First-ballot Canadian Football Hall of Famers are ultra-rare (& should be celebrated more)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

Nik Lewis became a first-ballot Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee on Tuesday, which is a remarkable accomplishment.

First-ballot inductees are rare in Canada. There are 220 players in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and just 22 were inducted in their first year of eligibility (.100). For comparison, 76 of the 326 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame were first-ballot inductees (.233).

One reason why the Canadian percentage is lower is that the institution did not induct its charter class until 1963. All 21 of these inductees were retired by 1955, creating a backlog until the initial first-ballot inductees were welcomed in 1971.

Seven players were first-ballot inductees in the 1970s, which remains the most ever in a single decade. The trend then tapered off — the 1980s had three, the 1990s had one, and the 2000s had three — before ramping back up in recent years.

Six players were first-ballot inductees in the 2010s and we already have two in the 2020s. We will likely get a third in 2022 when legendary quarterback Ricky Ray reaches his first year of eligibility.

Below is a complete list of the Hall’s first-ballot inductees. They are listed alphabetically by last name.

QB Henry Burris, 2020

REC Ben Cahoon, 2014

QB Anthony Calvillo, 2017

REC Tommy Joe Coffey, 1977

RB Jon Cornish, 2019

QB Doug Flutie, 2008

TE Tony Gabriel, 1984

LB Wayne Harris, 1976

DL John Helton, 1985

DB/REC Garney Henley, 1979

QB Russ Jackson, 1973

REC Brian Kelly, 1991

QB Ron Lancaster, 1982

REC Nik Lewis, 2021

OL Gene Makowsky, 2015

QB Warren Moon, 2001

QB/RB/REC/K/P Jackie Parker, 1971

K/P Lui Passaglia, 2004

REC/DB Hal Patterson, 1971

RB George Reed, 1979

REC Geroy Simon, 2017

REC Milt Stegall, 2012

The list of first-ballot inductees is made all the more exclusive when one considers the number of all-time greats who didn’t make it.

Players who did not enter the Hall of Fame right away include Damon Allen, Doug Brown, Less Browne, Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons, Grover Covington, Matt Dunigan, Sam Etcheverry, Dave ‘Doctor Death’ Fennell, Darren Flutie, Alondra Johnson, Dan Kepley, Normie Kwong, Joe Montford, James ‘Quick’ Parker, Elfrid Payton, Willie Pless, Mike Pringle, Chris Walby, and Henry ‘Gizmo’ Williams.

That list includes the CFL’s all-time leaders in rushing yards, tackles, sacks, and interceptions, along with a litany of award winners. Wild.

Congratulations to Nik Lewis on an amazing accomplishment — you’ve reached some truly elite company.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.