What makes a player iconic?
To me, there are two key factors — longevity and exclusivity. To be a team’s most iconic player, I believe they have to have spent their entire career with one team and played for over a decade.
You could argue this criteria is a little arbitrary, but hey — it’s my list. You’re welcome to let me know your thoughts on my selections and/or criteria via social media.
My limitations rule out a player like Warren Moon — who left Edmonton for the NFL after six seasons — or someone like Darian Durant, who played with a new team at the end of his career.
We often think of player transience as a modern issue, but many all-time CFL greats such as Doug Flutie, Mike Pringle, Geroy Simon, Willie Pless, and Jackie Parker played for three or more teams. This made it interesting to delve into the history of all nine teams to make my selections.
Here they are — the most iconic player for each CFL team.
B.C. Lions — K/P Lui Passaglia
He may not have been a star quarterback or a perennial 1,000-yard receiver, but nobody is more synonymous with the B.C. Lions than Lui Passaglia.
The Vancouver native and Simon Fraser product played a CFL record 408 games with the Lions, winning Grey Cups in 1985, 1994, and 2000. He was a first-ballot Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee in 2004 and worked as B.C.’s Director of Community Relations for seven years after his retirement.
Calgary Stampeders — LB Wayne Harris
One could make a strong case for Allen Pitts in this spot, but Harris edges him out narrowly.
The first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee had his No. 55 retired by the Stampeders in 1973, just one year after his career came to an end. The eight-time CFL all-star also left a remarkable legacy in the city with his son, Wayne Jr., serving as the head coach of the Calgary Dinos for the past fifteen years.
Bo Levi Mitchell is about to enter his ninth season with the Calgary Stampeders, which means he will soon demand serious consideration for this spot.
Edmonton Football Team — LB Dan Kepley
The six-time Grey Cup champion became the first player ever to win the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player award multiple times and remains one of four players to win it more than twice.
The East Carolina product even returned to Edmonton as an assistant coach from 2002 to 2010, winning additional Grey Cups in 2003 and 2005.
It’s a shame the CFL didn’t record extensive defensive statistics until after his retirement because Kepley’s numbers would have been amazing.
Saskatchewan Roughriders — RB George Reed
The nine-time CFL all-star rushed for 16,116 yards, which remained an all-time league record until Mike Pringle broke it almost 30 years later.
Reed was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 1965 and was a first-ballot inductee to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1979. His 134 rushing touchdowns and 3,243 rushing attempts remain at the top of the record books.
He has remained in Regina since his retirement and received the Order of Canada in 1978 at the age of 38.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers — REC Milt Stegall
Chris Walby would have received consideration for this spot, but the big man dressed for five games as a rookie with the Montreal Alouettes.
Stegall was a nine-time CFL all-star who was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 2002. He caught 854 career passes for 15,153 yards and 144 touchdowns, retiring as the league’s all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns scored.
The first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee remains the league’s all-time touchdowns leader with 147.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats — REC/DB Garney Henley
The sixteen-year veteran was named a CFL all-star ten times and helped his team reach seven Grey Cups, winning four.
Henley was a star in all three phases of the game, recording 243 receptions for 4,657 yards and 42 touchdowns, 60 interceptions, ten fumble recoveries, and 398 returns for 3,891 yards.
The six-foot, 180-pounder was also named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 1972.
Toronto Argonauts — RB/REC/KR Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons
The twelve-year veteran holds the CFL record for most all-purpose yards with 25,438 — 5,341 rushing, 7,015 receiving, 6,025 on punt returns, 6,349 on kickoff returns, and 708 on missed field goal returns.
The league’s Most Outstanding Player from 1990 won three Grey Cups as a player and has since won three more as Toronto’s head coach (2004) and vice-chairman (2012, 2017).
When one thinks of the Toronto Argonauts, Pinball is the first player who comes to mind.
Ottawa Redblacks — QB Russ Jackson
There’s only one person who has been named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, won the Lou Marsh Trophy, and been awarded the Order of Canada. That person is Russ Jackson.
The legendary quarterback passed for 24,593 yards, 185 touchdowns, and 125 interceptions over twelve seasons in Ottawa. He also rushed 738 times for 5,045 yards and 54 scores.
He is the greatest Canadian player in CFL history and remains an icon in the nation’s capital and across the country.
Montreal Alouettes — DL John Bowman
Sam Etcheverry might have been the pick here if he hadn’t left for the NFL after nine seasons in Montreal.
Bowman is an eight-time East Division all-star who sits sixth all-time in CFL sacks with 134. The two-time Grey Cup champion also has 451 career tackles, 32 forced fumbles, and one interception.
The future Hall of Fame inductee dressed for 230 games over fourteen seasons from 2006 to 2019. Iconic.