Nathan Rourke and Five Notable Quarterbacks To Move From the CFL To NFL

Nathan Rourke and Five Notable Quarterbacks To Move From the CFL To NFL

In January 2023, BC Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke signed for the NFL team the Jacksonville Jaguars. It is a Road that has been traveled before, a quarterback in the CFL impresses in Canada and garners enough attention down south to make a career in the NFL. It doesn’t always end in success, but the blueprint is there. Nathan Rourke will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of these five other quarterbacks who moved from the CFL to NFL and have an impactful career in the biggest football league in the world.


Joe Kapp; BC Lions to Minnesota Vikings

We start with the only quarterback in football to play in the Rose Bowl, Grey Cup, and Super Bowl. Joe Kapp signed for the Calgary Stampeders in 1959 and in one and a half seasons in Calgary, Kapp put up thirty-nine passing touchdowns (an impressive figure for the era) and six rushing touchdowns which were good enough for the BC Lions to make a huge trade to acquire him. The Lions needed a game-changing quarterback, and they for sure got their money’s worth in Kapp! In four seasons from 1962-65, Kapp led the league in passing yards. He put up ninety passing touchdowns and twenty rushing touchdowns while at BC and lead the team to two Grey Cup finals, winning the grand prize in 1964.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp (11) throws a pass during the Vikings 27-14 victory over the Washington Redskins on November 3, 1968 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. (Nate Fine/NFL)

In 1967, Kapp made the move down south to the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings where he teamed up with legendary Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Bud Grant. Kapp didn’t have immediate success in the NFL, the Vikings had a 3-8-3 record in 1967 and Kapp had underwhelming numbers. Things got better in 1968 – the Vikings reached the playoffs for the first time in franchise history with Kapp under centre, and this would be the placeholder for a magical season in 1969.

Kapp has nineteen touchdowns or just thirteen interceptions in 1969 earning him pro bowl honors and was the leader of arguably the best team in Vikings history. The team went 12-2 and was crowned NFL champions. As this was pre-merger, the Vikings had to play the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV and unfortunately, the magical run ended with a crushing 23-7 loss. Kapp would just one more season in the NFL, and although 1969 was an outlier in his NFL career, no one can take that season away from him. Kapp has been immortalized in the CFL and College Football Hall of Fames and holds the (joint) record for the most passing touchdowns in an NFL game with seven.


Joe Thiesman; Toronto Argonauts to Washington Commanders

Kapp won a Grey Cup and lost a Super Bowl but for Joe Thiesman, it was quite literally the opposite. Thiesman had a Hall of Fame career at college before signing with Toronto in 1971, and had an immediate impact. Thiesman was a CFL all-star in 1971 and behind a seventeen touchdown season, the Argos made their first Grey Cup since1952. On an infamously poor playing surface, Toronto lost the game in heartbreaking fashion, as running back Leon McQuay fumbled in the red zone late in the fourth cementing a 14-11 defeat for Toronto against Calgary. Thiesman wouldn’t make another Grey Cup, but had another all-star season in 1973. He would then be signed for the (then referred to as) Washington Redskins – known today as the Washington Commanders.

Washington Redskins’ quarterback Joe Theismann, (7), slips through the arms of Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive end Thomas Stradium in Washington Sunday, Sept. 23rd ,1985. (Associated Press file)

It took a while for Thiesman to become the number one in D.C, it wouldn’t be until 1978 that Thiesman would become the starting quarterback for Washington but from 1978-1985, he had an incredible run! Thiesman finished his career with 117 total touchdowns, an MVP season in 1983 and as of today – still holds the franchise records in wins, passing yards and pass completions.

In 1983, Thiesman led the Commanders to Super Bowl XVII against the Dolphins. Thiesman went 15/23 for a pair of touchdowns and interceptions but he is best remembered for a defensive play he made. Backed up in their own half, a deflected pass from Thiesman looked set to be caught by a Dolphins defender for a pick-six – but a defensive back like play from Thiesman seen the him bat the ball away to deny the potential touchdown. Washington would go onto win the game 17-27. To this day, many Washington fans consider him the best quarterback in franchise history, and is certainly in the conversation for best ever NFL QB to start their career in Canada.

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Warren Moon; Edmonton Elks to Houston Oilers

Another legitimate contender for best NFL QB to come from the CFL, no quarterback in this list has a more decorated combined CFL and NFL legacy. Moon starred in a tandem quarterback system alongside fellow signal-caller Tom Wilkinson together they won an unprecedented five consecutive Grey Cups. Moon’s stats in the CFL were astronomical. Two-time Grey Cup MOP, three-time touchdown leader, two-time passing yards leader and was awarded as the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 1983. In total from 1978-1983, Moon had 158 touchdowns and is considered to be Edmonton’s greatest-ever player.

