Great CFL Pivots: Sam Etcheverry

Great CFL Pivots: Sam Etcheverry
Reading Time: 4 minutes.

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.

We started with Ron Lancaster, moved on to Tom Wilkinson, Tracy Ham, and Tom Clements. Now it is time to look further back – to a star of the Canadian game in the 1950’s, Sam ‘The Rifle’ Etcheverry.

Before the CFL

Etcheverry was born in Carlsbad New Mexico in 1930 but made his way to the University of Denver to play football.

There he played for the now defunct Pioneers. Sam was with the Pioneers from 1949-51. The team had few claims to fame. However, on Christmas Day 1950 they defeated a Hawai’i All-Stars team 76-6 at Honolulu Stadium.

A 3-8-1 record hardly set the world on fire. But, going 2-2-1 against MSC opponents saw them appear in the Pineapple Bowl on January 1st 1951. This time they lost 28-27 to Hawai’i.

Sam Etcheverry – a modern passer

In a run heavy era, when Sam Etcheverry joined the Montreal Alouettes, (for an annual salary of $6,000), he put up some very modern looking passing numbers. Sam played his entire nine year CFL career with Montreal from 1952 to 1960.

Two things jump out about this straight away. Firstly when he joined in ’52 the Als were still part of the IRFU before the CFL was officially formed. So we are very definitely in a different era here! A fact pushed home when we consider there are no official stats for the first two years of Etcheverry’s career either.

What we do know is that when stats started to be kept we can see that between 1954 and 1960 he never passed for less than 3,000 yards in a season. We should remember too that these were 14 game seasons. Apart from a 12 game 1955 season when Etcheverry threw for an amazing 3,657 yards and 30 TD’s.

Most people know that Joe Namath was the first QB to crack 4,000 yards passing in a season in the NFL in 1967. He hit 4,007 yards and 26 TD’s in a 14 game season.

Well the Rifle did it earlier. Sam Etcheverry put together a season in 1956 that wouldn’t look out of place in the modern game. That year over 14 games he completed 61.9% of his passes for 4,723 yards (10.3 yards per attempt) and 32 touchdowns.

Sam Etcheverry finished his CFL career with over 30,000 yards passing and over 180 touchdowns. He also finished with a 56.9% career completion percentage. These were phenomenal figures for this era.

Grey Cup Woes

Etcheverry had a hugely successful career with the Als in the Canadian game. During his time in Montreal he was a six time East All-Star, being awarded the honour from 1953-1957 inclusively and again in 1960.

There were no CFL All-Stars until 1962, but there can be little doubt that had there been Sam would have been nominated.  Etcheverry was also nominated five times by the Alouettes for the Outstanding Player in the CFL (1954, 1955, 1958, 1959 and 1960).

But one hurdle he never got over was winning the Grey Cup. Etcheverry led the Als to the Grey Cup game three times in a row from 1954 to 1956. Each time they faced Edmonton, and came away empty handed.

The closest they came was a 26-25 loss in the 1954 game. The win came for Edmonton on a controversial fumble return TD, and this is considered a classic contest.

Typically for Etcheverry, although Montreal lost the 1955 Grey Cup, he threw for a very modern sounding record 508 yards in the game.

We shouldn’t be surprised. During single games in 1954 and 1956, he passed for 586 yards and 561 yards respectively, and he was the Canadian football pass completion and passing yardage leader from 1954 through to 1959.

Leaving Montreal

In 1960, Montreal attempted to trade Etcheverry to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in exchange for their QB Bernie Faloney. The courts ruled it was a breach of Etcheverry’s contract and made him a free agent. 

So Sam went to the NFL and completed his career playing two years with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1961 and 1962.

Unfortunately, Etcheverry suffered a shoulder injury on his first pass in training camp and would never come close to showing the greatness he had put on show in Canada.

Etcheverry returns – and get his ring

When a star quarterback leaves it can often leave a vacuum at a football team. After Etcheverry’s departure the Als certainly became less competitive. By the end of the 1960’s they had fallen into sharp decline going 7-31-5 from 1967-1969.

So when Sam Etcheverry agreed to return as Head Coach in December ’69 he had a challenge ahead of him. A challenge he responded to by leading the Als to a 7-6-1 season, and a Grey Cup victory. The success wasn’t sustained and he left the role following a 4-10 season in 1972 with a 14-24-1 record.

Etcheverry returned one more time to the Alouettes in 1982 as the team’s GM and President. He was to be GM and President of the newly branded Montreal Concordes. This return was not successful as the newly renamed team struggled on the field and Etcheverry was fired in July of 1983.

Nevertheless ‘The Rifle’ remains one of the all-time favourites of those with an interest in the history of the Alouettes.

A thoroughly modern quarterback putting up huge numbers for his era, Etcheverry saw his famous number 92 retired by the Alouettes.

If you Liked this

If you enjoyed a bit of CFL history and don’t just want to focus on the O, then we did run a series of articles making ‘the case for the D’ and focusing on special teamers too.

The case for the D focused on CFL defensive greats like Herb Gray, Willie PlessAngelo MoscaDickie HarrisNorm FieldgateWayne HarrisBill Baker, & Jim Corrigall.

The focus on special teams included the likes of Pinball ClemonsHenry ‘Gizmo’ WilliamsLui PassagliaBob Cameron, & Dave Cutler. Go take a look if you are interested!

Banner image from thebigredzone.com

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