In the early weeks of the Canadian football season, much attention is being given — and rightly so – to the new quarterback for the B.C. Lions. He happens to be a “Canadian quarterback,” a species that for decades was almost as rare as the snow leopard.
The CFL’s new superstar-QB-to-be is Nathan Rourke.
Last week, he passed for 436 yards, more than any Canadian quarterback before him, a record that was Gerry Dattilio’s since 1981. Dattilio guided a Montreal team that was 3-13…I saw all his passes and I don’t recall anybody even mentioning his “Canadian Quarterback Record.” Rourke, should he continue at his current pace (he won’t) until November, will complete 603 passes for 6,462 yards and 63 touchdowns with a passing percentage of 87.5 per cent and zero interceptions. All would obliterate the all-time CQRs, and only Doug Flutie’s 6,619 yards passing is better among American quarterbacks.
However (there’s always a however, right?), before crowning Rourke the King of Canadian Quarterbacks, remember who occupies that throne.
Those of us old enough to remember this marvellous talent and all-Canadian human being need some time before anointing his successor. Lots of time.
How good was Russ Jackson?
So good that he retired right after winning his third Grey Cup, throwing four touchdown passes — a record that still stands — as the game’s MVP. This followed his final season, in which he won the Schenley Award as the most outstanding player, for the third time. And they let him retire?
He was so good that the American QB the Ottawa Rough Riders discarded to make Jackson No. 1 (Ron Lancaster) also won three Grey Cups as a player or head coach, plus two Schenley Awards. So good that in the 12 seasons he played, Jackson played 195 of 197 games (including playoffs). And he did it all while also teaching and/or serving as a high school principal, full-time.
Passed over in the draft by five teams, as a defensive back, Jackson became so good that — like Rourke — he could run, too, averaging an incredible 9.0 yards per carry in his final season and 6.8 yards in his career. An MVP citizen, he became a member of the Order of Canada, returning to football for two disastrous years as coach of the Argos, and as a broadcast analyst on radio and TV. If I sound like his PR man, I’m not. As a statistician, I worked one Grey Cup and a few regular-season broadcasts with Jackson and found him to be decent enough but not especially friendly. I figured he confused me with an all-star defensive tackle.
But he was – and when he turns 86 next month continues to be – the CFL’s most decorated home-grown player, period. Only Jackson ever won seven individual awards. And he has another one that’s even better, the Russ Jackson Award, for the university player who best combines “athletic ability, academic achievement and devoted citizenship.”
As good as Nathan Rourke appears to be, he has a ways to go.