The Friday Conversation: Who is the Greatest Player in CFL History?

crop_18522131047It is time for another edition of the Friday Conversation.

One of the questions that sports fans love to debate is who is the greatest in a certain league, at a certain position, or of a certain era. CFL fans are no different, as the age range and breadth of knowledge will lead to many different answers, with no one being able to provide a definitive one. But that is the fun of sports; debate and the friendly back-and-forth can lead to some interesting, and enlightening, discussions.

So with that said, it is time to answer once and for all just who is the greatest player in CFL history. There have been many great players, but one stands above them all:

Doug Flutie.

Compared to some of the other greats, Flutie’s time in the CFL was short. He played just eight seasons in the CFL, two with the BC Lions, four with the Calgary Stampeders and two with the Toronto Argonauts. But in those eight years, Flutie compiled a list of accomplishments that are unmatched:

  • three Grey Cup wins in four appearances
  • three Grey Cup MVPs
  • six MOP awards
  • six CFL all-star selections
  • CFL, and pro football, record with 6,619 yards passing in a single season
  • only player in pro football history with two 6,000+ yard passing seasons
  • CFL record 48 touchdown passes in a single season

The résumé speaks for itself, but it is not just the numbers that put Flutie above the rest. Every time he stepped on the field, he was the best player on it. Following his stint in BC, every one of Flutie’s teams finished first in their division, going 15-3 in all but one season.

And let’s not forget that old Flutie magic.

The numbers are there, the championships are there, the individual awards are there, the wins are there. When you add it all up, the conclusion is simple: Doug Flutie is the greatest player to ever play in the CFL.

So what say you? Do you agree that Flutie is the greatest ever? Is it someone else? Hit up the comment section below and let’s get the conversation started.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.
Josh Smith

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Josh Smith
About Josh Smith (380 Articles)
Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.

35 Comments on The Friday Conversation: Who is the Greatest Player in CFL History?

  1. the paw // May 15, 2015 at 11:38 am //

    No quarrel with Flutie as greatest QB in history of the CFL, but I have difficulty with these cross-positional comparisons. Yes, the QB is the “most important position” and is well suited to a yardstick of statistics and awards, but there are other positions were players absolutely dominated the league from their position.

    Was Chris Walby to OL what Flutie was to QB’s? What about George Reed? Personally, I think John Helton wasn’t a player so much as he was a force of nature during his prime.

  2. Flutie is a good pick, but if you’re going to say “Best player of all time”, I think you have to go way back to when players didn’t play just one position, and went both ways. To that end, Jackie Parker is my pick. He played Quarterback, Running Back, Defensive Back and Kicker, won three straight Grey Cups, Three Schenley Awards for Most Outstanding Player and runner-up two more times, and of course, is a Hall-Of-Famer. Flutie was the best at his position, but Parker, in his day was the best in all three phases of the game.

  3. Mark Fulton Mark Fulton // May 15, 2015 at 12:55 pm //

    First the true stars … Chevrier @ LS. Ilesic @ Punter. Racine @ Kicker.

    Second the glory positions … Flutie @ QB. Pringle @ RB. Stegall @ SB. Gabriel @ TE.

    Walby @ OL as previously mentioned.

    Finally the defence … Helton @ DT. James Parker @ DE. Keply @ LB. Henley @ DB.

  4. Being a blogger for the Tiger-Cats, how could you NOT mention guys like Garney Henley and Joe Zuger?

  5. Other Tiger Cats…Less Browne, all time leader interceptions; Grover Covington, all time sack leader.

    Warren Moon is the only player in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the CF Hall of Fame?

    Also might want to consider dividing the category into two different eras. Pre and Post 70’s or something like that?

    Both Walby and Helton are great choices for their respective positions. Both are still a force post career with the work they have done in Winnipeg and Calgary with the work they have done in their respective communities.

  6. Lets not forget AC in the discussion? Or Scott Flory for O Line?

  7. Glen Maskerine // May 15, 2015 at 5:06 pm //

    Garney Henley.


    Why are we even having this discussion?

  8. For Discussion Purposes. Less Browne had 87 career interceptions in 10 year career. Garney Henley had 59 in a 15 year career.

    As stated earlier, need to go by eras to be fair. Both great players.

    What makes Garney the “no discussion best” player? Just curious?

  9. Russell Moon // May 15, 2015 at 9:05 pm //

    I have to say Jackie Parker because of his versatility.

    Don Coryell thought that he was the best in history, on either side of the border.

  10. Russell Moon // May 15, 2015 at 9:16 pm //

    I think the world of both Henley and Browne.

    But the problem with counting interceptions is that quarterbacks usually don’t throw in the neighborhoods of the best defensive backs. Don’t you agree, Leo?

    • Agreed. Just think how many interceptions Less would made if they threw his way.