Warren Moon, pictured with the Houston Oilers in 1990, was 27 when he made his NFL debut, and went to become the first Black quarterback elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (DAVID SCARBROUGH | ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Moon’s move to the NFL felt like a case of when and not if, and the Houston Oilers (known today as the Tennessee Titans) won the rights to sign Moon ahead of the 1984 season. It proved to be great piece of business for Houston, as of today Moon holds an incredible thirty-seven franchise records for the Oilers/Titans including; most passing yards, most passing touchdowns, most +4,000 passing yard seasons and most completions. Moon was also the 1990 NFL Offensive Player of the Year and made earned nine Pro-Bowl appearances.

Moon spent a few seasons in Minnesota, Seattle, and Kansas City before finally retiring. Moon is the only quarterback in history to be in both the NFL Hall of Fame and the CFL Hall of Fame. He didn’t win the Super Bowl in his playing career, but his legacy can’t be denied. He had a legendary career.


Jeff Garcia; Calgary Stampeders to San Francisco 49ers

Jeff Garcia had the tough task of replacing Doug Floutie as the Stamps starter in 1995 (more on Flutie later) but proved to be up to the challenge. In four seasons as the Stampeders starter, Garcia was a West all star every single year and put up 135 total touchdowns. He led the Stamps to a Grey Cup appearance in 1998, and in the big game, Garcia got him team in field goal range for a game winning walk-off field goal to win the Grey Cup 26-24, he was named the games Most Outstanding Player.

Jeff Garcia in action for the Calgary Stampeders (Scott Grant/

Garcia was signed by San Francisco, and in ironic sense of history repeating itself, Jeff Garcia had the tough task of replacing Steve Young as the 49ers starter in 1999. He got off to a great start in his NFL career, Garcia put up 134 total touchdowns for San Francisco from 1999-2003 while earning three consecutive Pro Bowl nods.

But his career foundered from that point, he was never bad – but he would bounce around playing for four teams in four seasons before having a renaissance in 2007 with Tampa Bay. Garcia had his best season since he was a 9er and made his first Pro Bowl since 2007. He would play one more season in Tampa before eventually retiring. Garcia was a 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee, time will tell if he makes it in, but he was at his best a very good quarterback both in the CFL, and NFL.


Doug Flutie; Toronto Argonauts to Buffalo Bills

It’s no exaggeration to say that Flutie might genuinely be the greatest CFL quarterback of all time. In his eight years playing for BC, Calgary, and Toronto, Flutie amassed a ridiculous six Most Outstanding Player awards, three Grey Cups, and Three Grey Cup MOP awards. He had 336 total touchdowns, 41,355 passing yards and in 1991 threw for 6,619 yards! In 2007 he became the first-ever non-Canadian to be elected to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Quite frankly, Flutie was a human cheat code in the CFL.

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Doug Flutie scrambles with the ball during first half action against Edmonton at the Grey Cup in Hamilton, Ont. Sunday, Nov. 24, 1996. (FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Flutie returned to the NFL at the age of thirty-six with the Buffalo Bills, and despite his age and that it had been nine years since his last NFL start – Flutie has his best-ever NFL season. He won comeback player of the year and had his first-ever Pro-Bowl nod. Flutie would start for the Bills in 1999, leading the team to the playoffs but was controversially benched for their infamous Wild Card round defeat to Tennessee.

After his stint in Western New York, Flutie bounced around the NFL with San Diego and New England. Most notably in he became the first player to successfully drop-kick the ball for an extra point since 1941, giving him a history making final act in his career. Flutie to this day has the most rushing yards of anyone after the age of forty in the NFL, and is the oldest player to score two rushing touchdowns in one game. He finished his NFL career, which spread from 1986-1989 and 1998-2005 with ninety-six total touchdowns. Flutie never had the career in the NFL that he did in the CFL, but it was still an NFL career that many quarterbacks would yearn for.


Nathan Rourke; BC Lions to Jacksonville Jaguars

And now in 2023, another CFL quarterback looks to put their stamp on the NFL. Rourke is the only quarterback on this list who is Canadian, and carries the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. Rourke has the chance to carve a career in the NFL, and potentially inspire many more Canadians into believing that one day they can also be taking snaps in the NFL.

Nathan Rourke (left) & Lucky Whitehead (right), BC Lions – David Dermer

Rourke only started eleven games in the CFL, but became arguably the most dynamic QB in the league in 2022. He had thirty-two touchdowns in just ten games in 2022, and 3,653 total yards as well. He had many teams in the NFL interested in him but ultimately chose the Jacksonville Jaguars. His first team snaps may be limited with Jacksonville looking set with Trevor Lawrence, but his time will come – and I don’t bet against him to take it.

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One thought on “Nathan Rourke and Five Notable Quarterbacks To Move From the CFL To NFL

  1. Lets not forget former Argo QB Tobin Rote, who lead the San Diego Chargers to the 1963 AFL championship

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