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March 7, 2021

Which CFL records could live forever?

The Canadian Press

It’s often said records are meant to be broken.

On the other hand, maybe it’s time to admit that some of the CFL’s long-standing benchmarks would be better etched in stone.

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One of the many great things about sports, they provide a world in which some people live forever. Matt Dunigan, Mike Pringle, and Lui Passaglia could easily have their names in the CFL record book for all of eternity.

CFL.ca looks at some records that may never fall.

Matt Dunigan – single game passing yards

On Aug. 12, 1993, Lions pivot Danny Barrett became the CFL’s single game passing yards leader with a 601-yard effort in a win over Toronto, breaking Sam Etcheverry’s record that lasted nearly 40 years. Alas, Barrett’s record would last only 11 months.

A quarter-century later and still no takers on Matt Dunigan’s single game passing record of 713 yards. Averaging 13.7 yards per attempt on 33-of-52 passing, Dunigan threw five touchdowns and two interceptions, leading the Bombers to a 50-35 home win over Edmonton.

Could this ever happen again? Given the random nature of football and the fact that it only takes 60 spectacular minutes of football, sure. If it’s happened once, it can happen again, right?

It may not be a wise bet, however. Since 1950 there have been 384 games of 400-plus individual passing yards and only 32 games of 500-plus yards. Only two quarterbacks have ever gone over 600 yards in a game.

Less Browne – career interceptions

Less Browne pretty much defined the term ball hawk. Browne made a habit of being in the right place at the right time throughout his 14-year career, hauling in 87 interceptions during stints with Hamilton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and BC.

In fact, no other defender has even come close. Larry Highbaugh (66), Barron Mailes (66), and Terry Irvin (62) all had long and distinguished careers, but still fall well short of the mark.

In his career, Browne averaged an interception every two games. He was remarkably consistent, reaching 10-plus interceptions in five different seasons, also a CFL record. In 1990, Browne’s 14 interceptions were the second most in CFL history, behind only Hamilton’s Al Brenner, who had 15 interceptions in 1972.

Since 2007, only Ed Gainey has recorded double digit interceptions in a season with 10 in 2017. Less Browne’s record appears to be safe for the long haul.

Lui Passaglia – career points and games played

Lui Passaglia gave Father Time a run for his money. Passaglia’s CFL career spanned 25 seasons and 408 games with the BC Lions, starting in 1976 and ending in 2000.

How remarkable was Passaglia’s career? Paul McCallum played 24 seasons but still comes up 68 games short of the record. Bob Cameron, almost equally impressive, fell 14 games shy of the mark.

Can anyone catch Lui Passaglia’s record number of games played? (The Canadian Press)

The gap in career points is even wider, with Passaglia sitting at 3,991 career points – 846 points ahead of McCallum. Active points leader Rene Paredes (1,578) would need 14 more seasons at his current pace to pass Passaglia – at which point he would be 49 years old.

Henry ‘Gizmo’ Williams – career return yards and touchdowns

When it comes to return specialists, Henry Williams is in a league of his own, and probably always will be. Longevity was a factor for Williams, who spent 15 years plying his trade from 1986 to 2000, but ‘Gizmo’ routinely led his peers in both punt and kick return output.

In touchdowns, Williams has doubled his next closest competition with 31 touchdowns, compared to Bashir Levingston (15), Earl Winfield (12), and Keith Stokes (12). Williams and Levingston are the only players in CFL history with two seasons of five total return touchdowns.

Williams also holds all-time records in kickoff return yards (7,354), punt return yards (11,227), and single-season punt return yards (1,440 in 1991), among several others.

George Reed – career rushing attempts

Today’s running backs only dream of the volume George Reed saw carrying the football in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In 13 seasons, Reed carried the ball 3,243 times, giving him the all-time CFL record ahead of another generational running back in Mike Pringle (2,962).

Including a record-breaking 347 rushing attempts in one season, Reed averaged 16 carries per game throughout his 203 career contests. Since Charles Roberts’ remarkable 2006 season with 302 carries, no running back has exceeded 287 rushing attempts in a single season.

