The National Football League is not the only professional football league in the world. It is just the largest, most successful, and most popular league of them all. At one point, not very long ago, the NFL also had a league in Europe called the World League of American Football. It changed its' name to the NFL Europe later on. It was designed to become a minor league for young players that needed some seasoning before making an NFL roster.
Besides the NFL Europe, there is another league that is actually completely separate from the NFL called the Canadian Football League, or CFL. The CFL has been around since 1958 and continues to be a huge success up North. The rules are a little different and the field measurements are very unique and also unlike the NFL. However, when it comes down to it, CFL players wear the same protective gear and helmets, and they knock each other around the field just like the NFL.
Since there are a lot of players that do not make a NFL roster, the CFL ends up cashing in by signing a lot of these players, who are simply looking for work until they get another shot the following season.
There have been some surprisingly big names in NFL history that once played in either the CFL or NFL Europe and we wanted to take a look at the 15 best NFLers you probably did not realize played in Canada or Europe.
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15 David Akers, K, Berlin Thunder
People that watch the NFL and think that the easiest job is being a kicker because they avoid most of the physical contact and only log a few seconds of actual playing time per game, are misinformed. The toughest, and most stressful job in the NFL is a kicker. They can go ten years without ever missing a field goal and still get cut if they have one terrible season. They also only get one chance to make a field goal so if they miss it, they just let down their entire team and the fans.
David Akers is considered the greatest placekicker in Philadelphia Eagles history but even he had a slow start in the NFL. In his rookie season, he played in his first and only game and missed both of his field goal attempts, which were both over 48 yards, and was cut the following offseason. So the Eagles signed him and shipped him to Berlin where he quickly earned his spot on the team in 2000 and remained the starter until 2011.
14 Marco Rivera, OG, Scottish Claymores
In 1996, the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XXXI. Marco Rivera (#62) did not play in the Super Bowl, and was inactive all season, but practiced and worked out with the team every single day. He has been considered a unsung hero of the Packers championship that season, helping push the starting lineman, the defense, and the rest of his team. The following season, he would end up being sent to the World League to play with the Scottish Claymores, starting all ten games.
When he returned in 1997, he became one of the teams starting offensive guards after missing the first two games of the season. He would miss only one more game the following season before spending the next six seasons without missing a single game.
13 Joe Theismann, QB, Toronto Argonauts
Whenever a player signs a contract with a team, he makes a decision that can change the future for not only himself but other players, coaches, and franchises.
A great example of this would be when Joe Theismann refused to sign with the Miami Dolphins after they drafted him in the fourth round of the 1971 NFL Draft. Instead, he ended up working out a deal with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts where he would become their starting QB over the next three seasons, throwing for 6,093 yards, 40 touchdowns, 47 interceptions, 1,054 rushing yards, and three rushing touchdowns. His TD-INT ratio was terrible but he still impressed the Washington Redskins enough that they worked out a deal with the Miami Dolphins to buy the rights to him for the 1974 season. By 1978, he became the team's starting QB and led the Redskins to two Super Bowls, winning one of them.
12 Dante Hall, WR, Scottish Claymores
Before Devin Hester (Pictured Left) absolutely destroyed the NFL as a return man, there was Dante Hall, who played from 2000 to 2008 with the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams. Devin Hester and Hall are the only two players in NFL history to have at least five kick return touchdowns and five punt return touchdowns throughout their career. Although Hester has 19 total return touchdowns, 14 from punt returns, it is Dante Hall who is third all time in kick return touchdowns with six.
But before he electrified NFL fans with his amazing speed and incredible quickness, he was battling for playing time with the Scottish Claymores of the NFL Europe in 2001. While playing overseas, Hall managed 1,274 all-purpose yards in just ten games. His performance validated the Chiefs opinion of the talented but raw future NFL star and he would end up back in the Red and White by 2002.
11 Brandon Browner, CB, Calgary Stampeders
Brandon Browner earned a reputation for being a hard-hitting defensive back with a bad attitude problem that started back in 2011. But before he got to the NFL, he was looking for work and decided to try the CFL. It was very useful for his pro football career as it led to his two Super Bowl rings (XLVIII, XLIX).
The Seattle Seahawks signed him in 2011 and before long, they should have known they got a lemon. He was suspended by the NFL for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy. He lasted two years before going to New England, where he would actually play in the Super Bowl and help win it. He leveraged that time into a contract with the New Orleans Saints where he became exposed as a terrible coverage defensive back, leading the league in pass interference and/or defensive holding penalties.
10 Andre Rison, WR, Toronto Argonauts
There are not very many people that remember when Andre Rison played for the Toronto Argonauts because it was after his NFL career, long after. In fact, he might be the only player in NFL history to retire and then come back four years later in the CFL.
He was 37 years old when he signed with the Argonauts and still had some of the amazing skills he showcased during his NFL career. However, it might have been because of his age, Rison did not last very long and only played seven games. He had 15 receptions, 178 yards, and one touchdown. Although he was not the team's best player, he still helped them win the Grey Cup that season before they released him the following year.
9 Fred Jackson, RB, Rhien Fire
At 6'1", 195 pounds, Fred Jackson was considered too small for the NFL and it hurt his value, forcing him to find work with both the National Indoor Football League and United Indoor Football League. After he dominated the Pro Indoor leagues, he traveled to Europe to play for the Rhien Fire in 2006. During the season, in 10 games, he rushed for a team-high 731 yards, caught 27 passes for 317 yards, and scored two touchdowns. It was a performance worthy of an NFL contract apparently and he signed the following NFL season with the Buffalo Bills.
