Don’t underestimate the talent in the Canadian Football League.
That was the message shared by legendary Cincinnati Bengals’ receiver Chad Johnson during a recent appearance on the Stacking the Box podcast. Asked by host Mark Carman about his brief foray north of the border with the Montreal Alouettes in 2014, Johnson noted that he was taken aback by the level of play he encountered in the CFL.
“There’s only 1,500 players in the NFL, right? So I go to the CFL and I’m thinking, Okay, this is going to be a breeze,” Johnson admitted. “I get there; first practice, I’m like, Whoa, these dudes are good.”
Johnson, who briefly changed his surname to Ochocinco whilst in the NFL, was 36 years old and three seasons removed from his last professional game when he tried his hand at the CFL.
However, he arrived with a wildly impressive resume from his 11-year career with the Bengals, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. A four-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler, Johnson had 766 receptions for 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns in the NFL, setting ten Bengals’ franchise records along the way.
He would not experience similar success in Canada, where Johnson played just five games during an injury-plagued season with the Alouettes and recorded seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown.
“Every week we would play a different team, Toronto, Saskatchewan, and I’m looking at the landscape like, why are you not down there [in the NFL]?” Johnson recalled. “The numbers. There’s only so many people and certain opportunities.”
The outspoken receiver ultimately did not return to Montreal for the second season of his contract in 2015, finishing out his career on the team’s suspended list.
“Dude, the CFL was really very surprising because everybody was good,” Johnson acknowledged. “I mean, sh*t, they were good enough to be down here playing in the NFL.”
The clip of his interview has since gone viral with CFL fans on social media, generating more than 45.7 thousand views on Twitter. Current and former players including Chris Williams, Dee Alford, Kyran Moore and Eugene Lewis have all shared it.
Johnson’s comments validate what CFL fans and players already know: this is a league full of world-class athletes who simply need an opportunity.