Opinion: Nathan Rourke’s NFL departure a boost for Canadian Football League

Photo: Arthur Ward/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Many CFL fans aren’t celebrating the departure of arguably the league’s most entertaining player but they probably should be.

Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past weekend following a breakout year with the B.C. Lions. He referred to his tenure in the CFL as an “unforeseen detour” in his statement announcing the move and it irked some of the league’s most diehard fans, who are prone to getting defensive about any notion that three-down football is inferior to any other brand, including the behemoth NFL.

It’s an aging but loyal core following the CFL has that in many ways has made the league great. Where else on earth could you find a fan base that refuses to be treated like second-class citizens next to the grand-daddy of North American sport? The CFL, or any league, should be so lucky to have such a fan base that loves what it has so passionately.

But at the same time, it’s important to acknowledge why any backlash towards Rourke and his decision to join the Jags is horribly misguided.

For one thing, the CFL is constantly grinding to recruit exciting young quarterback prospects. Rourke, a player who was virtually ignored by the NFL coming out of college, has showcased a path for other quarterbacks feeling unwanted by the NFL and presented a compelling case for why those players and their agents should consider Canada as a viable option.

After all, getting these quarterbacks to come north in the first place is half the battle. Anthony Calvillo might never have even considered the Canadian game had he not been able to get his foot in the door through an American franchise like the Las Vegas Posse with whom he started his CFL career.

There are oodles of quarterbacks coming out of the American college system waiting to be discovered and developed. Some of them just need to be sold on the real benefits of trying a different country. A successful NFL career for Nathan Rourke could help that cause in a big way at a time the CFL is facing stiff competition for new players from the XFL and USFL.

Diehard CFL followers complained for decades that the league was unable to find an impact Canadian quarterback, which, until Rourke showed up, it hadn’t had since Russ Jackson retired over 50 years ago. Kid Canada making it big in the NFL in ways Jesse Palmer wasn’t able to do would not only encourage young athletes in Canada to try to follow in his footsteps.

If Rourke thrives, and there’s no reason to think he can’t, it will legitimize our beloved CFL in the eyes of the world for the first time since Doug Flutie took the Buffalo Bills on an incredible ride in 1998 and Jeff Garcia made three consecutive Pro Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers.

Rourke had a dynamite receiving corps in B.C. but fell short of the Grey Cup in his short time as a starting CFL quarterback. Maybe, just maybe, that will eat at him in his older years after he’s won a Super Bowl just like it has Joe Theismann. Such a scenario would only add to the mystique and magic of the Canadian Football League.

And the good news doesn’t end if Rourke’s NFL career goes up in flames, either. He could find his way back north and make our league and country better just like his new assistant coach, Henry Burris, did after his one-year stints with the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Or maybe he will do it after one NFL training camp like Ricky Ray did following his tryout with the New York Jets in 2004.

We should all hope that Rourke’s NFL adventure turns out to be the wild rip-roaring success that it was for previous B.C. Lions’ quarterbacks Flutie and Joe Kapp and not the bitter disappointment it was for Casey Printers.

The sky’s the limit for Nathan Rourke on this new adventure just like it is for the CFL and its fans, too. Some of them just might not know it yet.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.