Grey Cup Generals: Top 10 by yardage
If you are going to win a Grey Cup you need a decent QB at the helm. You can see that in recent years with Zach Collaros. Who has taken the Blue Bombers to three consecutive Grey Cup games and was twice named CFL MOP along the way.
But who are the Grey Cup generals who have had the most success through the air? You could argue for someone like Ricky Ray who in 2005 completed 35 of 45 passes for a 77.8% completion per centage. Putting him near the top of completion per centage and completions in the big game.
On this occasion however, we will rank the quarterbacks, not on single game performances, but by career volume. Should we be obsessed with volume? Having an outstanding performance in a Grey Cup is quite the achievment. However, if you have multiple appearances and large yardage numbers that speaks of an incredible career-long consistency. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the top ten Grey Cup performers by career yardage.
Grey Cup Generals: Top 10 by yardage
10: 1,026 yards Ron Lancaster
Grey Cup appearances: 1960, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1972, 1976. Grey Cup record 2-4.
The ‘little general’ although most closely associated with Saskatchewan, spent his first three years in the CFL with Ottawa. He joined the Rough Riders in 1960, but they already had an incumbent at the QB position in the great Russ Jackson.
So Lancaster started out at DB. However, part way through the season Jackson went down injured. Ron stepped up and went 101 fo 201 for 1,843 yards and 16 TD’s. That sat alongside the 3 picks he had as a DB in the 1960 season.
By the time of the 48th Grey Cup Jackson was starting once more. But Ron Lancaster picked up his first Grey Cup ring for this game as a backup, and he had certainly made a contribution to the Ottawa cause througout his debut season.
Successes in Saskatchewan was immediate and sustained with Lancaster at the helm. From 1963-76 Lancaster led the Roughriders to the playoffs for 14 consecutive years and made it to the CFL’s Western Football Conference final 12 times. During that period, Saskatchewan played for the Grey Cup five times (1966, 1967, 1969, 1972, and 1976) and won it once, as noted above, in 1966. He would however pick up two more Grey Cups as a coach.
9: 1,154 yards Damon Allen
Grey Cup appearances: 1987, 1993, 2000, 2004. Grey Cup record 4-0. 2 time Grey Cup MVP.
Allen started his career as a free agent signing with Edmonton in May 1985. What a set of QB’s Edmonton had on the roster in the 1980’s! Future Hall of Fame pivots Matt Dunigan and Tracy Ham would share roster time with Allen. As a result he didn’t see a lot of playing time in his four years in Edmonton (1985-88).
Allen’s best year with the team came in 1987 when he threw for 2,670 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also ran for 562 yards. Being a dual-threat QB would become a feature of his time in the league.
In 1987 Edmonton won the 75th Grey Cup beating the Argos in a 38-36 in a thriller in Vancouver. Dunigan was the starting QB but went down with a head injury with the Argos leading 24-10 in the second quarter. Allen threw a TD to cut the lead to 24-17 before the half.
In the fourth quarter he would throw a 15 yard TD and run for a 17 yard score. Having prepared for Dunigan, the Argos D struggled with Allen’s mobility. 59,478 people watched on as Allen was named the Grey Cup’s Outstanding Offensive player.
Stints in Ottawa and Hamilton followed before he landed back in Edmonton in 1993.
Once back in Edmonton, Allen stayed for 2 years. He threw for over 3,300 yards in each season while running for 920 yards in 1993 and 707 yards in 1994. 44 Touchdowns were also added into the mix.
By this point it was clear Allen had a flare for the big time Especially as he led Edmonton to another Grey Cup win in 1993. He would also be named the game’s MVP.
Grey Cup General keeps going
Allen was now a seasoned CFL veteran. Ten years in the league had seen him play for three different teams. So far over half of his time had been spent with Edmonton. And he had picked up 2 championships with them.
After a brief flirtation with the US expansion helming the Memphis Mad Dogs he returned north with the BC Lions. Allen had some of his most accurate and successful passing seasons in BC.
In 1999 he completed 60.5% of his passes for 4,219 yards and 22 TD’s. As well as running for 785 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and 8 further majors. All of which saw him pick up his second All-Star award as a Western All Star.
The following season in 2000, Allen became the CFL’s all-time leading passer, surpassing Ron Lancaster’s record of 50, 535 yards. Even better, that year he led the Lions to Grey Cup victory. A 28-26 win in which he threw for 234 yards and scored twice on 1 yard runs.