      • And this is why eras are important. When Henley played, offenses were not focused on the pass as much as they were in Browne’s time.

        Both amazing players. I had the privilege of watching Browne play, wish I could have seen Henley play too.

        Same thing goes for the QBs. Some of those guys from the 50s and 60s didn’t put up numbers anywhere near Flutie, Moon, Clements, etc. but one wonders what they may have done in the more modern era of the CFL.

      • Ugh – should have mentioned Calvillo. Lots more great ones as well when you get into Dunigan, McManus, Burris, and others. Nobody’s mentioned Damon Allen yet either.

        It’s hard to disagree with Flutie though. Even just considering the best offensive player of the modern era.

        • Wondering how long it would take to bring up Damon?
          All Time Stats
          #2 Passing Yards
          #2 Touchdown Passes
          #3 Rushing Yards
          #3 Rushing Touchdowns

          • Russell Moon // May 16, 2015 at 3:26 pm //

            I had the honor of Damon and his family coming to my Grey Cup party in ’95. A great time was had by all. Damon, Desiree and the kids came because Reggie Pleasant came.

      • Russell Moon // May 16, 2015 at 3:23 pm //

        LOL! I can’t argue with that!

  11. Garney Henley wasn’t just a DB… He also played WR, returned kicks and punts often in the same game… He was capable of controlling the pace of the game… Garney was to the Ticat’s team what Bobby Orr was to the Bruins…

    Just saying…

    Cheers… Snake

    • "HAWKS" // May 17, 2015 at 8:07 am //

      Cant argue that. I’m a millennial so I never got to see Henley play. But anyone who played pro football both ways especially during that era (1950-1960) was tough as nails and a fantastic athlete.

      • The other thing that “young” guys like me (I just turned 44 on Saturday) is that Henley played in a time where there was NO blocking allowed on kick and punt returns. NONE! He is, easily, the best Tiger-Cats player ever, and, IMHO, the best CFL player ever. Flutie (the Doug version) comes a VERY close second, mainly because his CFL career was truncated at both ends by the NFL. I believe he would have eclipsed both Calvillo’s and P. Manning’s numbers by a wide margin if he had played his entire career up here.

  12. While I’d pick Doug Flutie as the greatest player in CFL history, in second place I’d pick Mervyn Fernandez. I consider him the best receiver of all-time. He had a unique combination of speed, moves, body control and tremendous hands. He simply never dropped a pass. In his first 4 CFL seasons he gained over 5,500 yds receiving and 50 Td’s.

  13. Glen Maskerine // May 16, 2015 at 8:02 am //

    Awesome come back, Leo.

    • Snake…let’s change direction a bit. The only position which has the opportunity to change the pace of the game is QB. Hard for me to really comment on Garney’s ability to do that since he was from a different era. Big plays like kick returns can change the momentum of the game but big plays only happen when they happen. If you want to talk returners who changed games you have to bring in Gizmo and Pinball.

  14. Mike Matheson // May 17, 2015 at 7:26 pm //

    My answer will either surprise people, or leave them saying “Who?”

    The usual way to choose is great play over a long career. I am going to base my selection on the best two years of a player’s career. Using that methodology, my pick is Lovell Coleman. In 1964 and 1965, he was better than Willie Fleming. Better than George Reed. Better than anyone. Teams soon learned that they would have to send two or three defenders because, as it was said, no single tackler could bring Lovell Coleman down.

    Coleman didn’t play much in his first few years because the key to Calgary’s offense was the great Earl Lunsford. But it was like Dominik Hasek backing up Ed Belfour … a star in a backup role where nobody realized what he could do. Injuries ruined his career, but for those two years, he was unstoppable.

  15. Paul Rechner // May 18, 2015 at 3:35 am //

    Jackie Parker, when he played, was quite possibly the best professional football player in any league at that time.

    It is tremendously hard to separate individual efforts in a team based game, where a QB’s success is influenced by his O-line, Receivers, running game, etc. There have been some fantastic players on lesser teams that will not have the stats or wins that Flutie has. No arguing that he was instrumental in those successes, but he is far from the equivocal answer.

  16. Warren Moon, 5 consecutive Grey Cup Championships, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (NFL) and the CF Hall of Fame.

    • Russell Moon // May 18, 2015 at 3:16 pm //

      Yes Leo, but won’t you agree that Moon was close to last place on the team regarding each player’s contribution to winning the Grey Cup in ’78? As I recall, all he did that year was hold for the placekicks.

      And the following year, he again was Tom Wilkinson’s backup, although he played more.

      And you will recall that in the five years the Eskimos won the Grey Cup, he never received the Schenley Award. It was my belief at the time that the members of the FRC gave him the Award his last year because he had already announced that he was leaving for the NFL, and they wanted to give him a going-away present.

      And…are you suggesting that election to Canton has any relevance to the quality of a player’s play during his years competing for the Grey Cup?

