If I may peel back the curtain for a moment, this is a very quiet time in the CFL. We are a couple weeks past the craziness that was the opening of free agency and we are a couple days away from the start of combine season.
Blink your eyes and the draft will be going on, training camp is just around the corner and before you know it, we’re all debating if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers can get a Grey Cup three-peat. That is why I appreciate that during this lull in activity I came across CFL author Paul Woods’ column in the Toronto Sun all about the history of CFL trading cards. It’s a great read and got me wondering what CFL cards I would be most interested in.
I could have gone with players in peak years, so a 1998 Mike Pringle or a 1994 Allen Pitts would be a high priority but in the end, I decided to focus on the life blood of the sports card market, rookie cards. Rookie cards bring in the most money, so for this list I went with players who won the rookie of the year award.
That means that I will not be hunting for a Doug Flutie rookie card. Sorry Doug, but in your first year in the league you threw more interceptions than touchdowns and your 1990 BC Lions finished fourth in the West with a 6-11-1 record. Also, I would have to technically disqualify you as the qualifications for a “rookie” are players those who have not been in the NFL before. That’s why players like David Archer in 1993 (6,023 passing yards) and John Avery in 2002 (1,448 rushing yards) did not qualify to win the Most Outstanding Rookie award.
Now that we have our parameters laid out here are the rookie cards that I would go through someone’s garage to find.
A 1972 Chuck Ealey card
The first recipient of this award, Ealey is the only quarterback on this list to win the Grey Cup in his rookie season. Not only did he help his Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 13-10, but he also was the first Black quarterback to win the Grey Cup. The accolades keep coming, as his performance that day (291 passing yards and a touchdown plus 63 additional yards on the ground) earned him the MVP for the Grey Cup as well.
From a football standpoint it’s hard to think of any rookie having a greater impact and, more importantly, from a historical perspective his play certainly helped open doors for quarterbacks coming to Canada that were being discriminated against in the NFL. Ealey is a hall of famer whose impact went far beyond just the football field.
A 1982 Chris Isaac card
Unlike Ealey, Isaac did not go on to have a long successful career. In fact, Isaac lasted only two years in Canada, losing his job to J.C. Watts in 1983 due to erratic play. Isaac falls into that classic category of “what if” that often is attached to one-year wonders. But what a year it was for Isaac and Ottawa back in 1982. In his first start he broke the team passing record with 471 yards and tied the team record with five touchdown passes in a 55-3 win over the Montreal Concordes. Isaac won the award on the strength of his 3,408 passing yards and 18 touchdown passes. Isaac was a small quarterback even for CFL standards, but his 1982 season was impressive enough that he beat out another standout rookie who would go on to have a long career, the BC Lions’ Mervyn Fernandez.
A 1993 Mike O’Shea card
I don’t remember O’Shea’s stats from his rookie season beyond the 75 tackles with Hamilton, but I do remember always being fearful of him as an Argonauts fan. O’Shea started every game that rookie year and he was one of those linebackers that embodied that old school, on-field intimidation. I was always thrilled whenever he left Hamilton for Toronto. His card would have even greater value as he’s the only rookie of the year winner who also has two Grey Cup wins as a head coach on his resume.
A 2015 Derel Walker card
Let’s continue with this theme of “modern players” with the Edmonton Elks receiver. His rookie season was a gangbuster coming out party as he set a record for most receptions by a first-year player (89). Walker wasted no time announcing himself to the rest of the league when he was activated in early August with a 10 catch, 125-yard day in his CFL debut against the Montreal Alouettes. He followed that up with 183 yards against Hamilton. Just imagine the stampede in the CFL fantasy world as everyone desperately tried to pick him up that summer for their respective teams! Keep in mind his season total of 1,110 yards and six touchdowns came in just 12 games.
A 2022 Jordan Williams card
Did you think this was only going to be players who started their career 30-plus years ago? The Lions’ linebacker set a rookie record for most defensive tackles by a Canadian with 92, easily beating out Mike O’Shea’s total. That number is even more impressive when you remember it only took him 12 games to pass O’Shea’s record, ironically in a Week 14 game against Hamilton. This is a card you want to grab now as it is only going to go up in value.
A 1984 Dwaine Wilson card
I know you are all asking, “who?” But my rookie card collection would not be complete without someone from the now defunct Montreal Concordes. The kitsch factor alone of those jerseys and that team’s odd history means this card will go for way more than it deserves for a running back who played just two years in the CFL. Wilson’s rookie season saw him rush for over 1,000 yards and put up 1,511 total yards and five touchdowns in 16 games. Wilson would go on to be named to the All-CFL team that season as well.
A 1994 Matt Goodwin card
My card collection needs to be able to tell the story of the CFL, so I am going to need a player from an American expansion team. Goodwin played two years at linebacker for the Baltimore Football Club/Stallions/CFLers. Goodwin stuffed the stat sheet in 1994, piling up 54 tackles, three interceptions, three sacks, a remarkable four blocked punts and had four fumble recoveries, three of which he returned for a touchdown! I can only imagine how much fun Don Matthews had coming up with schemes to get Goodwin all over the field.
There had to be a ton of experimentation, as Goodwin started out as a cornerback, then moved to halfback before settling at linebacker. Goodwin almost never made it into pro football as his dream in college was to be a lawyer. He had an academic scholarship to Iowa State and finished his collegiate days with a 3.27 grade point average.