SI Vault
Mark Mulvoy
August 23, 1971
More and more U.S. college stars are unwilling to be bench warmers in the NFL when they can make big money playing football in Canada
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August 23, 1971

Dodging The Draft In Canada

More and more U.S. college stars are unwilling to be bench warmers in the NFL when they can make big money playing football in Canada

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Until this year, when Toronto and Hamilton, in particular, began to tempt big-name American players with big Canadian dollars, the NFL looked upon the CFL as a retreat for its rejects and for those draft choices from places like Emory & Henry and Wittenberg who probably would not have lasted very long in the U.S. anyway. The people in Philadelphia probably have never heard of Sonny Wade, the Eagles' 10th-round pick in 1969 who quarterbacked Montreal to the Canadian championship last season. Wade came from Emory & Henry. Ron Lancaster is a Wittenberg alumnus, and for the last five years he has been the CFL's best quarterback. But Lancaster is only 5'10"—much too small to be an NFL quarterback, according to the computer.

The typical American football player in Canada today, though, is a Gary Wood, a star in Ottawa but unwanted in New York; a Don Trull, loved in Edmonton but booed in Boston and in Houston; a Granville Liggins, an All-America middle guard at Oklahoma but supposedly too small to play in the NFL; an Angelo Mosca, too undisciplined in his formative years to submit to weight and bed checks; a Paul Brothers, an option quarterback at Oregon State with no regard for the pocket; and a Mel Profit, a free spirit, free thinker, free talker out of UCLA who does not think he could adjust to the NFL's code of silence and, as a result, turned down several offers from NFL clubs that needed a tight end this year.

Canada's search for quality imports actually began last season when the Alouettes outbid the Baltimore Colts for Steve Smear, the All-America defensive lineman from Penn State. The Colts told Smear they wanted to switch him to middle linebacker, but they never talked in convincing tones about Smear's talent. "Some of their people didn't think I was very good, I guess," says Smear. Instead, he signed with the Alouettes, made All-CFL at defensive end and helped Montreal win the championship. Now he plays middle linebacker and could become Canada's best.

This year, in addition to the Theismanns and Worsters, the CFL has signed its usual collection of relative unknowns. Jim Chasey was all- Ivy League and all-East at Dartmouth, but the NFL ignored him. Montreal signed Chasey for peanuts, and he quarterbacked the Alouettes to victory in their opening game. "With Ken Dryden of Cornell playing for the Canadiens, and Chasey of Dartmouth with the Alouettes, all the Expos need is a shortstop from Harvard," someone said last week. The British Columbia Lions have Michigan's Don Moorhead to back up Brothers at quarterback, and the Calgary Stampeders list Jim Lindsey, the alltime NCAA college-division total-offense leader at Abilene Christian, as No. 2 quarterback.

Next to Stillwagon, the best rookie lineman so far has been Rock Perdoni, a Georgia Tech graduate passed over by the NFL because of his size—5'10", 235 pounds. Perdoni starts at defensive right end for Hamilton, while Mosca plays on the left side, forming what they call "Little Italy."

There are 14 Americans on each of the nine 32-man rosters in the CFL. All the starting quarterbacks in the league are from the U.S., as are all the head coaches and most of the assistants. Few colleges in Canada have football teams, and fewer award football scholarships. As a result, there are seldom more than 25 Canadian players competing for the 18 roster spots available on each team. The survivors usually find themselves playing up front in the trenches. American players monopolize the running back, receiver, defensive secondary and quarterback positions.

The Canadians don't resent the U.S. players hogging the glamour jobs. "When you win you make more money," says Ralph Sazio, the general manager of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, "and you win by having your best players at the most important positions."

By CFL definition, a "Canadian" can be anyone who did not play high school, college or professional football in the U.S. (In the past, a "Canadian" was also anyone whose father was born in Canada. This led to the forging of birth certificates and other chicanery, and the definition has been changed.) The letter of that law may be tested this week by the Montreal Alouettes. They are giving a trial to U.S. sprinter John Carlos, who was recently cut by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Alouettes claim that Carlos never played a game of football in the U.S. What does Toronto's Leo Cahill say? "If Carlos is ruled a Canadian, I'll be at the commissioner's office the next morning."

On the other hand, many players originally from the U.S., such as Mosca and ex-Quarterback Bernie Faloney, now are legitimate Canadians, having spent the required five years in the country and having taken out citizenship papers.

Despite the U.S. influence, the game remains very Canadian. The CFL plays with 12 men (an extra back) on the field and there are three downs instead of four. "Three yards and a cloud of dust up here means that you kick the ball all night," Theismann says. The playing field is 10 yards longer and 11? yards wider. "I'm forever grateful that the sidelines are closer in the States," Joe Kapp once said. The end zones are 25 yards deep—not 10—and in Toronto they are curved at the corners because of an adjacent running track.

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