- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Across the United States last week the nights were getting cold, the leaves had turned brown, and husky young men in colorful uniforms were well launched into the professional football season. The same annual phenomena were taking place across the Dominion of Canada, too, from Montreal to Vancouver, only more so. For there, already, some nights have been downright frigid, trees were already stark—and the professional football season, frankly and unabashedly referred to by many Canadians with more truth than originality as "autumn madness," had passed the halfway mark. Already two coaches had been fired, one of them Hampton Pool of the Toronto Argonauts; Ronnie Knox, the temperamental quarterback from UCLA, had gotten his annual burst of headlines, this time by quitting football forever in order to go to Mexico or Europe to write poetry.
Though the crisp Canadian air was filled with talk of football, the names you heard had a familiar sound south of the border as well. In the West two young men who, less than a year ago, faced each other as rival quarterbacks in the Rose Bowl were continuing their rivalry for different sponsors and this time for excellent first-year pay. Iowa's Randy Duncan was playing for the Vancouver Lions, California's Joe Kapp was a solid quarterback with the Calgary Stampeders. And both were learning a few tricks from the Mississippi State All-America, Jackie Parker of the Edmonton Eskimos. Back East, a Hamilton tackle with the hauntingly reminiscent name of Bronko Nagurski was blocking for Quarterback Bernie Faloney. Montreal's Sam Etcheverry, the most indestructible quarterback in football, if not the best, was playing in his 143rd consecutive professional game, pitching, as usual, to a 10-year veteran of professional football, Red O'Quinn, formerly of Wake Forest, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears.
All in all, there are more than 150 American football players, called Imports, on the rosters of the nine teams making up the Canadian Football League, plus 40 or so coaches, trainers and executives. The game they play differs little, really, from what you see in the U.S. The teen-aged drum majorettes in the half-time show kick their tasseled boots a little more friskily, perhaps, in order to keep their circulation going, and on the field the play moves along faster, with less dead time.
Canadian football is a good game for the spectators and it is good to the players, especially the Imports. Most of them really get a kick out of playing, plus—in most cases—more money in the early years than they would make in the U.S. (see box on page 86), good treatment, rapt worship from the fans and the chance to build a personal career in a booming country so crazy about football and football players that the fans turn out for practice.
"I came up here with nothin' six years ago," Big Billy Shipp of Alabama and Montreal said. "Now I got a good business, a nice home, money in the bank, nine Labrador retrievers and a Siamese cat."
Imports like Shipp are comparatively new in Canadian football. The sepia photographs of the shockheaded stars of the '90s, glowering grimly from the walls of the Ottawa Roughriders clubhouse, give proof that they've been playing the game a long time in Canada. But it wasn't until 1948 that all the clubs of the Canadian Football League began going after Imports. They sent out raiding parties armed with fat checkbooks south across the border to prey on the American pro teams. Many a proved star, under signed contract to an American club, was lured north in spite of it.
Four years ago the Canadian Football League and the National Football League made peace, and now they keep hands off each other's signed players. But they still compete fiercely for the rookies. Some clubs spend $50,000 a year recruiting college players in the U.S. Montreal's international telephone bill alone is over $5,000.
American players are far from resented in Canada; they are demanded. The vociferous fans want the best football they can get and, they have faced it, the few Canadian high schools and colleges fielding teams do not turn out enough good players to give them that American quality. And so they yell for Imports.
However, Imports cost big money. Most American rookies playing in Canada get anywhere from $8,000 for a rookie lineman to $18,500 for a top quarterback or ball carrier. This includes only the 10-week regular season, from August 18 through October 24. The series of postseason playoff games, which lasts approximately a full month, brings in more money. To hold down expenses, clubs are permitted to dress only 28 men per game (American teams field 36 men), of which only 12 can be Imports. Each club carries a half dozen or so Imports in reserve.
Because of the small squad and the nature of the Canadian game, the Imports must be a special breed of ballplayer. Most of them are expected to play both offense and defense. Even the specialists have to hustle. There are no time-outs (an extra minute is set aside between quarters for the TV commercial), and the field is longer and wider. "Getting in and out of the ball game is a 60-yard dash," Randy Duncan, who is fortunate enough to play only on offense, observed.