More and more players from Canadian universities are winding up in the NFL these days, but there are still chances for CIS players to make NFL firsts, and it looks like one happened Sunday. That's thanks to Seattle Seahawks' punter Jon Ryan, who threw what's probably the first touchdown pass in NFL playoff history from a Canadian university-trained player. Down 16-0 in the third quarter to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game, the Seahawks lined up for a field goal, but it proved to be a fake, with Ryan (the holder) taking the ball and throwing a pass to offensive tackle Garry Gilliam. Here's video of the play:
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_RealUpdates) January 18, 2015
That's an impressive fake by the Seahawks, and a good touch on the pass by Ryan. It's interesting that it came against his old team, too. The Regina-born Ryan first went to the NFL with the Packers in 2006, following a successful college career with his hometown Regina Rams and two years in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He played with Green Bay from 2006-2007 before they released him in September 2008; that led to him signing on with Seattle, and he's been a Seahawk ever since. The 33-year-old Ryan is most known for his impressive punting skill these days (he's averaged 44.1 yards per punt this season, and 44.7 for his career), but he's always been a versatile player; in college with Regina, he played as a wide receiver as well, and led the Rams in receiving one season. Thus, while tossing touchdown passes is a bit new for him, he told reporters after the game that he had thrown a two-point conversation in his university days at Regina. .
It's also interesting to consider where Ryan fits in the history of Canadian passers. In the NFL, Sportsnet reports that this is the first NFL playoff touchdown pass by a Canadian player since Mark Rypien in 1993, over two decades ago. This is quite likely the first NFL playoff TD pass ever thrown by a CIS-trained player; there have only been just over 30 CIS players to make NFL rosters, and only one (Western alum Joe Krol, who played two games with the Detroit Lions in 1945) was a quarterback. In the CFL, no Canadian quarterback has started even a regular-season game since Giulio Caravatta in 1996, and there have been no multi-year Canadian starters since Gerry Dattilio in the 1970s and 1980s, so there obviously hasn't been a playoff touchdown pass thrown by a Canadian quarterback in some time. There have been a lot of great Canadian kickers and punters in the CFL, though, and some of them have certainly thrown TDs on similar trick plays over the years, some of which probably took place in the playoffs.
As there are still significant challenges to getting Canadian quarterbacks into the CFL or NFL, trick play touchdown passes like Ryan's are likely the only ones we're going to see from Canadian players for some time. That's somewhat unfortunate, but these plays should still be appreciated in their own right. Ryan's success shows that Canadian players, and Canadian-trained players, are quite capable of succeeding in pro football on both sides of the border. Sometimes, they even get to throw touchdowns.