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CFL Stirring An International-National Player Debate

June 21, 2014 9:40 AM | Columns

By Roger Currie

Paris Cotton - Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Winnipeg Blue Bombers runningback Paris Cotton (34) runs for a big gain in CFL pre-season action at Investors Group Field on Monday, June 9, 2014. (SHAWN COATES / CHRISD.CA FILE)

With a brand new season upon us, some thoughts about imports in Canadian football. All of a sudden we don’t have them any more. Players from the United States are now international players, while those with Canadian passports and birth certificates are now known as national players.

Whatever you call them, American imports have been part of Canadian football for a very long time. There was a time when becoming a ‘naturalized’ Canadian meant that guys like Kenny Ploen and Ron Lancaster were no longer counted as imports, making them more valuable because it made room for another American on the roster.

Before World War II, American imports were only found on prairie teams like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and eastern clubs did their best to keep the Yanks from playing in the Grey Cup. Much later, the Toronto Argos brought in many American stars, including Heisman Trophy winners, and most of them failed miserably in the CFL.

The jobs of Canadian-born players are protected in the league rules. Twenty years ago, it looked like that protection might disappear when the CFL expanded to hotbeds of three-down football like Shreveport and Las Vegas. The Baltimore No Names did not have a single Canadian on their roster when they won the Grey Cup in 1995.

There is still no rule that says you must carry a Canadian quarterback on your roster in the CFL, and there probably never will be. The last really good one was Russ Jackson, and he stopped playing 45 years ago. Even Wally Buono, the Canadian who is the winningest coach in the history of the league, has never really given a fellow Canadian a solid shot at running his offense in either Calgary or BC.

Hey, why don’t we bring back the all star game at the end of the season… nationals against internationals? Just a random gridiron thought.

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Roger Currie is a writer, storyteller, voice for hire, observer of life on the Canadian prairies, and can be heard on CJNU 93.7FM in Winnipeg.