To your average NFL fan, Canadian football is a bit of a mystery. While it’s still called football and generally features the same rules, there are just enough quirks to keep making things confusing. Despite those differences—and one infamously bad preseason field—there are plenty of players who use the CFL as a springboard for their career.
In fact, four quarterbacks plied their trade north of the border before making the jump to NFL success.
Doug Flutie’s CFL career
While Doug Flutie technically played in the NFL before heading to Canada, he made his career north of the border.
Despite throwing one of the most famous passes in football history at Boston College, Flutie was considered too small for the NFL. After playing one season in the USFL, the quarterback finally reached the big show and appeared in four games for the Chicago Bears in 1986. He would play a handful of games with the New England Patriots over the next few seasons before making the jump to the CFL in 1990.
Flutie signed with the BC Lions and initially struggled to adjust to the league. During his second season, however, he threw for a record-setting 6,619 yards; that performance earned him a move to the Calgary Stampeders. While Flutie would move back to the NFL, his tenure in the CFL was historic. He threw for over 41,000 yards, was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player six times, and was voted as the best CFL player ever in a 2006 poll.
Jeff Garcia follows in Flutie’s footsteps
During Flutie’s final years in Calgary, his back-up was Jeff Garcia. Garcia, of course, would go on to have an NFL career of his own.
Like Flutie, Garcia was considered too small for the NFL, so he headed north after college. He took over the Stampeders’ offense in 1996, and led the team to the 1998 Grey Cup; that performance helped land him a job with the San Francisco 49ers.
Garcia spent five seasons with the 49ers, before bouncing around the league for several seasons. While he would find patches of success in Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, he faded out of the league. After his retirement, the quarterback spent a season back in Canada on the Montreal Alouettes coaching staff.
Joe Theismann, CFL star
Despite being drafted by both the Miami Dolphins and the Minnesota Twins, Joe Theismann got his start in the Canadian Football League. After negotiations with Miami broke down, the quarterback signed a contract with the Toronto Argonauts.
In his first year under center, Theismann led the Argos to a 10-4 record and a place in the Grey Cup championship game; his second year in Ontario was cut short by injuries. After the 1973 campaign, the Washington Redskins acquired the quarterback’s NFL rights, and Theismann would move to the nation’s capital.
Warren Moon makes his name in Canada
Despite posting three strong NCAA seasons with the Washington Huskies, Warren Moon went unselected in the NFL draft. Looking to keep his football career alive, the quarterback headed north, signing with the Edmonton Eskimos.
After sharing snaps with Tom Wilkinson, Moon took over the Edmonton starting job. He helped the club capture five straight Grey Cups, taking home the Grey Cup MVP award in 1980 and 1982. Moon also became the first professional quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in 1982; he would break his own record by over 600 yards the next season.
On the back of those performances, Moon decided to move to the NFL. He signed with the Houston Oilers, immediately became the starter, and the rest is history.