CFL to NFL: Five Best Quarterbacks to Switch Over


When you think of all the talented players who made their names in the Canadian Football League before enjoying success south of the border, Doug Flutie might be the textbook example. Flutie was a Heisman Trophy winner at Boston College, but at 5-foot-10, he wasn’t getting much love from National Football League scouts. That’s why Flutie had to start his career somewhere else: in the USFL.


That’s right, Flutie’s first professional team was the 1985 New Jersey Generals, where he played alongside RB Herschel Walker. Donald Trump had bought the Generals in 1984; the entire league collapsed in 1986, then Flutie spent parts of four frustrating years in the NFL before finally making his mark in the CFL, winning three Grey Cups and six Most Outstanding Player awards.

Flutie eventually returned to the NFL in 1998 with the Buffalo Bills and was named to the Pro Bowl, finally proving to the world that he could hang with the best despite his short stature. He’s one of the greatest CFL to NFL success stories in the history of football – but since Flutie didn’t start his career up north, we’re not including him on Bodog Sportsbook’s official list of the five best quarterbacks to make the jump.5.

Dieter Brock

You’re probably more familiar with the other four names on this list – unless you’re a Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan of a certain age. Brock made his CFL debut with the Bombers in 1974 and became their starter in 1975. He was the league’s MOP in 1980 and 1981, breaking Sam Etcheverry’s old record with 4,796 passing yards in ‘81.

Unfortunately for Brock, he never did win the Grey Cup; Winnipeg traded him to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1983 for QB Tom Clements, and Clements would lead the Bombers to the 1984 Cup over Brock’s Ti-Cats.

Brock turned the football world on its ear in 1985 when he signed with the Los Angeles Rams to be their starting quarterback. He was the NFL’s oldest ever rookie quarterback at age 34, but he led LA to an 11-4 record, the NFC West title and the 1985 NFC Championship Game, where Brock and the Rams fell 24-0 to the mighty Chicago Bears.

That was basically it for Brock’s playing career. He hurt his knee during the first game of the 1986 preseason, and chronic back issues prevented his return. Brock did make a CFL comeback with the Tiger-Cats in 1995 as their offensive co-ordinator and made brief stops in Ottawa (1996) and Edmonton (1999) before heading back to the States.

4. Jeff Garcia

There was a time when the CFL was all about the battle between Flutie’s Toronto Argonauts in the East Division, and Jeff Garcia’s Calgary Stampeders in the West. And it was only fitting: Flutie was with the Stampeders from 1992 to 1995, then he hurt his elbow and Garcia took over. They never did meet in the Grey Cup, but Garcia did lead the Stamps to victory over Hamilton with his MVP performance in 1998, and as far as CFL to NFL success stories go, he’s right up there.

Like Flutie, Garcia was originally considered too short for the NFL – despite standing 6-foot-1. But his success in Calgary gave Garcia enough traction to sign with the San Francisco 49ers in 1999, where he quickly replaced another injured legend in Steve Young (concussion). Garcia held onto the starting gig in 2000 and made his first of three consecutive Pro Bowls before everything went sideways for both Garcia and the Niners as a franchise.


Garcia’s career was a bit of a mess from there. He’d see action for five other teams between 2004 and 2009, and played some of his best football in his late 30s with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even returning to the Pro Bowl in 2007. But as one of the previous generation of “scrambling” quarterbacks in pro football, Garcia’s style of play took its toll; he spent 2010 with the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks, and 2011 as an unused back-up for the Houston Texans before calling it quits.

Coincidentally enough, Garcia would also find work as a coach once his playing days were done. He was QB coach for the Montreal Alouettes in 2014 and spent 2015 as an offensive assistant with the Rams. Garcia can now be found running football camps in his hometown of Gilroy, California.

3. Joe Kapp

It’s time for this list to go old-school. Kapp was an All-American quarterback for the California Golden Bears, leading them to their most recent Rose Bowl appearance after the 1958 campaign – but his best job opportunity coming out of college was with the Stampeders, in the newly-created Canadian Football League.

