On January 30th, 2022, The Los Angeles Rams defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. This means Ontario natives Alaric Jackson and Michael Hoecht, who both play for the Rams will have the chance to join an exclusive club and become just the eighteenth and nineteenth Canadian players to have played in the Super Bowl. From kickers to quarterbacks, triumph to despair. Stretching as far back as 1975, it’s time to take a look back at the Canadians who have played on the NFL’s greatest stage.
Starting with one of the most iconic dynasties in sports, the Pittsburgh Steelers dominated the 1970’s and in their ranks was an Albertan kicker called Roy Gerela. Gerela signed with the Steelers in 1971 and although his kicking percentage of 68.3% doesn’t seem too impressive in today’s landscape, it was enough for Gerela to make the Pro Bowl in 1972 and from then on he didn’t look back. He became the first-ever Canadian to play in a Super Bowl in 1975 but was kept fairly quiet in the big game.
Gerela missed a field goal but did convert on two extra-point attempts in a 16-6 Pittsburgh win, becoming the first Canadian Super Bowl champion. He would see more action in the following Super Bowl against fellow 1970’s powerhouse the Dallas Cowboys. Gerela was responsible for eight of Pittsburgh’s twenty-one points, making two of his four field-goal attempts, and one of his two extra-point attempts, helping Pittsburgh achieve back-to-back titles in a 21-17 win.
Dallas would again be the opposition for Gerela’s Steelers in 1979, in a close high scoring game, Gerela missed a field goal attempt but converted on all five of his extra-point attempts, enough to earn his third Super Bowl in a 35-31 win. Gerela was let go from Pittsburgh after that season, but to this day the trailblazing kicker holds the record for most Super Bowls won by a Canadian and pathed the way for others.
Born in England but raised in Canada, Ken Clark would be the next Canadian to appear in the big game, the punter signed for the LA Rams in 1979 and his side made their first-ever Super Bowl that same season. Clark was kept busy in his one Super Bowl appearance in 1980. Against a menacing Steelers defence, Clark punted five times for an average distance of 44 yards in a 31-19 win for the Steelers.
In 1981, Vancouver-born offensive tackle Allan Kennedy signed for San Francisco. Despite not featuring much that season, Kennedy was part of a team that won the 1982 Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals. He would be much more involved in 1985 though and was once again part of a Super Bowl-winning team as the 49ers won the big game 38-16 against the Miami Dolphins.
Calgary-born Quarterback Mark Rypien is the next Canadian to play on America’s biggest stage. He signed with the Washington Redskins in 1986 and was Doug Williams back up in the 1988 Super Bowl. Behind Williams MVP performance, Rypien won a ring that year in a dominating 42-10 win over the Denver Broncos. Rypien was named the starting quarterback in 1989, and in 1992 he would have his chance to star in a Super Bowl of his own.
Against the Buffalo Bills, Rypien went 18/33 for 292 yards, putting up two touchdowns and one pick in a 37-24 Washington win. Rypien was rewarded with the game’s MVP, becoming the first and only Canadian starting Quarterback to win either a Super Bowl or be Super Bowl MVP.
The Bills would again make the Super Bowl in 1993 against Dallas, and in their ranks was a kicker from Hamilton Ontario named Steve Christie. Christie was instrumental for Buffalo in their 1993 playoff run, successfully pulling off an onside kick in the Wild Card game against Houston in a game where they came back from a 35-3 deficit, and then scoring five field goals in the championship game against Miami.
It wasn’t meant to be in the Super Bowl, however. Despite going perfect in his one field goal and two extra-point attempts, Dallas crushed Buffalo 52-17, leaving Christie empty-handed. Christie would have a second chance in 1994 in a rematch against Dallas, and the Super Bowl that year would make Canadian history. Lined up on the opposite sideline for Dallas were two Nova Scotian natives, kicker Eddie Murray, and wide receiver Tyrone Williams. Williams was part of the Dallas team that won the year before but was inactive in the big game. As such 1994, was the first time a Super Bowl would feature multiple Canadians.
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Christie was again perfect on his two field-goal and extra-point attempts. The Nova Scotia pair would come on top in this game. Williams was again inactive, but Murray would go three-for-three on both field goal and extra-point attempts in a game Dallas won 30-13.