Going into the 2003 season BC decided to move for a younger QB. They sent Allen to Toronto for picks in the 2004 and 2005 drafts just prior to the season. You would harldy say Allen fell into decline with the Argos. In 2003 he surpassed Lancaster for the most career touchdown passes in CFL history. He took the Argos to the Eastern Division Final that year as well.
Father time can wait
In week 9 of the 2004 season he fractured his tibia. At 41 years of age commentators were wondering if he was done. The answer was no!
Allen was back by week 18 of the season and eventually led the Argos to a 27-19 Grey Cup victory over his former team the BC Lions. Completing 23 of 24 passes for 299 yards including 1 TD pass and rushing 5 times for 10 yards and 2 TD’s saw him once again named the big game’s MVP.
At the time of his retirement in 2008, Damon Allen was Pro-Football’s All-Time Passing Leader with 72,381 yards, as well as holding the CFL record for All-Time Rushing Yards by a Quarterback with 11,914 yards and CFL passing TD record at 394.
8: 1,224 yards Sam Etcheverry
Grey Cup appearances: 1954, 1955, 1956. Grey Cup record 0-3, 408 yards passing per game.
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.
There are no official stats for the first two years of Etcheverry’s career. 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.
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. 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 lost.
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.
In 1970 he would finally experience winning the Grey Cup coaching the Als.
7: 1,281 yards Henry Burris
Grey Cup appearances: 1998, 1999, 2008, 2013, 2016. Grey Cup record 3-2. 2 time Grey Cup MVP.
Burris played 18 seasons in the Canadian Football League (CFL) with four different teams, appearing in 277 regular season and 17 playoff games. He played with the Calgary Stampeders from 1997 to 1999 and again from 2005 to 2011, the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2000, 2003 and 2004, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2012 and 2013, and finished his career with the Ottawa RedBlacks from 2014 to 2016.
After being a back up in Calgary and being on the winning team in 1998 and the losing team in the 1999 Grey Cup, Burris got his first starting role in Saskatchewan. However, after success there he made a move back to Calgary to lead the Stamps. There he led them to a win in the 2008 Grey Cup and was named MVP.
The end of the career
Following the 2011 season the Stamps traded Burris, who was not ready to be a backup, to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He led the league in passing yardage both seasons in the Hammer, but lost out to Saskatchewan in the 2012 Grey Cup game.
Once again he was let go before joining the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks. In a fairytale career ending Burris led the RedBlacks’ to their first Grey Cup win in 2016 in his final game.
He played in five Grey Cups and emerged victorious on three occasions (1998 and 2008 with Calgary and 2016 with Ottawa), earning Grey Cup Most Valuable Player twice (2008 and 2016).
He retired with 63,639 passing yards, which ranked third in CFL history. Burris retired as the then seventh all-time playoff passing leader with 3,566 passing yards
6: 1,304 yards Bernie Faloney
Grey Cup appearances: 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964. Grey Cup record 3-5.
Faloney was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1954. But they wanted him to play defensive back and backup at QB. So he headed north to Edmonton to play QB.
Once there he found himself in the same backfield as another future Hall of Fame QB, (and all round swiss army knife of a player) – Jackie Parker.
His first season in the CFL was hardly indicative of future success. He went 26 of 71 (36.6%) for 529 yards with 3 TD’s and 5 picks.
However, he made a strong contribution to the 11-5 season Edmonton put together in 1954. Alongside the passing he had 6 TD’s on the ground and had 21 punts that averaged 41.1 yards per kick.
In the 42nd Grey Cup, the first Grey Cup to be televised, Faloney had a 1 yard TD plunge in the Esks 26-25 win against the Montreal Alouettes.
Success in Hamilton
After winning the Grey Cup with Edmonton Faloney served two years of mandatory service with the US Air Force. He returned to the CFL as a Free Agent in 1957 and signed with Hamilton.
Faloney was with the Ticats from 1957 to 1964. During that period Hamilton went 73-36-3, went to 7 Grey Cup games and won 2 of them (1957 & 1963). It was with the 1957 win that Faloney became the first player to lead a Western and an Eastern team to a Grey Cup title.
He would finish out his career with Montreal and BC, but not make it back to the Grey Cup. He remains synonymous with a period of great success for the Ticats.
Grey Cup Generals by yardage: top 5
5: 1,357 yards Danny McManus
Grey Cup appearances: 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999. Grey Cup record 3-2. 1 time Grey Cup MVP.
What can you say about Danny McManus? He wasn’t the prototypical fleet of foot CFL quarterback. Not the quickest on the ground then, but he made a living through the air. And very successfully at that. The well travelled veteran spent about half his career with Hamilton, but also had stops in Winnipeg, Edmonton, BC and Calgary.
