Wednesday, 01 September 2021 12:00

‘Year of the Rocket’ a blast from the CFL past

In the world of gridiron football, the NFL reigns supreme. The league has become an entertainment behemoth, a multibillion-dollar monolith that is the closest thing to monoculture that North America experiences anymore.

But to the north, there is another football league with a storied history of its own.

The Canadian Football League has been around for a long time too – decades longer than its more prominent neighbor to the south – though it has never developed the same sort of all-encompassing hold on the general population. As the NFL exploded in popularity in the 1970s and into the ‘80s, the CFL – once an entity on more-or-less equal footing with its counterpart – began losing ground.

But in the early ‘90s, thanks to a bizarre confluence of timing and circumstance and a handful of bold and ill-conceived choices, a celebrated college star headed north and the CFL briefly found itself the talk of the sports world.

“Year of the Rocket: When John Candy, Wayne Gretzky, and a Crooked Tycoon Pulled Off the Craziest Season in Football History” (Sutherland House, $19.95) by Paul Woods is the story of that moment, where a trio of celebrated owners took control of one of the CFL’s most storied franchises and used their combined clout and cash to convince Notre Dame’s Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, one of college football’s biggest stars, to sign with them.

Woods goes deep into the situation, documenting the struggles that came from dealing with the sky-high expectations across the board; on the field and off, behind the scenes and in front of the world, these were circumstances unlike any ever experienced by the CFL. It was a whole new world – some of it good, some of it bad, all of it compelling.

Published in Sports


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