Homemade heroes

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:07 PM ET

Millions of viewers this weekend rushed to their TV sets like blood-thirsty defensive ends, blitzing past wives and children to watch a glitzy live telecast of the NFL draft. By contrast, this Thursday's Canadian college selection process -- staged via conference call connecting the nine CFL cities -- will be ignored by millions of even the most ardent football fans.

Yet while Canadian talent is often overlooked -- even downright sneered at -- it is undeniably the backbone of the best CFL teams. Moreover, some of the league's greatest stars of the past were born at some chilly northern post.

The league itself is dependent on local products who make the Canadian game, well, Canadian.

Sun football writer Dan Toth endeavors to list the 10 best Canadians to play in the CFL.

Given the nature of such lists, many worthy names did not make the cut -- Normie Kwong, Dave Sapunjis, Joe Poplawski, Dave Ridgway, Roger Aldag, Peter Dalla Riva, Jim Young, Joe Krol and on and on -- but surely could have. The Canadian talent pool was as impressive in past decades as it is today.

Meanwhile Stampeders head coach Tom Higgins also weighs in on some of the best Canadian talent he has seen.

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#1 QUARTERBACK RUSS JACKSON

BORN: HAMILTON

Capable of playing both defensive back and quarterback, McMaster product Russ Jackson joined the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1958 earning six all-star appearances (1962, '63, '66, '67, '68, '69).

Canada's greatest pivot really blossomed after teammate Ron Lancaster was traded to Saskatchewan, with Jackson anointed as the QB to make or break the Rough Riders' future.

Jackson claimed the Schenley Award as the CFL's outstanding player three times and as the top Canadian on four occasions, displaying a talent for pulling down the ball and dashing out of the backfield like a tailback, earning extra yards.

For Jackson, the wider CFL field was the perfect stage for his offensive exploits.

Jackson's Rough Riders made four Grey Cup appearances, winning three, including his farewell game in 1969.

He was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1973.

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#2 RECEIVER TERRY EVANSHEN

BORN: MONTREAL

Terry Evanshen spent 14 seasons in the CFL and was an all-star with three teams: Montreal in 1965 and '71, Calgary in 1966-69 and Hamilton in 1975, collecting close to 10,000 yards in receptions.

An elegant, sure-handed receiver known to possess an intense desire to succeed, he was twice named the CFL's outstanding Canadian. His 14 consecutive seasons with at least one reception is surpassed by only Garney Henley (16).

Although Evanshen's receiving exploits are still fondly recalled by CFL fans league-wide, a tragic auto accident in 1988 has stripped Evanshen of his own long-term memory of his playing days.

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#3 KICKER LUI PASSAGLIA

BORN: VANCOUVER

Lui Passaglia could be on this list for longevity alone.

Until his retirement following B.C.'s victory at the 2000 Grey Cup in Calgary, there were thousands of football fans who never knew a CFL without the man fans called "Loooooo" kicking the pigskin for the B.C. Lions.

Passaglia played all 25 of his seasons with Vancouver, earning all-star awards as both a placekicker, 1979-80, '83-84, 98, '00 and as a punter 1977, '83, '92, and '99.

Passaglia, who packed it in at age 46, may have lost some leg strength late in his career but his accuracy rarely wavered and generations of Lions teammates relied on him in clutch situations.

His inner quarterback made him a threat to throw in third-down punting situations.

Passaglia's 408 regular season appearances is a league record along with career points (3,991) while winning three Grey Cup rings.

His most notable Cup win came courtesy his own toe at home in B.C. Place Stadium, booting a field goal on the final play of the 1994 Classic, defeating Baltimore.

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#4 O-LINEMAN CHRIS WALBY

BORN: WINNIPEG

One of the best offensive linemen to play in the CFL, Chris Walby won Grey Cup rings with Winnipeg in 1984, '88 and '90, while earning 11 all-star nods consecutive years in 1984-87, 1989-94 and again in '96.

His twisted fingers, the result of multiple breaks, are testament to the hard-nosed brand of ball that made Walby one of the toughest lineman to play in Canada.

