Shawn Gore is just the latest Canadian football player to go on to an interesting career
Written by: Andrew Bucholtz
Long-time B.C. Lions receiver Shawn Gore retired after seven seasons with the team to join the Vancouver Police Department on May 4, but he’s far from the first Canadian football player to have a notable second career outside the football world. Here are five of the most remarkable stories on that front, in chronological order of when they retired.
Lionel Conacher: Conacher is one of the most fascinating members of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and he was one of Canada’s greatest athletes. He played high-level senior football in Canada from 1920 through 1922 for the Toronto Rugby Club and the Toronto Argonauts, mostly as a halfback, and won the Grey Cup in 1921. He shone at the junior level before that and the U.S. college level afterwards. He also did well in hockey during his football days, winning the Memorial Cup in 1920, and then entered the NHL with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925. He’d play in the NHL through 1937, winning the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Maroons in 1933 and 1935 (making him one of only two people to have their names on the Stanley Cup and the Grey Cup as players; the other is Carl Voss, who won the Grey Cup in 1924 with Queen’s University and the Stanley Cup in 1937 with the Chicago Blackhawks).
Conacher started and played for Canada’s first thoroughly professional football team as well (known as the Toronto Crosse & Blackwell Chiefs and Toronto Wrigley Aromints) in 1933 and 1934, retiring from football after the latter year, and he found great success in baseball, lacrosse and wrestling too. Oh, and after sports, Conacher went on to serve as a member of provincial parliament (1937-43) and federal parliament (1949-54). He was named Canada’s Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century in 1950 and is also in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Bernie Custis: Custis’ story as the first black quarterback to win a starting job in Canadian professional football is getting more attention these days, especially after he was given the Commissioner’s Award in 2015. He came to Canada in 1951 after the NFL’s Cleveland Browns wouldn’t let him play quarterback, and found great success as an all-star quarterback for Hamilton in 1951 despite prejudice. Discrimination led to the team later switching him to running back, but he found success there too. What he did after hanging up his cleats in 1956 is also remarkable. Custis became a teacher and principal in Ontario for decades, impacting tons of lives along the way. He was a very successful football coach at the junior, college and university levels too, and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a builder in 1998.
Norm Kwong: Kwong was one of the best fullbacks ever in the CFL, and one of the most impressive Canadian players ever to grace this league. He played for the Calgary Stampeders from 1948-50 and the Edmonton Eskimos from 1951-60, winning four Grey Cups and rushing for 9,022 yards (with a remarkable 5.2 yards per carry average) and 93 touchdowns, and overcoming plenty of prejudice along the way. Afterwards, he became a business success (including as a part-owner of the Calgary Flames from 1980-1994, making him another man with his name on the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup after their 1989 triumph), a sports administration success (as president and general manager of the Stampeders from 1989-91), and a political success (most notably as lieutenant-governor of Alberta from 2005-2010). He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1969.
John Forzani: Forzani is one of the few Canadian football figures to be a player and later a part-owner with the same team. He was a lineman for the Stampeders from 1971-76, winning a memorable Grey Cup over the “best team that never won” Argonauts that first year, but found even more success in business. He opened a sporting goods store in 1974 while still playing, turned that into Canada’s largest sporting goods chain in 1994, and sold it for $771 million to Canadian Tire in 2011. Forzani also served as a part-owner of the Stampeders from 2005-2012.
Noah Cantor: After a successful college career at Saint Mary’s, Cantor went on to shine as a defensive tackle for the Toronto Argonauts (1995-97, 2003-06) and B.C. Lions (1998-2002). He won four Grey Cups, in 1996, 1997, 2000, and 2004. He also took over and expanded the Vera’s Burger Shack chain in 2000, along with Gerald Tritt (a friend of the original owners); they now have 13 locations in B.C., plus one in Edmonton and one in Ottawa. Cantor has dabbled in football coaching too, including as a guest coach for the Lions in 2012 (where he had some interesting comments on what his CFL career taught him about business).
There are countless other CFL players who have done impressive things outside of football, of course, including Michael “Pinball” Clemons (whose foundation continues to do incredible work), Brian Bulcke (who’s been involved with Ryerson’s tech efforts and the Play For Tomorrow events), James Yurichuk (who’s found great success with animal-free fur coats) and many more. And numerous others have found success in various roles within football, as coaches, executives, broadcasters and much more. Many have credited their success to what they learned as a player, and there’s a good argument for that. A lot of remarkable people have come out of the CFL.