      LOL! Not picking on you Leo! I’d like to hear your thoughts.

      • Dave
        You bring up some interesting points. I agree about his contribution in 78 and 79. It must have been tough for him after leading the UofW Huskies to Rose Bowl win over the HEAVILY favored Michigan.

        I was with Winnipeg on the other side of the ball during the 5 year run. (if it wasn’t for the worst call in CFL history against John Helton we would have been in the Grey Cup against the 5-11 Eastern Riders) The Edmonton coach was my college coach. The previous coach who built the team was our coach in Winnipeg.
        I don’t know what happened in the locker room or in the press room. All I know is what happened on the field.
        His selection to Canton was based on his NFL career. His selection the CF Football Hal of Fame was based on his CFL career.
        I think every CFL city has their own greatest CFL player in history.
        Be careful Dave you are getting close to being called for poling on. lol

  17. Lindsay Wilcox // May 20, 2015 at 11:52 am //

    I have followed the Ticats and CFL since early 50s, NFL since mid-50s, although not so much any more. One has to consider the rules of each era – back in the early 50s a player wasn’t consider tackled until he was stopped – I can remember TDs being scored by players sliding from about the 5 into the end-zone. U.S. college ball there wasn’t the unlimited substitution that came in in the 60s and many players went both ways, hence they did so when they got to the pros – Henley, Zuger, Faloney, Barrow, Mosca, Gilchrist – endless list in the CFL and there were some in the NFL too – Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik spring to mind because Bednarik ended Gifford’s career. And in the CFL the changes re number of “imports” vs. “Canadians” – Bob Hanley in the Spectator joked that the closest Gerry McDougall got to being a Canadian was his parents honeymooning in Niagara Falls. And “designated import “, etc. I can’t pick any ONE, I’d be thinking of the greats at every position, CFL AND NFL, e.g. Jim Brown was probably the best RB, certainly the toughest. NEVER missed a play, except 1 game when he was thrown out for allegedly throwing a punch – late in the 3rd Q and he already had over 200 yds. Quit at 29 holding then (nearly?) every rushing record. BUT I never saw Marion Motley and there are some very old football commentators who say he was even better ? Let me end this “book” by reminding everyone there can be no “best”, THAT is purely the definition of the speaker/poster.

  18. Mike Robinson // May 20, 2015 at 4:36 pm //

    Even though I’m a Ti-cat fan, I can’t believe that nobody has brought up Russ Jackson’s name. I am old enough to have seen him throw the bomb to Whit Tucker, hand off to Ron Stewart or run the ball himself. He was a QB who was built like a running back. As well when talking about stats, people seem to forget there were far fewer games per season in the 60’s & 70’s than there are now. As well the game was far more focused on running.
    My neighbour growing up was Bob Krouse who played for the Ti-cats in the 67 & 72 Grey Cups. He always claimed that one of the hardest guys to bring down was Bill Symmons of the Argos. He got knocked a couple of times trying to tackle him.
    To me Henley did it all. My father had season tickets back in the day when the north stands in What was then Civic Stadium were merely bleachers. I watched Henley play many times, he wasn’t flashy, just good.

    • Lindsay Wilcox // May 20, 2015 at 5:41 pm //

      I think the seasons out west were 16 games and the playoffs were really different. The Western semi-final was a 2 game total point, the final was a best of 3 !! It meant Grey Cup game could feature an Eastern team that had played only 1 tough playoff game (’63 Ticats) while the Western opponent might have played 5 !
      I agree re Garney – in ’62 Grey Cup he scored 2 rushing TDs, one was one of the greatest runs from scrimmage I’ve ever seen. Garney was born about 50 years too early; if he was playing NOW, he would be a real threat on every punt/kick return !

  19. Russell Moon // May 21, 2015 at 12:24 am //

    Lindsay, the ’62 Grey Cup was the first CFL game I saw – on Wide World of Sports (which as I recall was shown on a same-day tape-delayed basis). I’m a little surprised that you remember a Henley run, because all I remember was not being able to see anything through the fog, except occasionally Joe Zuger running out of the pocket!

    • Lindsay Wilcox // May 21, 2015 at 10:51 am //

      Yes his second TD a reverse/flanker-around was difficult to see in the fog. I was referring to his first earlier in the game, almost an off-tackle. It was about 75 yards and stood as the longest run from scrimmage in a Grey Cup for many years ? He got a couple of great blocks down-field from Fullback Jamie Caleb. Was a great game – except for Ticat D unable to stop Leo Lewis, then Dick Easterly dropped that 3rd down pass from Joe Zuger off a fake punt. That cost us about 40 yards and for many years I blamed the loss on Dick, when it was a team loss.

  20. Tim Steele // May 21, 2015 at 8:28 pm //

    Garney Henley…..he did it all!

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