It may be the NFL's day today, but there are still plenty of figures with CFL connections on the big stage in Texas. To get you set for today's Super Bowl (kickoff at 6:30 Eastern; make sure to check out all the great coverage at Yahoo!'s Shutdown Corner as well), here are a few notes on some of the CFL-connected people who will be involved in the game.
—Tom Clements, quarterbacks coach (pictured, right, during his time with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats): Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been crucial to the Packers' success this year, and has done well ever since the team elected to move on with him as their starter in 2008 instead of bringing back an aging Brett Favre. However, it's a couple of people with CFL pedigrees who have been critical to Rodgers' success.
Rodgers played his college ball at Cal under head coach Jeff Tedford, who spent six seasons as a CFL pivot with Hamilton, Calgary, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg. After Green Bay chose Rodgers 24th overall in the 2005 NFL draft, he soon wound up under the tutelage of CFL Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Clements, who joined the Packers as their quarterback coach in 2006. Clements won Grey Cups with Ottawa and Winnipeg, so he obviously knows a fair bit about what it takes to succeed under pressure. Here's part of Steve Simmons' piece about Clements' influence on Rodgers:
"If you ask Aaron about his growth as quarterback, he talks an awful lot about Tommy Clements," said Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy. "Tommy's a great football coach and he's done a fabulous job working with Aaron."
Rodgers, in fact, is worried that saying too much about Clements will get him a promotion with another NFL team. "I don't want him leaving," said Rodgers of the CFL Hall of Famer. "He knows how to prepare quarterbacks. He's a great teacher and he understands the game. We spend an awful lot of time together, crawling through film, a self-scout of ourselves trying to find ways to improve."
—Gordon Batty, equipment manager: Batty's path to the Super Bowl was definitely an unconventional one. Growing up in Montreal's rough Pointe Saint-Charles neighbourhood, he jumped the fence at the Autostade in 1973 while the Alouettes were practicing there — and wound up with a job that would eventually lead him to the big stage. Mark Masters has more:
The stadium was the home of the Montreal Alouettes at the time and the team's assistant general manager, Bob Geary, caught Batty, his younger brother and some friends trespassing. But instead of calling the authorities, he gave them jobs.
"Geary had some choice words for me that night," Batty, who was 14 at the time, says over the phone from Dallas. "He told me, 'If you're going to hang around here you're going to get some work done.'
"My very first job was cleaning the concourse and the gutters of the stadium. All the water would run down to the gutters and all the peanuts and wrappers and all of that type of stuff was clogging the drains. He said, 'You're a small guy. You get down there and clean that stuff up.' So I cleaned it up.
"I was so grateful to have a job I said, 'I'll do whatever you want.'"
The whole piece is worth a read; it's incredible how Batty worked his way up through the ranks with the Alouettes before becoming the NFL's youngest equipment manager at age 22. He's been in the league ever since, spending 13 years with Houston before joining Green Bay after the 1993 season. Batty's story definitely reminded me of another CFL and NFL legend who worked his way up from the bottom. Batty's brother-in-law, Ronnie James, is in the business too; he's currently the equipment manager of the Alouettes.
— Tim Terry, assistant director of pro personnel: Terry, a former linebacker, only played one year in the CFL, but it was a notable one. After being cut from the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs in 1999, Terry headed north and signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, helping them to the 1999 Grey Cup. That remains the franchise's most recent Grey Cup victory. Terry went back to the NFL before the 2000 season and played three more years with the Seattle Seahawks before moving into the administration ranks.
— Amos Jones, assistant special teams coach: Like Terry, Jones only spent one year in the CFL, but he still made an impact. After playing three years at safety and running back at the University of Alabama, Jones went on to a distinguished career as a college coach, handling everything from tight ends to the defensive line to linebackers and special teams at schools from Temple (where he worked with current Steelers' offensive coordinator Bruce Arians) to Tulane. He first dipped his feet into the pro game in 1997 as an assistant coach with the B.C. Lions, but returned south of the border the next season, coaching at the high school and university level before joining the Steelers in 2007.
— Kirby Wilson, running backs coach: Wilson also joined the Steelers in 2007, and he's helped to develop of Rashard Mendenhall into the terrific running back we've seen this season. Interestingly enough, Wilson himself was a defensive back and kick returner during his playing days. He spent his college career at the University of Illinois, then ventured north of the border in 1983 and 1984 to play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts. After his playing career ended, he spent significant amounts of time coaching in the NCAA ranks with schools like Iowa State and USC before heading to the NFL and working with the New England Patriots, Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Some of these connections are obviously more prominent than others, but it's worth noting that CFL connections are anything but an anomaly in the NFL; another example is the CFL connections in Chicago, where Andy Fantuz just signed. As Simmons points out, two other former CFL quarterbacks (Sean Payton and Jason Garrett) are currently NFL head coaches, and three more (June Jones, Turner Gill and Kent Austin) have head-coaching gigs in the NCAA ranks. Football's a pretty small world, after all.