ALSO THIS MONTH
MARC CIAMPA, a native of Alberta, Canada, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. A student at the University of Alberta, Ciampa is the hockey columnist for Chicago Sports Weekly and the Calgary Cannons correspondent for the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs.
With the Cleveland Browns making their expansion draft selections recently, and with the Los Angeles franchise almost certainly coming to a stadium near you in the near future, there may be more than a few NFL fans concerned about the shortage of talent that is sure to come.
In past history humankind has been faced with these dilemmas before, be it a lack of food, water, natural gas or otherwise and has always found a way to overcome these shortages.
Obviously a lack of football players is not as serious as the aforementioned three necessities but the thought of bad football is enough to shock pigskin fans into flashbacks of the frightening first few weeks of the 1987 season when scrubs crossed the picket lines to fill in.
When the National Hockey League was faced with rapid expansion throughout the 1970s that saw its contingent increase from six to 12 teams, 12 to 17 teams and ultimately to 21, it found a gold mine of hockey players playing in U.S. Colleges as well as overseas.
Unfortunately for the NFL, football is not widely played by Europeans and those players who play for NFL Europe have more or less already had their shot and failed so it appears that there is no new talent pool available on the horizon.
Unless, of course, the NFL looks a little bit closer at one of its own bowl games - the Pro Bowl. One of the surprises of the 1998 NFL season played in the game but for whatever reason he was in Canada for the previous eight years.
That player, of course, is none other than Doug Flutie.
20 touchdowns, 202 completions, 2711 total yards passing. Incredible numbers, especially when one considers that he only started 10 games. And there's plenty more where that came from too.
Other Canadian Football League players now excelling in the NFL include Indianapolis Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who won two consecutive Grey Cups as a member of the Flutie-led Toronto Argonauts, Denver Broncos lineman Harald Hasselbach, who won a championship with Flutie as well with the Calgary Stampeders in 1992, the great Warren Moon, who won five Grey Cups in six seasons from 1978 to 1984 with the Edmonton Eskimos, Green Bay's Vaughn Booker, and Carolina's Rocket Ismail. One thing all these players have in common is that not only are they integral parts of their respective teams but also - with the exception of Moon and Flutie - in the Canadian Football League they were no more important to their clubs then as they are now. That says a lot about the quality of three-down football.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, until this season once a player set foot somewhere between Vancouver and Montreal north of the 49th, for the most part NFL officials and scouts refused to acknowledge their existence.
Doug Flutie has changed all that and it seems for now the CFL may be the solution to the NFL's talent pool crisis. Already several players who played in Canada in 1998 have made the move south.
Among them, Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman Fred Childress has signed with Dallas while Stamps punter Tony Martino has inked a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. Any day now 1998 Grey Cup MVP Jeff Garcia of Calgary should be announcing a deal that he will be the heir apparent to Steve Young in San Francisco.
"Garcia looked good and in fact, he's much bigger than I thought," said Niners head coach Steve Mariucci of the six-foot-one, 200 pound Garcia.
"It looks like he could play in our system.
"He has a strong arm, moves around very well and throws well on the run."
Mariucci was non-committal when asked if he thinks the 49ers will sign him, "I don't handle the contracts but I believe Bill Walsh (49ers GM) will be in contact with him about that next week."
Walsh is said to be very interested in signing the quarterback, however, which is high praise for a player who wasn't even looked at by the league four years ago. When asked, Doug Flutie felt that each of the eight teams in the CFL has about five players who could make an impact in the United States, and at least one player - maybe more - that could be a star.
And with expansion coming up, the NFL's realization that this talent is out there couldn't have come at a better time.
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