After a couple of seasons, he was starting to be noticed around the league and in the 2009, he rushed for 1,062 yards and two touchdowns. He followed that performance with 927 yards with 5 touchdowns in 2010 and 934 yards with six touchdowns in 2011.
8 Adam Vinatieri, K, Amsterdam Admirals
Before the NFL Europe shut down operations, it was a great place for aspiring football players who were just not good enough to make the NFL, not yet at least. It gave athletes a chance that they do not have today and in 1995, it helped kickstart the career of future Super Bowl legend and New England Patriot kicker, Adam Vinatieri.
The NFL Europe might have been the reason the Patriots dynasty became a dynasty. Without Adam Vinatieri's leg, they would not have won two Super Bowls and probably more. His one season with the Amsterdam Admirals changed the course of fate for the NFL and the Patriots. Isn't it funny how things work out like that, right?
7 Fred Biletnikoff, WR, Montreal Alouettes
Fred Biletnikoff will forever be remembered for his performance in Super Bowl XI because he is the one and only Wide Receiver in NFL history to win the Super Bowl MVP award without reaching 100 yards receiving. He only had four catches for 79 yards in the game, without any touchdowns. But three of those four catches resulted in a touchdown on the following play. He was a huge contributor to the domination the Raiders had over the Minnesota Vikings and deservedly won the MVP because of that.
Many people forgot that after he was released by the Raiders in 1979, he was only 35 years old and felt he still had more football left in his body. So after a year off, he returned to professional football and signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. He only played one season but had 38 receptions, 470 yards, and four touchdowns.
6 Joe Horn, WR, Memphis Mad Dogs
The Memphis Mad Dogs? How does a Canadian Football League feature a team named after a city in Tennessee? That is because during a very short time period, the CFL tried to expand into the United States but failed miserably and ended up shutting it down after two years. It lasted between 1993 and 1995. Overall, there was seven teams in the U.S., the Sacramento Gold Miners, Baltimore Stallions, Shreveport Pirates, Birmingham Barracudas, San Antonio Texans, Las Vegas Posse, and the Memphis Mad Dogs.
Joe Horn actually signed with the Baltimore Stallions before eventually signing with the Shreveport Pirates and then being traded to Memphis where he finally got some playing time. In 17 games, he caught 71 passes for 1,415 yards, and five touchdowns. It was such a great showing that he was able to leverage it into a contract in the NFL.
5 Dontrelle Inman, WR, Toronto Argonauts
When Dontrelle Inman went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft, he ended up signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars but it did not work out and he went over to Canada to play for the Toronto Argonauts in 2012.
In his two CFL seasons, Inman had 100 receptions for 1,542 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 31 games. It was quite the impressive performance and he headed back to the NFL where he signed with the San Diego Chargers in 2014. It would take three years before we finally got to see the standout talent he is and in 2016, he would have 58 receptions, 810 yards, and four touchdowns. It seems like above-average numbers but for a man who has been desperately trying to earn himself a chance to shine in the NFL, those numbers proved to be perfectly suited for his abilities.
4 Jeff Garcia, QB, Calgary Stampeders
Besides Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia was the most successful CFL star to transition to the NFL. In the CFL, he had a career passer efficiency rating of 94.93, sixth best in CFL history. He also had a completion percentage of 61.7% with 16,442 passing yards, 2,358 rushing yards, and 135 total touchdowns.
His impressive CFL performance earned him a contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 1998, as Steve Young's backup QB. It did not take very long before he got his shot. After Steve Young went down in 1999 with a concussion, which turned out to be his last one, Garcia got to start right away and by 2001, he was one of the league's best stories and also one of the NFL's top QB's.
3 Cameron Wake, DE, BC Lions
Following his success in college as a LB for Penn State, Cameron Wake went undrafted in the 2005 NFL Draft so he went to the CFL where he played for the BC Lions for two seasons. In his very short-lived CFL career, Wake was a defensive juggernaut and ended up moving from LB to Defensive End. The move turned out to be a great one and during his first season, he wound up with 16 sacks. That must not have been good enough for him and he followed that performance the next year with 23 more sacks.
In his 36 CFL games, Wake had 39 sacks making it very clear that he belongs in the NFL and in 2009, he made the move back to the U.S. before signing with the Miami Dolphins. Since then, he has been a key contributor to the success of the Dolphins defensive line and has 81.5 career sacks in the NFL.
2 Warren Moon, QB, Edmonton Eskimos
Warren Moon remains one of the most underrated QBs in NFL history. Why? Because he never won, or even reached, a Super Bowl. He came close one season but that was about it. He was great at passing but hit a wall in the postseason that tarnished his reputation. But when you take another look at his entire pro football career, another story emerges and it is one that is quite interesting to say the least.
In his 17 seasons in the NFL, Moon passed for 49,325 yards and 291 touchdowns. That makes him the seventh best in passing yards and 12th in touchdowns, for a career. But that is after he already established himself as a Hall of Famer in the CFL over six seasons. His combined NFL and CFL numbers would make him third best in career passing with over 70,000 yards and fifth in career touchdowns with 435.
His five consecutive Grey Cups between 1978 and 1982 is a CFL record.
1 Doug Flutie, QB, BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders, Toronto Argonauts
For eight seasons, Doug Flutie was the star QB for the BC Lions of the CFL and has been considered, by many different writers, critics, and CFL fans, to be the greatest CFL player of all time. Although he was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, then traded to the Chicago Bears, he would play very little before leaving the NFL and heading to the CFL.
He owns many CFL records including the most single-season passing yards with 6,619, most passing yards per game for a career with 306.3, most yards per game in a single-season with 367.7, and most passing touchdowns in a single season with 48. He has multiple entries in the Top-10's for both passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season.
Overall, he truly was one of the greatest stars the CFL has ever seen.
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