Having played four seasons at Florida State he was twice named Player of the Year and was the MVP of the 1988 Fiesta Bowl. Following which McManus was an 11th round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1988, but was released after the 1989 season.
Regular Grey Cup play – for different teams
McManus’ CFL career began when he signed as a free agent with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1990. He served as the Bomber backup QB throughout his tenure there. He won his first Grey Cup ring in 1990. As a backup he came on late in a 50-11 rout of Edmonton and threw a 56 yard TD. McManus again subbed in during the 1992 game. He went 7 of 18 passing for 155 yards and hit a 27 yard TD.
After 1992, McManus joined the BC Lions as a free agent and spent three seasons from 1993 to 1995 with the Leos. He finally got a chance to be the starting QB in 1995.
Prior to that, during the 1994 Grey Cup, McManus took over for injured starting quarterback Kent Austin at halftime and led the BC Lions to a dramatic victory over the Baltimore Stallions.
In Edmonton McManus threw for over 4,000 yards in both seasons and saw his pass completion percentage rise to 53.6% in 1996 and 60.0% in 1997.
He also got his first taste of starting in a Grey cup in 1996. He would lead Edmonton to 37 points but lost out 43-37 to Toronto. The game pivoted on a potential Flutie fumble that was marked a first down for the Argos. The play of the game came early as McManus threw downfield to a streaking Downtown Eddie Brown. The ball bounced off Brown’s foot and into his hands as he ran unimpeded for a 64-yard touchdown.
McManus finally had his first Grey Cup general moment as a starter. But he would surely have wanted back Toronto’s Adrion Smith’s pick six, when he ran the ball back 49 yards for the clinching touchdown.
Hamilton is home
After the brief stint in Edmonton he found himself in Hamilton for the 1998 season. He would be with the Ti-Cats until 2005.
McManus put up big numbers in the Hammer, throwing more than 500 passes for more than 4,000 yards in six of those seasons, and over 5,000 yards in two of them. He had a career season in 1999. That year the Tiger-Cats went 11-7 and won their most recent Grey Cup title.
Along the way Danny McManus led the CFL with 28 touchdown passes and 5,334 yards. He set a team record for yards passing, attempts, completions, and touchdown passes. He would later be named CFL MOP. As well as having a barnstorming Grey Cup game, going 22 of 34 passing for 347 yards with 2 TDs and no interceptions. Earning him Grey Cup MVP honours too that year.
At the time of his retirement, Danny McManus held various franchise records with the Tiger-Cats, including: most career passing yards (33,841), most career pass attempts (4,257), most career pass completions (2,368), and most career touchdown passes with 164 surpassing Bernie Faloney.
After the 2005 season, McManus moved West to play his final season in Calgary as the team’s backup QB behind Henry Burris.
4: 1,420 yards Doug Flutie
Grey Cup appearances: 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997. Grey Cup record 3-1. 3 time Grey Cup MVP.
The Magic Flutie – what can you say? His style of play was perfect for the CFL in the 1990s. Flutie first came to prominence at Bostton College for his famous “Hail Mary” pass. Not everyone was sold on him as an NFL QB at the time however. After a stint in the USFL and with the Bears and Pats in the NFL he made his way north to the BC Lions for the 1990 season. He was the highest paid player in the CFL.
That first season was all about adjustment. But in 1991 he burst out into the CFL mainstream. In his first season as a full time starter he went 466 of 730 (63.8%) for 6,619 yards, with 38 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. He was named league MOP as the Lions finished 11-7 but were one and done in the playoffs losing 43-41 to Calgary.
This remains the most passing yards in a single season. It also served notice of an incredible 8 year career in the CFL. A career that would deliver 41,355 yards passing and 270 Touchdowns supplemented by 4,660 yards rushing and a further 66 Touchdowns.
As well as passing for 6,000 yards in a CFL season twice, (he threw for 6,092 yards in 1993), Flutie also came within 55 yards of doing it again in 1992 when he threw for 5,945 yards. Meaning that from 1991-1993 he threw for 18,656 yards (345.48 yards per game) showing an incredible period of dominant passing and sustained consistency.
Sustained success in Calgary
As a free agent, Flutie signed with Calgary in 1992, playing for four seasons for the Stampeders from 1992 to 1995.
During that period they had three 15 win seasons and went 58-14 overall in the regluar season. Surprisingly however that only brought Grey Cup appearances in 1992 and 1995. That 1992 game saw the Stamps win the Grey Cup for the first time since 1971, the longest drought of any CFL team at the time. Flutie himself went 33 of 49 for 480 yards with 2 TDs to be named the game’s MVP.
