Hall of Fame receiver Nik Lewis believes CFL game was made ‘so much easier’ by 2014 pass interference rule changes

Photo courtesy: RFB Sport Photography/CFLAA

Football isn’t for tough guys anymore and that suits Nik Lewis just fine.

The Hall of Fame pass-catcher joined The SportsCage in Regina this week to discuss his recent hiring as the Calgary Stampeders’ new receivers coach. He shared his excitement about returning to the CFL by noting how it has changed since he first arrived in Calgary in 2004.

“I love this game. I think it’s a game of skill with two downs to make a first down instead of three, the motions and everything else. I just feel like this game is a lot more entertaining to watch and the game has gone more toward that entertainment space,” Lewis said. “You look at the rule change in 2014 and how the rules have changed where it’s less physicality and more skill and entertainment. I really love that aspect of the game and look forward to being a part of it.”

Lewis was still playing when the CFL placed more emphasis on offence by beefing up pass-interference penalties and outlawing illegal contact on a receiver. Though he had a well-earned reputation as one of the league’s most physical pass catchers, the Southern Arkansas product found the change to be revelatory and can’t help but wonder what his production might have been like had those rules always been in place.

“You start to compare,” Lewis admitted. “Like when I was in Montreal, I put up I think it was 1,200 yards in year 13 of my career, when I was a couple of years removed from a major injury that they’d never thought I’d play again. And honestly, the game was so much easier from that standpoint for me — not saying for everybody — because everybody’s playing the same game now.”

A nine-time thousand-yard receiver during his time with the Stamps, Lewis had seen his output diminish to a career-low 377 yards in 2014. Thanks to the new rules and a move to Montreal, he set a career-high of 102 receptions two years later, amassing 1,136 yards at  34 years old.

“I went from playing a game where you can be held, the DB can grab you and hold you or tackle you, as long as the quarterback doesn’t throw you the ball, they’re not throwing the flag,” Lewis remarked.

“It was a lot different back then. We used to see a lot of man-to-man, press man at the line of scrimmage. Now you see a lot more cover four versions, you see a lot more playing off so you don’t get pass interferences. Just being able to see multiple people and do things, it creates a lot more space and entertainment for the offence.”

“Thick Nik” retired in 2017 with a league-record 1,051 receptions for 13,778 yards and 68 touchdowns to his name, entering the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2021 as a first-ballot inductee. However, we may never know how much higher his totals could have crept had he played his entire career with today’s wide-open rule set.