Reaching greatness on his own terms
Tom Brady has learned how to use football and not be used by it.
With Tom Brady’s performance in Sunday’s Super Bowl having inspired many pundits to label him the greatest National Football League quarterback of all time, let’s take a look at a Canadian Football League version of that list.
Naming the best quarterbacks in CFL history will always be a contentious one due to the simple fact that there are so many ways to evaluate the game’s most important position.
For some, statistics are king, and, for others, it’s about team success.
This ranking attempts to sift through 104 years of CFL history while trying to balance era, stats, wins, career length and dominance.
So, here they are, from 10 to 1. Let the discussions begin: 10. Henry Burris, 1997-2016 After 20 years of professional football, Burris went out in style, with a Grey Cupwinning MVP performance. Burris finishes his career with 63,227 passing yards, 435 touchdowns (374 passing, 61 rushing), 118 wins and 93, 300-yard passing games. In addition to his three Grey Cup rings, the five-time all-star and two-time MOP owns the CFL record for completions in a season (481) and an individual game (45). 9. Kenny Ploen, 1957-1967 The three-time all-star led the Bombers to six Grey Cup berths, winning four. While his passing stats might not compare with some on this list, there’s no doubt that he was one of the most dominant players of his era, taking Winnipeg to the playoffs in eight of his eleven seasons and winning 15 out of the 21 playoff games he suited up in. 8. Ron Lancaster, 1960-1978 In addition to being the first quarterback in CFL history to pass for 50,000 yards, Lancaster was one of the winningest QBs of all time, leading his team to victory 158 times. Over 18 years, the seven-time allstar and two-time MOP played in 288 games with Ottawa and Saskatchewan, registering just two losing seasons. Lancaster led Saskatchewan to the playoffs 14 times in a row, appearing in the West Final 12 times, the Grey Cup five times but only winning Earl Grey’s trophy once. 7. Russ Jackson, 1958-1969 Three-time Grey Cup winner. Six-time CFL all-star. Four-time Most Outstanding Canadian. Three-time CFL Most Outstanding Player. And the last great Canadian quarterback.
In the 12 seasons he played for the Rough Riders, the Hamilton native led them to the playoffs every season and was the league’s most dangerous dual threat; passing for 24,592 yards and 185 TDs while rushing for 5,045 yards and 54 TDs. 6. Tom Wilkinson 1967-1981 During his 15-year career, Wilkinson missed the playoffs only once and turned his eight Grey Cup appearances into five victories. The CFL MOP in 1974 was a three time all-star and one of the most clutch players in league history. 5. Joe Krol, 1942-1955 One of only four players to have his number retired by the Argos, the “King” was a four time all-star and six time Grey Cup champion. While stats are hard to come by for the era in which he played, it’s universally agreed that Krol, a triple threat to score by passing, rushing or kicking the ball, was among the most versatile and valuable players in the CFL when he suited up. 4. Anthony Calvillo, ’94-2013 Atop nearly every CFL passing record, you’ll find Calvillo’s name. He’s got the most passing yards (79,816), most touchdowns (455), most completions (5,892) and most 300-yard games (125). But what holds him back from being higher on this particular list is his less than stellar record in the Grey Cup. In eight trips to the big game, Calvillo only managed to muster three wins. For an Alouettes team that was consistently a regular season juggernaut, years of playoff disappointments cannot be overlooked. 3. Warren Moon, 1978-1983 In six brief years, Moon helped establish a dynasty that will never be rivalled. While throwing for 21,228 yards and 144 touchdown passes, Moon won nine of 10 playoff games and captured the Grey Cup five straight times, twice being named the Grey Cup MVP. 2. Damon Allen, 1985-2007 It’s fair to say we’ll never see another career like Allen’s. Over 23 seasons, the dual threat QB found the end zone 487 times (394 through the air and 93 on the ground), played in 370 games and was a part of 17 playoff teams. If coming up big when it matters most is how you judge a QB, Allen’s three Grey Cup MVPs in four championship wins speaks volumes about his ability to rise to the occasion. Upon retiring in 2007 Allen was the CFL’s career passing leader with 72,381 yards and an incredible third on the league’s alltime rushing list, with 11,920 yards on the ground to his credit. He’s also the only QB in league history to throw for at least 10,000 yards with four different teams. 1. Doug Flutie, 1990-1997 Was there ever any doubt? Nobody’s claim to the top of this list is as strong as Flutie’s. Over eight years, he complied a 105-38 record as a starter, passed for 41,355 yards and 270 TDs, led the league in passing five times, was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player six times, brought his team to the playoffs seven times and won three Grey Cups. In addition to his team success, Flutie also put up eye-popping personal stats which have stood the test of time, such as averaging a CFL record 306.3 passing yards per game. To this day, he still holds the record for the most passing yards (6,619) and touchdowns thrown in a single season (48). Though his career doesn’t boast the longevity of others on this list, it’s undeniable that when compared to every other pivot in the CFL’s storied history, Flutie stands head and shoulders above his peers.
Honourable mentions: Matt Dunigan, Danny McManus, Sam Etcheverry, Tom Clements, Bernie Faloney.
In eight years, Doug Flutie became the best CFL quarterback ever.
Saskatchewan’s Ron Lancaster (23) comes in at No. 8. Warren Moon, No. 3 on our list, runs through the rain to victory at the 1982 Grey Cup in Toronto.
Hamilton-born Ottawa great Russ Jackson comes in seventh best.