Rob Murphy left a big impact on the CFL during his six-year career with the B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts.
Now in his tenth year of his retirement, the offensive lineman still remembers his tenure in Canada foundly.
“It was just an awesome time,” said Murphy in an interview with 3DownNation. “I was in the NFL for a while and I was sort of jaded about how my career in that league ended. I knew I still had some good football left in me and I just wanted to go out on my own terms.”
The six-foot-five, 310-pound blocker was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Detroit Lions from 1999 to 2005. He dressed for 27 NFL games over that span, which also included stints in NFL Europe and the XFL.
Like many American players, Murphy came to the CFL knowing very little about the league.
“I came into camp as an NFL lineman at 325 or 330 pounds. That was the first thing that I realized was, ‘Holy s***, I need to lose weight.’ These guys are not as big and powerful but they are definitely quicker and faster. When you get into the whole mechanism of the game with the play clock being shorter than it is in the NFL, conditioning plays a big factor.”
One of the people who helped Murphy adjust to the CFL was defensive end Brent Johnson, his former teammate and roommate from Ohio State. The native of Kingston, Ont. played eleven seasons for the Lions (2001-2011) and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
“It was really cool to not only have a really close friend of mine from Ohio State, but having that guy on the team that’s the best at his position,” said Murphy. “With my immediate success up in the CFL, a lot has to do with going against the best defensive end in the league at the time every day in practice. When it got to games it was like, ‘This is a lot easier than what I line up against in practice.'”
Though Murphy blocked a number of great CFL defensive ends — Anwar Stewart, Fred Perry, John Bowman, etc. — he still feels as though Johnson was the best one he ever faced.
“Defensive ends are flashy. There’s guys that will flash for four or five weeks and they look like world-beaters and then you don’t hear from them for another six or seven weeks. As a defensive end going against the run and rushing the pass, Brent was definitely the most consistent defender I went against.”
The level of success that Murphy achieved in his first CFL season was virtually unprecedented. He was named the league’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman as a rookie in 2006 and the Lions won the Grey Cup in Winnipeg, capping a stellar 13-5 season.
Murphy was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman again in 2007 — an award that no player has ever won more than twice — and was a league all-star in each of his first three seasons.
The veteran blocker’s life changed dramatically in July 2008 when his wife gave birth to triplets. The children were in the NICU for two months back in Florida, which made being 5,000 kilometres away extremely difficult.
Murphy wanted to be closer to home while playing in the CFL, which is why he elected to sign with the Argos as a free agent in February 2009.
“I made that switch primarily to be closer to the triplets,” he said. “I made that sacrifice moving back east for help with the kids. I did not want to leave B.C. It was really tough.”
Toronto had made Murphy the CFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback, earning well over $200,000 with incentives. Despite the significant raise, he found it very difficult to leave the Lions.
“It was tough to tell Wally (Buono). Wally and the B.C. Lions did everything in their power to retain me, which was flattering. At that point in time I had to make the best decision for my family, but football-wise it was a mistake.”
The Argos had hired Bart Andrus to serve as the team’s head coach in 2009 despite having no prior CFL experience. The former NFL Europe bench boss was a disaster in his one-year stint in Toronto, leading the team to an abysmal 3-15 record.
“Not a lot of people know this, but I reached out to Wally (after the 2009 season) and we started talking about the possibility of making a trade to get me back,” said Murphy.
The offensive lineman had undergone a change in his personal life with he and his wife filing for divorce. With proximity to Florida being less of a factor in where he played, Murphy had a renewed interest in returning to the Lions.
“It was tough for me because I committed to a contract (with Toronto) and a contract’s a contract. At that point in time, the Argos were in turmoil after that season with Bart Andrus, who was clueless. They were the laughingstock of the league,” said Murphy.
Jim Barker took over as the head coach of the team in 2010, which Murphy called a “godsend.” Buono had reached out to Barker to discuss the possibility of trading the star left tackle back to the west coast, but a deal was never pursued.
“Jim actually brought me in and said, ‘Murph, what are we doing here? Are you committed to us or do you want to go back to B.C.?’ I had a real soul-search. In my heart, I wanted to go back to B.C., but at the same time a big character thing for me is you committed. Just based on that conversation with Jim and what he believed, he sold me to not pursue getting moved.”
The Argos were far from flashy in 2010 but managed a post-season berth after finishing the regular season with a 9-9 record. The team beat Hamilton at Ivor Wynne Stadium in the East Semi-Final before losing to the Montreal Alouettes in the East Final.
Murphy was named a CFL all-star in 2010 before playing one final season with the Argos in 2011. He held a retirement party in May 2012 at a bar in Toronto, which was open to the public.
The former left tackle still lives in St. Augustine, Florida where he and his ex-wife share equal custody of their three children. The triplets, now 12, are all honour roll students who are involved in a number of sports and school activities.
“I’m really blessed because I have really, really, really good kids. I attribute that to just being strict on them. A lot of the times I was a single dad and so, quite frankly, you’re outnumbered. You have to set a rigid schedule.”
Murphy has been dating his girlfriend, Jacquie, for four years. She has grown close to the triplets, who have accepted her as a parent. He also still works as a firefighter and enjoys discussing parenting with his colleagues.
“Sometimes I’ll have just one of my kids with me and I’m like, ‘This is a joke. This is so easy to just have one.’ I give young parents in my fire department that only have one kid s***. They come into work and say things like, ‘Oh, I was up all night with my one child’ and I’m just like, ‘Dude, you got no clue.'”