First ballot inductees Solomon Elimimian, John Bowman lead Canadian Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023

Graphic courtesy: CFL/CFHOF

Two of the greatest defensive players in CFL history will enter the Canadian Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Defensive end John Bowman and linebacker Solomon Elimimian will be enshrined as part of the Class of 2023, earning induction in their first year of eligibility. They are joined by offensive linemen Josh Bourke and Lloyd Fairbanks, and defensive back Larry Crawford. Former coach Jacques Dussault and the eighth Commissioner of the CFL, Larry Smith, have been inducted as builders.

“On behalf of the entire Canadian football community, it’s my distinct privilege to open the doors of the Hall of Fame to the Class of ‘23,” CFHOF executive director Eric Noivo said in a statement. “Their play on the field and their efforts to build up Canadian football have made our game what it is today. I would like to extend my gratitude to the selection committee for their time and dedication to honouring our inductees and celebrating their tremendous achievements.”

Bowman played 14 seasons with the Montreal Alouettes from 2006 to 2019. In 230 regular season games, he amassed 481 tackles, 32 forced fumbles and 15 fumble recoveries to go along with 134 career sacks — good enough for seventh all-time. He was selected an East Division all-star nine times and twice named a CFL All-Star, winning two Grey Cups.

Elimimian played 10 seasons with the B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders from 2010 to 2019, winning one Grey Cup in 2011. He was the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2010 and was twice named Most Outstanding Defensive Player, becoming the first and only defensive player to be recognized as the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 2016. A six-time West Division all-star and a four-time CFL all-star, he holds three of the four highest single-season tackle totals in league history and sits sixth all-time with 833 defensive tackles in 133 career games.

Bourke played nine seasons with the Montreal Alouettes after being selected in the third round of the 2004 CFL Draft, finishing his career with the Toronto Argonauts. He appeared in 151 career games and won two Grey Cups, earning East Division all-star honours in seven consecutive seasons from 2008 to 2014. He was twice named a CFL all-star and won the league’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award in 2011.

Fairbanks was a territorial exemption of the Calgary Stampeders in the 1975 CFL Draft, spending 11 total seasons with the club to bookend his 17-year career. He also spent four seasons with the Montreal Alouettes and two with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He played 257 career games and was named his team’s nominee for Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman on 11 occasions, earning seven divisional all-star awards and two CFL all-star selections.

Crawford played 134 games over nine seasons with the B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts, winning one Grey Cup in 1985. A five-time divisional all-star and four-time CFL all-star, he retired with the fifth-highest interception total in CFL history with 52 and also sat second all-time with 4,159 punt return yards.

Dussault became the first French-speaking coach in CFL history when he was hired as a defensive assistant with the Montreal Concordes in 1982. An alumnus of the University of Ottawa and McGill University, he spent five seasons with the team before returning to the collegiate ranks with Acadia and Mount Allison. He would later serve as a head coach in the World League of Football with the Montreal Machine before returning to the CFL with the Alouettes in 1997, eventually landing back in the amateur ranks with the Montreal Carabins.

Smith played nine seasons with the Montreal Alouette after being selected first overall in the 1972 CFL Draft. He was appointed the eighth Commissioner of the CFL in 1992 and led the league through U.S. expansion and the return of the Alouettes. After leaving the commissioner’s chair, he joined Montreal as club president in 1997 and served until 2001, and again from 2004-10. The sitting Canadian senator has won four Grey Cups, two as a player and two as an executive.

The annual Hall of Fame Game is scheduled for Saturday, September 16 at Tim Hortons Field with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers visiting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Class of 2023 will be officially inducted as part of a ceremony the night before.

Additionally, veteran sportswriter for the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald Vicki Hall,  long-time TSN producer Jon Hynes, and the late Chris Schultz, former player and beloved CFL on TSN panellist, will be inducted into the media wing of the CFHOF.

Nominees for the media wing are recommended by the Football Reporters of Canada (FRC) before being presented to the CFHOF Selection Committee for approval. The Media Class of 2023 will be inducted on Grey Cup Sunday, November 19, during the FRC annual brunch.