Yet his gregarious, down-to-earth demeanour made him a fan favourite, even outside of Winnipeg, and he's parlayed that personality into his new career as a football analyst with CBC-TV.

He twice won the CFL's outstanding lineman award, in both 1987 and '93.

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#5 O-LINEMAN TED URNESS

BORN: REGINA

A crucial component of Saskatchewan's offensive line at centre throughout the 1960s, Ted Urness was an all-star six straight seasons 1965-70, winning his only Grey Cup ring in '66.

He is credited, in part, for the unparalleled success of two CFL legends, quarterback Ron Lancaster and running back George Reed, whose careers coincided with Urness.

A Saskatchewan boy, Urness's arrival with the Roughriders in 1961 marked the first of 15 straight playoff years for the Hoppers.

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#6 SLOTBACK ROCKY DiPIETRO

BORN: SAULT STE. MARIE

A sure-handed CFL all-star in 1981, '82, '86 and '89, Rocky DiPietro played his entire 14-year career with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

DiPietro ran precise routs, rarely coughed up the ball despite absorbing some massive hits across the middle and dished out his own punishment as he fought for extra yards. He was a hard-working hero for a blue-collar city.

He was the league's most outstanding Canadian in 1982 and '89 and appeared in four Grey Cup games, winning in 1986.

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#7 TIGHT END TONY GABRIEL

BORN: HAMILTON

A three-time all-star with Hamilton between 1972-74, Tony Gabriel went on to receive seven additional all-star awards with Ottawa 1975-81.

What Gabriel lacked in speed, he more than compensated for with his ability to catch almost any ball thrown his way.

Gabriel was named the CFL's most outstanding player in 1978 and on four occasions won outstanding Canadian honours.

Gabriel played a crucial role in picking apart Saskatchewan's defence in the dying minutes of the 1972 Grey Cup win over Saskatchewan, capped by a last second Ian Sunter field goal.

His over-the-shoulder touchdown grab for Ottawa in the final minute of the 1976 Grey Cup also foiled Saskatchewan and is still the source of nightmares for life-long Roughriders fans.

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#8 RUSHER RON STEWART

BORN: N/A

Despite standing just 5 ft. 8 in., the feisty Ottawa running back was an all-star in 1960, '61 and '64 and a strong rushing threat throughout his remarkable career spanning three decades (1958-70).

In addition to establishing the single-game rushing record of

287 yards in just 15 carries against Montreal in 1960 that still stands, Ron Stewart also won three Grey Cup rings before his induction to the Hall of Fame in 1977.

His remarkable single-game record has withstood the challenges of much more powerful runners such as all-time career rushing leader Mike Pringle.

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#9 RECEIVER TOM FORZANI

BORN: CALGARY

One of three Forzani brothers to play for their hometown Stampeders, Tom Forzani was an all-star selection at wide receiver in 1973, '74 and '77 despite playing during one of the franchise's weakest periods.

Playing at just 180 lb., Forzani was often overlooked due his lack of size but served as a gritty, sure-handed receiver much like current Alouettes slotback Ben Cahoon. His No. 22 was retired in 1984.

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#10 D-LINEMAN BILL BAKER

BORN: KINDERSLEY, B.C.

The Undertaker was notorious for his aggressive pass rush, earning his nickname from the injured quarterbacks strewn in his wake. In fact, his penchant for clotheslining opposing pivots led to a CFL rule banning the practice. Bill Baker collected five all-star awards at defensive end with two teams, Saskatchewan in 1971-73 and again in B.C. from 1975-76, although he never won a Grey Cup.

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WHO QUALIFIES AS A NON-IMPORT?

* A player who has never received football training outside of Canada, or a player, who participated as a player in a football game outside of Canada after his 17th birthday but had prior to his 17th birthday received football training in Canada only;

* Or, was physically resident in Canada for an aggregate period of five years prior to attaining the age of 15 years. Other restrictions apply.

Non-imports make up 19 of the 40-player CFL roster, with 18 imports and three quarterbacks.

-- CFL RULEBOOK


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