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Many Canadian Football League fans aren’t celebrating the departure of arguably the league’s most entertaining player, but they should be.
Following a breakout season with the B.C. Lions, Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past weekend. In his statement announcing the move, he referred to his time in the CFL as a “unexpected detour,” which irritated some of the league’s most ardent fans, who are prone to getting defensive about any suggestion that three-down football is inferior to any other brand, including the behemoth NFL.
The CFL has an aging but devoted fan base that has contributed to the league’s success in many ways. Where else on the planet can you find a fan base that refuses to be treated as second-class citizens in the presence of the granddaddy of North American sport? The CFL, or any league, should consider themselves extremely fortunate to have such a passionate fan base.
At the same time, it’s critical to understand why any criticism of Rourke and his decision to join the Jags is misguided.
For starters, the CFL is constantly on the lookout for exciting young quarterback prospects. Rourke, a player who was virtually ignored by the NFL after graduating from college, has paved the way for other quarterbacks who are unhappy in the NFL and has made a compelling case for those players and their agents to consider Canada as a viable option.
After all, just getting these quarterbacks to come north is half the battle. Anthony Calvillo might not have even considered playing in the CFL if he hadn’t been able to get his foot in the door with an American team like the Las Vegas Posse, with whom he began his CFL career.
There are a plethora of quarterbacks emerging from the American college system who are just waiting to be discovered and developed. Some of them simply need to be convinced of the real benefits of visiting a different country. A successful NFL career for Nathan Rourke could significantly help that cause at a time when the CFL is facing stiff competition from the XFL and USFL for new players.
For decades, diehard CFL fans complained that the league had been unable to find an impact Canadian quarterback, which it hadn’t had since Russ Jackson retired over 50 years ago. Kid Canada’s success in the NFL in ways that Jesse Palmer was unable to do would not only inspire young athletes in Canada to try to emulate him.
If Rourke succeeds, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, it will legitimize the Canadian Football League in the eyes of the world for the first time since Doug Flutie led the Buffalo Bills on an incredible ride in 1998 and Jeff Garcia made three consecutive Pro Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers.
Rourke had a fantastic receiving corps in British Columbia, but he fell short of the Grey Cup in his brief stint as a starting CFL quarterback. Maybe, just maybe, that will bother him in his later years after he’s won a Super Bowl, as it has for Joe Theismann. Such a scenario would only add to the Canadian Football League’s mystique and magic.
And the good news doesn’t stop if Rourke’s NFL career ends in a blaze. He could return north and improve our league and country in the same way that his new assistant coach, Henry Burris, did after one-year stints with the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Or perhaps he’ll do it after just one NFL training camp, as Ricky Ray did after a tryout with the New York Jets in 2004.
We can only hope that Rourke’s NFL career is the wild, rip-roaring success that it was for previous B.C. Lions quarterbacks Flutie and Joe Kapp, rather than the bitter disappointment that it was for Casey Printers.
On this new adventure, the sky is the limit for Nathan Rourke, just as it is for the CFL and its fans. Some of them may not be aware of it yet.