There is quite the generational gap between those that remember the first Canadian Football League success stories in the National Football League and those that are aware of the most recent successes. What cannot be denied is the fact that there is a place for CFL imports.
Warren Moon, Joe Theisman and Doug Flutie led the first wave of players from The Great White North to find success in the NFL. There was a bit of a lull after Raghib “Rocket” Ismail left the Toronto Argonauts following two seasons (1991-92) to play for the Oakland Raiders for eight seasons.
Miami Dolphins defensive end
“Before I played in the CFL I didn’t know much about it, so there was a lot that I learned when I went up there,” said Wake, who won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors with the B.C. Lions in 2007 and 2008. “When you get up there and you play and you see the level of competition and the athletes and the football players that are up there, in your mind you’re like, ‘You didn’t get drafted?’ But when I got back here it was even crazier because I experienced that perception.
“Obviously, I consider myself an elite football player but when I got down here people were like, ‘Oh, you played in the CFL. That’s like Division 5 and you’re not really playing football up there,’ and I had to try to explain that there really are good football players up there. Now with what I’ve done and what Brandon and Marcus are doing, I think we’re starting to change that perception.”
Wake and Browner actually tried out for the Dolphins at the same time, with Browner having garnered his attention with the Calgary Stampeders. That was during the offseason before the 2009 season and Wake remembers seeing Browner at the team hotel and they knew each other having both been stars in the CFL at the same time.
For Browner, he recalls being made aware just how competitive that tryout was going to become and what was on the line for him and Wake. Opportunities for CFL players didn’t come along that often.
“It was me or him,” Browner told The Seattle Times. “They told both of us, ‘We're going to sign one of you guys.’ They signed him. I had to go back another year.”
Four seasons in the CFL eventually led to Browner’s shot with Seattle in 2011 and he did not disappoint, intercepting six passes and reaching the Pro Bowl. Wake doesn’t remember being given such a dramatic ultimatum in 2008 but he answered the call and made the roster, finishing with 5.5 sacks in a reserve role. He followed that up with 14 sacks in 2010, earning a trip to Hawaii in the process.
Thigpen, who played last season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, credits Wake and Browner for helping to lay the groundwork for players like him and two of his former CFL teammates with the Indianapolis Colts, Jerrell Freeman and Justin Hickman.
“I actually played against Browner and to see him over here having success along with Cam, they definitely laid the foundation for guys like myself,” said Thigpen, who returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown at Buffalo in Miami’s last game. “Even though the field is longer and wider, I think a lot of those guys can match-up well with guys here in the NFL.”
## There will be two
## Wake is intrigued by the possibility that he might have to tackle one of his best friends from college, Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson. They played together for three years at Penn State and Wake still can’t believe Robinson is playing fullback. “Basically, he was a quarterback his entire career at Penn State,” Wake said. “He was one of those jack of all trades in college and he could play running back, tight end and receiver. He pretty much did it all, but if you told me back then both of us would play in the NFL and he would play fullback, I would not have believed it.”