Klaus Wilmsmeyer, a punter from Mississauga was on the 49ers roster that made the Super Bowl the following year, meaning that at least one Canadian had featured in four consecutive Super Bowls. Against San Diego in the big game, Wilmsmeyer punted five times for an average of 39.8 yards per punt in what proved to be a comfortable 49-26 win over the Chargers.
The last Canadian to make a Super Bowl appearance in the 1990s was Atlanta Falcons Tight End O.J. Santiago in 1999’s showdown against the Denver Broncos. The Whitby, Ontario native became the first Canadian to record a catch in the Super Bowl, but he would finish with just one reception for 13 yards in a 34-19 Denver win.
The 2000s would see an unprecedented eight Super Bowl appearances for Canadians, with mixed success throughout the decade for those hoping to win the big one. Tom Nütten was born in the States, but he immigrated to Canada in his teens and went to high school in Quebec. Nütten played in the 2000 Super for the St. Louis Rams against the Tennessee Titans. He was part of an offensive line that gave up just one sack as a unit and allowed quarterback Kurt Warner to throw for a Super Bowl record 414 passing yards in a 23-16 win for the Rams.
Nütten again played in the big game in 2002, but the Rams would come up short this time against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. New England would again make the Super Bowl again in 2005, and their opponent the Philadelphia Eagles had a Torontonian linebacker in their side, Mike Labinjo. Labinjo made two tackles in the championship game but once again, the Patriots won the game by a score of 24-21.
This would be the start of a record streak for Canadians, from 2005 to 2011, at least one Canadian featured in seven consecutive Super Bowls. During that streak, Lineman Daniel Federkeil (Medicine Hat, AB) won a ring with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, and Punter Mitch Berger (Kamloops, BC) also won the big one in 2009 with the Steelers. Unfortunately for Jean-Philippe Darche (2006 vs Steelers), Israel Idonije (2007 vs Colts), Nick Kaczur (2008 vs New York Giants), Austin Collie (2010 vs New Orleans Saints), and Shaun Suisham (2011 vs Green Bay Packers), it wasn’t to be as their sides came up short.
In 1994, a combined three Canadians were on the rosters of the two Super Bowl finalists but only two played a down. Twenty years later, a record three Canadians would play in the Super Bowl. Offensive Lineman Orlando Franklin moved to Toronto when he was three years old, and played every snap in the 2014 Super Bowl for the offensive juggernaut Denver Broncos. But the Broncos however were no match for their opponents, the Seattle Seahawks. In their ranks was a LaSalle native, tight end Luke Wilson. Wilson caught two passes for seventeen yards and his fellow countrymen, Punter Jon Ryan from Regina was only required to punt once for 45 yards in a lopsided 43-8 win for Seattle.
The Seattle duo would again make the Super Bowl the following year, and Ryan would have a busier game this time with six punts for 269 yards. Wilson failed to record a catch in the game and Seattle ultimately came up heartbreakingly short against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 28-24.
Another Canadian duo would be next to appear in the Super Bowl, North Bay lineman Ryan Hunter wasn’t a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs, but was on the active roster for the 2020 Super Bowl. He was joined by a fellow offensive lineman, Mont-Saint-Hilaire native Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Duvernay-Tardif was part of an offensive line that allowed the Cheifs to put up 397 total yards in a 31-20 win against the 49ers and Duvernay-Tardif became the first-ever Francophone Canadian to win a Super Bowl.
Another Quebecer, tight end Antony Auclair from Notre-Dame-des-Pins is at this point the latest Canadian to be involved in the Super Bowl. He was part of the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that faced off against Kansas City, and while he was inactive for the game, he became the latest Canadian to be awarded a Super Bowl ring.
As of the 2021 Super Bowl, seventeen Canadians (born and or raised) have played in the NFL’s showpiece event. Thirteen of those players are in an even more exclusive club, Super Bowl champion. Alaric Jackson Michael Hoecht have a chance to etch themselves into history on February 13th when the Los Angeles Rams play the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl, and I’m sure they’ll be many Canadians who will be right behind them on the big day.