Kapp brought Calgary to the playoffs in 1960, then the BC Lions sent four players to the Stamps the following year in exchange for Kapp. It was a king’s ransom, but it paid off handsomely when Kapp led the Lions to victory at the 1964 Grey Cup, in his second of two CFL All-Star seasons in Vancouver.

This was back when the CFL to NFL jump wasn’t quite as high as it is now in terms of quality; they even made the occasional “trade” between the two leagues. In 1967, the Minnesota Vikings pulled some strings and acquired Kapp’s services, with WR and future CFL Hall of Famer Jim Young landing with the Lions. Again, it was the right move, as Kapp piloted the Vikings to victory in the 1969 NFL Championship Game.

Technically, that’s the only championship the Vikings have ever won. They did go on to lose Super Bowl IV to Kansas City, but that was before the AFL and NFL officially merged in 1970. As for Kapp, he made the Pro Bowl in 1969, finishing second to Rams QB Roman Gabriel in the Associated Press MVP vote, and rounded out his playing career with the 1970 Boston Patriots before taking up a long and storied career as a coach (he was the 1982 Pac-10 Coach of the Year back at Cal) and as the erstwhile GM of the Lions. Kapp was even the one who brought Flutie to the CFL in 1990.

2. Warren Moon

Slotting Moon at No. 2 on this list was a tough choice, but we’re putting extra emphasis on NFL success here, and while Moon did win five consecutive Grey Cups with Edmonton between 1978 and 1982 (the first two as Tom Wilkinson’s back-up), he never did reach the top of the American football mountain.

It wasn’t his height (Moon stood 6-foot-3) that was keeping Moon from getting work in the NFL after his impressive three-year stint at Washington, where he led the Huskies over Michigan at the 1978 Rose Bowl. Instead, it was Moon’s race. There had been few Black quarterbacks in the league up to that point, most notably James “Shack” Harris with the 1969 Bills – the AFL having been somewhat more relaxed about their personnel decisions than the NFL.

Rather than get drafted in the late rounds and put his career at risk, Moon signed with Edmonton and became arguably the best quarterback the CFL has ever seen. Dieter Brock’s passing record didn’t last long; Moon threw for 5,000 yards in 1982, and 5,648 yards in 1983, before finally latching on with the Houston Oilers in 1984.

Even then, it had to be the Oilers: Their head coach was Hugh Campbell, who was Moon’s coach with Edmonton until he left in 1983 for a job with the USFL’s Los Angeles Express. Campbell didn’t stick around long, but Moon did, spending the next decade with Houston and making the Pro Bowl every year from 1988 to 1993.

And he didn’t stop there. Moon continued to make Pro Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks before age caught up to him; he retired after two years as a back-up in Kansas City, and is now the only player ever to be inducted into both the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

1. Joe Theismann

Theismann is No. 1 on our list because of Super Bowl XVII. He was a two-time CFL All-Star (1971, 1973) with the Toronto Argonauts, after choosing them over both the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and the MLB’s Minnesota Twins – Theismann was a three-sport letterman in high school – but he didn’t stay up north long enough to achieve the same CFL success as Moon

In 1974, Washington traded a first-round pick to the Dolphins for Theismann’s rights, but again, success wasn’t a given for the former Notre Dame standout, not at 6-foot tall. Theismann spent his first season with Washington as their punt returner, and wasn’t given the QB reins full-time until 1978.

What a rocket ride it was. Theismann led this rebuilding franchise to greatness, an effort that gained even more momentum when head coach Joe Gibbs was installed in 1981. Theismann helped Washington beat the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII at the end of the strike-shortened 1982 season, then he made his second Pro Bowl in 1982, and might still be playing today had it not been for that catastrophic broken right leg he suffered on Monday Night Football in 1985.



Do you think Moon should be ranked ahead of Theismann despite never winning the Super Bowl? Is someone else who has successful switched from CFL to NFL more deserving of being on this list? Let us know; in the meantime, check out our CFL odds and NFL odds pages at Bodog Sportsbook for the latest lines, and we’ll see you on the gridiron.