Tracy Ham – CFL Great
There has been some discussion on the CFL site recently about quarterbacks. The current best, and the best five of all time have been up for debate.
But a lot of great performers have been missing from these lists. Particularly the top five list. The league has been around for 62 years, and the Canadian game for over a century, so any limited list will of course miss off some greats.
Plus there is the conisderation of how much the game has changed down the years. Statisitics can only tell so much of the story. Volume can be padded by longer seasons and styles of play too. So I thought it might be fun to look back at some great CFL quarterbacks and celebrate their careers.
We started with Ron Lancaster, moved on to Tom Wilkinson, and now it is time to move on to another great. This time we are looking at a man that was drafted by the L A Rams in 1987, but instead signed on to play in the CFL – Tracy Ham.
Before the CFL
Ham played for the Georgia Southern Eagles. He opted to play with the Eagles at the Division I-AA level. This was because coming out of High School a lot of colleges wanted to recruit him as a DB. Ham however wanted to be a quarterback and because of that chose to pursue his dream with Georgia Southern.
He clearly made the right choice. Tracy Ham had his GSU number retured. This was on the back of being named to the 1986 Associated Press and Kodak All-America teams. And being chosen the ‘College Player of the Year’ for three consecutive years by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (1984-86).
Georgia installed the ‘Ham-Bone’ offense whilst Tracy was with the team. An offense that saw him become the first player in college history to run for 3,000 yards and pass for 5,000 in a career. And become the first Division I-AA player to both run and pass for 1,000 yards in a season.
A highlight of his illustrious college career would be the 1985 national championship game against Furman University. An occasion when he rallied the Eagles from a 22-point deficit in the third quarter to beat Furman, 44-42. Ham and GSU would double down by winning it all again in 1986.
All of these exploits were recognised in 2007 when he was inducted into the college football Hall of Fame.
Tracy Ham turns Pro – and heads North
The 1987 NFL Draft saw Ham picked up in the 9th round by the Rams. However he signed with Edmonton, believing that NFL teams would not want him to play quarterback.
That ’87 Edmonton team had some quarterback room. He would start out as a third stringer behind Damon Allen and Matt Dunigan. Both of whom would end up being called to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Time in Edmonton
Ham made a name for himself in the league between 1987 and 1992. This can be seen as the first half of his CFL career. And it was all spent in Edmonton.
In 1988, Ham had 11 starts with Edmonton. That season he threw 2,840 yards added 14 touchdowns, and rushed for over 600 yards. A breakout season would follow when Tracy took over as the #1 QB in Edmonton 1989.
In that breakout season he became the first quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards. He threw 30 touchdowns and led the league in passing efficiency and yards per rush. That year he was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player. As well as a unanimous selection as a Western All-Star and a CFL All-Star.
His proclivity to be a duel threat was highlighted as Ham had two one thousand yard rushing seasons. Amassing 1,005 in 1989 and 1,096 yards in 1990. A third thousand yard season was missed in 1991 by just two yards.
By the early 90’s he was well established and continued to excel. 1990 saw him lead the league in touchdown passes with 36, run for 1,096 yards and pass for 4,286 yards. This saw him take Edmonton to a Grey Cup appearance during the 1990 season. But they would get blown out by Winnipeg in that game.
Ham had a Grey Cup ring as a backup from his first year in Edmonton. But because he hadn’t led a team to a Cup title himself that was surely a focus.
Tracy Ham gets traded
In 1992, he was the league’s leading passer with an efficiency rating of 91.5. And although he suffered injuries that season he still manged to pass for 3,655 yards and to run for 655 more. Depsite all that he was traded to Toronto.
It wasn’t a good fit. The Argos were running a run and shoot attack that didn’t really make best use of Ham’s talents. Toronto would finish 3-15 and Ham never looked that comfortable.
In the early Nineties the CFL briefly expanded into America. By far the most successful of the expansion teams were the Baltimore Stallions.
A real key to the Stallions success was that they hired personnel and players who specifically had CFL experience. At the heart of that success was Tracy Ham who they brought in from Toronto to lead the team.
Baltimore were very successful. The Stallions went 27-9 over two seasons and appeared in back to back championship games. Although Ham and the Stallions lost in the title game in 1994, they were back in 1995.
Ham led a powerhouse 15 win team, and led the Stallions to being the only non-Canadian team ever to win the Grey Cup. He picked up the MVP award for the game too.
Winding Down the Career
By 1996 the US expansion experiment was over. Many of those teams are gone but not forgotten. Baltimore however continued to impact the CFL landscape. They packed up, and by and large all headed North to resurrect the Montreal Alouettes.
Ham spent four years in Montreal (1996-1999). Whilst there he posted some of his best completion percentage numbers. But perhaps his greatest contribution was in mentoring Anthony Calvillo.
Calvillo for his part would say that Ham was a key factor in resurrecting his legendary CFL career in Montreal. Tracy spent two seasons as the clear-cut starting quarterback. However, in 1998 he began to share passing duties with Calvillo and retired after the 1999 season.
A CFL career that spanned 1987-1999 saw Ham complete 2,670 of 4,943 attempts for 40,534 yards and 294 touchdowns. This was bolstered by 1,059 carries for 8,043 yards and 62 touchdowns.
Just as his exploits had been recognised in college the same happened in the pros. Tracy Ham was eleceted to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Banner image from baltimoresun.com
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