That year, by the way, Charles averaged 16.8 carries per game – a total anomaly in today’s pass-happy climate. To eclipse Reed’s record of 347 carries in one season, a running back would need 19.3 carries per game for all 18 games.

Mike Pringle – career yards from scrimmage

Speaking of great running backs, no one piled up more yards from scrimmage than Mike Pringle. Most likely, no one ever will. Pringle had 20,255 yards from scrimmage in his career, reaching the 100-yard rushing plateau a record-breaking 73 times (including 14 games in one season in 1998).

Will anyone ever catch up to running back Mike Pringle? (The Canadian Press)

George Reed, predictably, came close to Pringle, with 66 career games of 100-plus yards. The conversation stops there. Charles Roberts, third all-time, had 38 100-yard rushing games, followed by Johnny Bright (36), Joffrey Reynolds (31), and Dave Thelen (30). Jon Cornish (22) and Andrew Harris (21) lead all Canadians in that specific category.

It is possible someone will one day break Pringle’s single season rushing yards total of 2,065 yards set in 1998. But to demonstrate that kind of dominance over 10 or more years is unheard of in the three-down game.

Willie Pless – career tackles

Willie Pless began his CFL career one year before the league started counting tackles. Otherwise, Pless’ career tackle totals would be even higher. With 1,241 career tackles, Pless should continue to see his name at the top of the all-time list.

Maybe there have been better tackles than Pless in the past, including, more recently, Solomon Elimimian, who averaged a CFL-best 6.26 tackles per game before retiring this off-season. But Pless maintained an elite level of play for 14 years, including seven seasons with 100-plus tackles (only Barrin Simpson and Adam Bighill, with four such seasons each, even come close).

In addition, Pless also holds the all-time fumble recoveries record, with 39 throughout his career.

Honourable mention to current Blue Bombers coach and long-time linebacker Mike O’Shea, who fell 90 tackles short of Pless’ official record with 1,151 tackles in 16 seasons.

Hal Patterson – single game receiving yards

Imagine being a rookie CFL receiver and realizing the CFL record is 338 receiving yards. Is Patterson’s single game mark any less remarkable than Dunigan’s passing record?

On Sept. 29, 1956, the Montreal pass catcher had 338 yards on 11 catches vs. Hamilton. That year, Patterson would go on to set a record for receiving yards per game (147.2), with 1,914 yards in only 13 games played.

Curtis Mayfield (319) and Alfred Jackson (308) are the only other receivers to reach the 300-yard plateau, with both hitting the mark in 1994. However, no one else has even come close to matching Patterson’s single game output.

Tom Dublinski – single season interceptions

In 1955, Tom Dublinski threw enough interceptions to make Johnny Manziel proud. Manziel, who threw four interceptions in the first half of his first career start, had no chance of sustaining Dublinski’s rate of 34 interceptions in one year.

The truth is, interceptions just aren’t as common these days in the CFL. Since 2000, only 16 quarterbacks have thrown 20 or more interceptions, and the last time was in 2010 when Darian Durant and Henry Burris accomplished the regrettable feat.

Will a quarterback ever throw 34 interceptions again? Not likely. In fact, the percentage of passes intercepted has decreased every decade since the 1960s:

DECADE INT INT %
2010-2019 153 2.9%
2000-2009 169 3.3%
1990-1999 231 4.0%
1980-1989 242 4.7%
1970-1979 221 5.8%
1960-1969 199 6.5%

Honourable mentions

Paul Williams – 7 different types of touchdowns in one season (rush, receiving, interception, fumble return, punt return, kickoff return, missed field goal return).

Longest passing touchdown – 109 yards (Etcheverry to Patterson, Keeling to Evanshen and Allen to Jackson). In the CFL, an offensive play can’t be longer than 109 yards.

Don Narcisse – 216 consecutive games with at least one catch.

Most points in a game – 82, set by Montreal in 1956 during an 82-14 win over Hamilton. That game, Montreal scored 12 touchdowns including 7 through the air and 4 on the ground.

Most net yards in a season – BC, with 9,117 net yards in 1991. The Lions also set a record with 508 first downs that year.

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