before the start of the 2000 NFL season. During his seven seasons of performing at a very high level with the Saints, Horn was honored with four Pro Bowl selections. In his 11 year NFL career, he caught 603 passes for 8,744 yards and 58 touchdowns.

6) Cameron Wake

In his two short years with the BC Lions in the CFL established himself as one of the greatest pass rushers the CFL had ever seen. He amassed an incredible 39 sacks in two seasons and was named the defensive player of the year both years he played.

In the NFL, Wake established himself as one of the top pass rushers in the league while with the Miami Dolphins. From 209 to 2018 he recorded 363 tackles and 98 sacks. He surpasses the 100 sack mark after signing with the Tennessee Titans in 2019 bringing his total to 100.5 career sacks. He has the distinction of being named in all star in two countries.

5) Marv Levy

Led Montreal to two Grey Cups, and then, as head coach of Buffalo, won four AFC Championships but lost out in the Super Bowl four times, including the infamous Super Bowl XXV heartbreaker to the New York Giants 21-20 on a missed field goal with four seconds left.

4) Jeff Garcia

Jeff Garcia started out his career in Canada as Doug Flutie’s backup. Garcia tossed for over 16,000 yards and 111 touchdowns while winning the 1998 Grey Cup. Before the 1999 NFL season Garcia signed with the San Francisco 49ers, once again placing himself in the unenviable position of backing up a legend; NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young. After Young’s season was ended prematurely with a concussion, Garcia was instated as the 49ers starting quarterback for the rest of the season. As a first year starter for the 49ers Garcia surpassed all expectations; setting a team record for passing yards and earning a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl squad. Over the next two years Garcia cemented his status as a top-level quarterback with back-to-back playoff appearances.

3) Joe Theismann

Theismann had immediate success with the Toronto Argonauts; leading his team to ten wins and a berth in the 59th Grey Cup against the Calgary Stampeders. After three years in the CFL and two All Star nominations Theismann headed south of the border to play for the Washington Redskins of the NFL. In Washington Theismann led the Redskins to two Super Bowls, winning one.

2) Warren Moon

Moon would lead the Edmonton Eskimos to an astonishing five straight Grey Cup victories from 1978 to 1982. During that span, Moon threw for 113 touchdowns and over 20,000 yards. In Moon’s sixth and last season in the CFL he would be named the league’s Most Outstanding Player.

Moon would go on to become a Hall of Fame NFL quarterback with the Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs throwing for a total of 49,325 yards and 291 touchdowns. How could he not be in the top 2?

1) Bud Grant

During his ten seasons as head coach in Winnipeg, he led the team to six Grey Cup appearances, winning the championship four times in 1958, 1959, 1961, and 1962. He finished his Blue Bombers coaching career with a regular season record of 105 wins, 53 losses, and two ties and an overall record of 122 wins, 66 losses, and 3 ties. Grant was the CFL Coach of the Year in 1965.

Left for Minnesota and ended up leading the Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances. The reason he is at the top of this list is 10 combined Grey Cup and Super Bowl appearances.