October 19, 2010
The Canadian Football Hall of Fame is an impressive institution, honouring legendary players, builders, and media members, like the 2009 class pictured above. Yet, despite officially considering builder candidates who "had made an outstanding contribution to football in Canada other than as a player" and any player who "has played a minimum of five years of amateur or professional football in Canada, and who has achieved outstanding and extraordinary success as a player", the Hall hasn't historically inducted a lot of members from the CFL era who were primarily known for their contributions in the amateur game. That's about to change.
Kevin Mitchell of The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix has an excellent piece looking at the details of how the Hall's induction process is going to change for 2011. It's not that amateur players were ineligible before, but they tended to be overshadowed by direct competition with CFL players. The new process will see amateur players given special consideration; a list of three finalists from the CIS and CJFL ranks will be created each year, and one of them will be inducted. The Hall is also going to induct two builders per year instead of the current one, and that could pave the way for amateur builders to receive extra consideration. Finally, they're also bringing in a veterans' committee to look at CFL players beyond the current 25-year window for induction.
These are all positive moves in my mind, but the change to give special consideration to amateur players is particularly significant. It expands the scope and breadth of the Hall, and it should also create more interest in it from fans of the CIS and CJFL levels. There are some good thoughts on that in Mitchell's piece:
"We're not the CFL Hall of Fame. We're the Canadian Football Hall of Fame," notes Hall executive director Mark DeNobile. "We represent all the football in Canada-that includes CIS, amateur, everybody to do with football. We wanted to make it more inclusive of all the members who should be in the Hall of Fame."
Jim Mullin, the sports director at Vancouver's CKNW radio station, deserves a lot of credit for pushing for this to happen. He's been a key figure in raising awareness of the CIS game, heads up the university wing of the Football Reporters of Canada and masterminds the weekly FRC-CIS Top 10 poll [disclosure: I'm involved in that as well]. He made some interesting comments to Mitchell about his rationale for recognizing junior and university players, and some of the opposition to the move:
"‘Some of those (negative) voices have been from certain individuals within the CFL and some front-offices,' said Mullin, who heads up the six-man amateur sub-committee that will recommend the three nominees for the 2011 class. ‘There's the perception that this should be about excellence at the very highest level. And university football, of course, is not at the level professional football is. Some people will argue that junior football isn't at the level university football is. But when there's certain individuals who made career achievements over a four or five-year path, and they've been consistent about it and they've attracted people to the game, those are the things that need to be recognized. And that's been the point of this all.'"
Indeed. It's absolutely true that the CFL is a higher level of competition than CIS or junior football, but that doesn't mean accomplishments at those levels are meaningless. It also doesn't mean that the best players at the lower levels will necessarily make it to the pros and shine there, either. Some of them will, some of them will flame out and some will suffer career-ending injuries before they can make an impact in professional football. One particularly key group this should help recognize is Canadian quarterbacks, many of whom have done tremendous things at the junior and university levels but never been given a fair shot at the pros thanks to a foolish CFL rule. The U.S. has both a College Football Hall of Fame and a Professional Football Hall of Fame, and both play important roles.
The idea of including amateur players as full-fledged Hall members is also a good one. The separate Hall idea works well in the U.S., where college football has an incredible fan base that isn't far behind the pros. In Canada, the university and junior games have a far lower profile, so a separate Hall might have a hard time making a go of it. Recognizing outstanding amateur players and builders as full members of the existing Hall is a good solution, and it's one that could pay off for the profiles of both the Hall and amateur football.
How will the process work? A six-man selection subcommittee comprised of Mullin, Jim Donlevy, Rick Sowieta, Duane Forde, George Black and Bill Robinson will choose three nominees and take them to the regular selection committee, which will then choose one. This is intended to be an annual thing, and that seems about right. Rather than suddenly flooding the Hall with amateur players, this process should bring in only those amateur players of the highest standard who for one reason or another never found that level of success in the pros.
The committee isn't going to have an easy task, though, as there are a lot of outstanding university and junior players who would be good candidates. Fortunately, the Hall has already inducted some of the best junior and university players from the era before the CFL's formation, when university and semipro squads competed against each other for the Grey Cup. Some of those outstanding players include Queen's Harry Batstone, the University of Toronto's A. Smirle Lawson, McGill's Percival Molson, the Toronto Capitals' Lionel Conacher and the Toronto Central YMCA Juniors' Cap Fear. From the era since the CFL's official formation in 1958, though, it's basically been players who found success at the CFL level. That leaves a myriad of excellent candidates for this committee to look at. Here are five who might get some consideration, plus a couple of honourable mentions:
Chris Flynn: There's a good reason Flynn is quoted in that piece, as he's perhaps the most obvious omission from the current Hall. Flynn, an excellent CIS quarterback, won the Hec Crighton Trophy (CIS most outstanding player) three straight years from 1988 to 1990. He led the Saint Mary's Huskies to Vanier Cup finals in 1988 and 1990, but they lost both times. Unfortunately, like most Canadian quarterbacks since Russ Jackson, Flynn never got much of a shot at the CFL level. This would be an excellent chance to give him some much-deserved recognition.
Tim Tindale: Tindale, a star running back with the Western Mustangs, won the Hec Crighton in 1991 and 1993. He went on to play three seasons with the NFL's Buffalo Bills, mostly on special teams, before injuries cut his career short. He's already been honoured on Western's Wall of Champions, and he should get some consideration for the Hall.
Eric Lapointe: Lapointe had a legendary CIS career as a running back for the Mount Allison Mounties, earning CIS Rookie of the Year in his first season and winning the Hec Crighton in both 1996 and 1998. He also broke plenty of records despite playing only four years instead of five. A 2005 fan poll selected him as the best CIS player ever. He also wound up with a pretty decent CFL career, despite only receiving limited playing time and bouncing between Edmonton, Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal.
Tommy Denison: Denison is yet another multiple winner of the Hec Crighton trophy who wasn't given much of a shot at the professional level. He tore up plenty of records during a stellar career with the Queen's Golden Gaels, winning the Hec back-to-back in 2002 and 2003 (he's pictured at right receiving the 2003 trophy). The Blue Bombers signed him after he graduated, and he bounced around the CFL a bit before being cut in 2005, but never really got too much of a chance.
Dan Feraday: Feraday had an outstanding university career with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and won the 1981 Hec Crighton. He turned down offer from programs like Notre Dame and Stanford to stay in Canada, which is pretty cool. He also played varsity hockey for U of T, which is impressive. He was the first Canadian university quarterback to be selected in the NFL draft (by the Cincinnati Bengals), and also had stints with the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. He briefly played with the Argonauts and Roughriders as well. He went on to work as an assistant coach with U of T and a sergeant in the Toronto police, but unfortunately, he has apparently made news more recently for pleading guilty to criminal harassment and public mischief. That might weigh against his case, but Feraday's stellar CIS career deserves to be remembered.
Honourable mentions: There are so many more players who could be considered here, but here's a short list of others who might get a look. How about Neil Lumsden (father of Jesse, but outstanding in his own right), Duane Forde (who was a great CIS player long before becoming a CFL star and a broadcaster), Greg Marshall (currently the head coach at Western), Greg Vavra (currently the University of Calgary offensive coordinator) or Jamie Bone (who, in an interesting footnote, actually brought the Tiger-Cats before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for discriminating against Canadian quarterbacks - and won!)?