1995 was more of a disappoitment as the 15-3 Stamps were upended handily by the 15-3 Baltimore Stallions 37-20 in the final.
With Flutie at the helm the Stampeders went 45-9 from 1993-1995. That included a 26-1 run at home. But they somehow never won the Grey Cup. Each season they were dispatched in the playoffs by the eventual Grey Cup champion.
Brief but brilliant in Toronto
Flutie was a free agent again after the 1995 season. This time the Toronto Argonauts got his services. Once again Flutie brought success to a city. Back to back 15-3 seasons with a 17-1 home run.
1997 saw them do it again. The Argos finished the year with 11 players named to the All-Star team and four CFL awards. Doug Flutie won the Most Outstanding Player award for the sixth time (5,505 yards & 47 TD’s) to see out his CFL career. Once agan the Argos were Grey Cup champions. Flutie was the Grey Cup MVP on both occasions.
3: 1,431 yards Bo Levi Mitchell
Grey Cup appearances: 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018. Grey Cup record 2-3. 2 time Grey Cup MVP.
Mitchell may have signed with the Ti-Cats recently but for this Grey Cup general, his success has come with the Calgary Stampeders.
Mitchell spent 11 years in Calgary and set a series of franchise records. He holds the Stamps career records for yardage and completions, finishing his career in Calgary having made 2,496 of 3,866 pass attempts (64.6%) for 32,541 yards with 188 touchdown passes and 89 interceptions.
Those totals don’t include the 17 playoff games (9-8 record) the Stampeders have played in over a decade with Mitchell on the roster.
He was West Division finalist for Most Outstanding Player in 2015, 2016 and 2018, and is a two time MOP and 2 time Grey Cup MVP.
Having played in the FCS with Eastern Washington, Mitchell went undrafted by the NFL but was signed as a free agent by the Stampeders. He was a backup QB in their 2012 Grey Cup loss.
After a breakout season in 2013 he was the starter in 2014. A year the Stamps would end 15-3. Mitchell would throw for 3,389 yards and 22 TD’s. He would be the 2014 Grey Cup MVP off the back of completing 25 of 34 passes for 334 yards.
After taking the reigns in Calgary, Mitchell got off to a flying start to his career. Evidenced by the fact that he holds the CFL records for best starting record for a first-time quarterback (12 Wins, 1 Loss), and for fastest starting quarterback to 60 wins (72 Starts).
The upsets and redemption
Following the Grey Cup win, the Mitchell led Stamps were 14-4 in 2015 but knocked out of the playoffs in the West Final by Edmonton. In fact from 2015-2017 they went 42-10-2 in the regular season without delivering a championship.
The 2016 game saw the Stamps face the RedBlacks. After a 15-2-1 season the Stamps were heavily favoured, but it was the 8-9-1 team from Ottawa that caused one of the great Grey Cup upsets.
This was a championship game for the ages. It featured the underdogs getting out to a big lead, the favourites making a huge comeback, and eventually a huge upset in overtime.
Calgary recovered an onside kick and nearly won it in regulation, but it was Ottawa’s day as they won out 39-33.
The 2017 game saw the 13-4-1 Stampeders back in the big game, looking to put the previous years’ upset behind them. Once again they were heavily favoured against the 9-9 Toronto Argonauts. But lightning struck twice.
The ‘snow globe game’ was a spectacle from start to finish. Calgary controlled most of the game. But Toronto had two huge plays. A 100 yard touchdown pass and an 109 yard fumble return. Both touchdowns. Even then, starting out with 53 seconds on the clock down 27-24 Calgary almost won it but as Mitchell went all out for the win a Matt Black interception in the endzone capped victory for the Boatmen.
Despite not having the best record of his time there, you could argue that 2018 was the best year of Bo Levi Mitchell’s time in Calgary. He had been the MOP in 2016, but suffered the OT loss in the Grey Cup. However, in 2018 he was league MOP once more, led a 13-5 Stamps team to the Grey Cup, and this time won it 27-16 against Ottawa while delivering an MVP performance.
Bo Levi Mitchell was the game MVP going 24 of 35 for 253 yards and two touchdown passes, although he also had two interceptions. The Stamps won thanks to a thumping defence that grabbed six takeaways, an offence that did what it needed to do, and Terry Williams sprinting off to a record-setting punt return touchdown.
For Mitchell it was the last Grey Cup appearance with the Stamps, but he would later break the career passing yardage record. Whatever happens from here on in, he has doubtless booked a place in the Canadian football Hall of Fame from his time in Calgary alone.
2: 1,512 yards Ricky Ray
Grey Cup appearances: 2002, 2003, 2005, 2012, 2017. Grey Cup record 4-1. 2 time Grey Cup MVP.
Ricky Ray had a great career. Heck he almost had two separate great careers in the CFL. One with Edmonton and one with Toronto.
The career statistics are pretty impressive in themselves. Ray threw for 60,736 yards in his career, completing 4,982 of 7,303 passes with 324 touchdowns and 177 interceptions. He also ran for 3,142 yards in 615 attempts with 39 rushing touchdowns.
But his most impressive statistic however came in the Grey Cup. He is the only QB to win 4 Grey Cup games as a starter.
The Edmonton years
It has been argued that Ray could have made the Hall based off of his nine years in Edmonton alone. During that time he became the Green and Gold’s all time leader for attempts, completions, yardage and touchdowns. Ray went 3,225 of 4,827 for 40,531 yards and 210 touchdowns. Ray recorded three seasons of 5,000 or more passing yards, while breaking the 5,500 yard threshold twice. His 2008 season with 5,663 was a team record until eclipsed by Mike Reilly in 2017.
At the end of nine seasons in Edmonton his 96.1 passer efficiency rating was the highest among all-time QBs with at least 30,000 career passing yards.
And of course he delivered two titles. Winning the Grey Cup in 2003 and 2005. In the latter win, (an overtime classic), Ray set a Grey Cup record, completing 35 of his 45 passing attempts and was named the game’s MVP.
The trade to Toronto
In December 2011 former Edmonton GM Eric Tillman stunned the CFL by dealing Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts. In return Edmonton got a first-round pick , quarterback Steven Jyles and kicker Grant Shaw. Some said it was the worst deal ever made.
In Toronto Ray led the Argos to two Grey Cup titles (2012 and 2017). He also finished his career as an Argo with three seasons of over 4,000 yards, including another season where he was able to throw more than 5,500 passing yards.
In July of 2017, Ray passed Doug Flutie, with 16,634 yards to become the all-time passing leader for Toronto. Meaning he was the career passing leader on two separate teams that he would eventually lead to two championships each.
As in Edmonton, Ray left a mark on the record books in Toronto. He retired as the franchise all time leader in attempts, completions, yardage and touchdowns. This time going 1,757 of 2,476 for 20,205 yards and 114 touchdowns. He also holds the team record for highest career pass completion percentage (minimum 300 attempts) at 71.0.
For all of the records and stats on both teams however, Ricky Ray will be best remembered as a winner. A man who had a calm demeanour and the ability to get it done in tight situations.
1: 2,470 yards Anthony Calvillo
Grey Cup appearances: 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010. Grey Cup record 3-5. 1 time Grey Cup MVP.
If Anthony Calvillo’s career proves anything, it’s that resilience combined with giving people a chance to blossom matters. He came a long way to sit atop this pile of Grey Cup generals. In his first year in the CFL, Calvillo was with the storied US expansion squad the Las Vegas Posse.
His rookie season hardly heralded the career to come. He only managed to connect on 44% of his passes and threw two more picks than touchdowns. But the expansion teams had given him a way into the league. And he would break through that door to go onto be one of the true CFL legends.
When the Posse folded, Calvillo was taken in the first round of the dispersal draft by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Calvillo had three OK but not particularly head-turning seasons with the Ticats from 1995 to 1997. He was released by Hamilton in March of 1998 and signed up with the Montreal Alouettes.
After sitting behind Tracy Ham for a couple of seasons his career really kicked into life. As the full-time starter with the Als he led them on a great run.
A legend blossoms in Montreal
After becoming the starting QB in 2000 Calvillo started to put up bigger numbers, including six seasons over 5,000 yards in passing and one over 6,000.
In 2011, Calvillo passed Damon Allen to become the all-time CFL passing leader in yards. Calvillo also broke CFL records for most career touchdown passes and completed passes.
He retied having thrown for 79,816 yards and 455 toucdowns. He still holds the CFL career records for most attempts, completions, yardage and touchdowns.
A 10 time Eastern All-Star, & 5 time CFL All-Star Calvillo led the Alouettes to multiple Grey Cup games including winning three titles.
This list will doubtless change over time. After all records are made to be broken. And we will get to enjoy the Grey Cup generals of the future along the way.
Banner Image: Ricky Ray Grey Cup general with the Toronto Argonauts. Image from youthassistingyouth.com