A Brief History of CFL Awards

Prior to 1953, all the awards given out in Canadaian professional football were divisional awards only.  In 1953, the oldest and most prestigious individual honour was instituted.  This was the Outstanding Player Award, and it was soon joined in 1954 by the Outstanding Canadian Award and in 1955 by the Oustanding Lineman Award.  Today, the "Outstanding" awards have grown to six.  The Outstanding Lineman Award was split into two, giving the Oustanding Offenssive Lineman Award and the Outstanding Defensive Player Award, and the Outstanding Rookie Award and the Outsanding Special Teams Player Award were added.  For a number of years, the awards were sponsored by a brewery and were collectively known as the Schenley Awards.

As mentioned previously, the oldest and most prestigious of these is the Outstanding Player award which was first given in 1953 with Billy Vessels of Edmonton being the first winner.  Prior to that, the East and West Divisons had their own "Outstanding Player" winners with no overall winner declared.  The Western award was / is the Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy which was first awarded in 1946, and named in honour of an outstanding Winnipeg end who was killed in World War II.  In the East, the equivalent awards are / were the Jeff Russell Memorial Trophy first given out in 1928, and the Terry Evanshen Trophy which replaced the Jeff Russell Trophy in 1994. The Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy and the Terry Evanshen Trophies are still awarded.  Since 1969, the winners of the two division awards have been the finalists for the Outstanding Player Award. Prior to 1969, the Oustanding Player Award was most often given to one of the two division winners, but not always.  For example, in 1968, Larry Fairholm won the Jeff Russell Trophy in the East, and Ron Lancaster won the Jeff Nicklin Trophy in the West, bu tthe OUstanding Player Award was given to Bill Symons of Toronto.  The difference in criteria for the awards (the eternal debate between Oustanding and Most Valuable) and separate voting procedures was the cause of anomolies.  You can even find an example of this in the very first Oustanding Player Award in 1953.  Bob Cunningham of Ottawa won the Jeff Russell Trophy in the East, John Henry Johnson of Calgary won the Jeff Nicklin Trophy in the West, and Billy Vessels was named the Oustanding Player.

The second oldest of the awards is the Oustanding Canadian Award which was first given out in 1954 and first won by Gerry James of Winnipeg.  The award could be viewed as part of some inferiority complex where Canadians are considered just not good enough to win the Oustanding Player Award, and so an award that only Canadians could win had to be created to compensate.  Indeed, in the history of the Oustanding Player Award, only two Canadians have ever won it (Russ Jackson three times and Tony Gabriel).  The winners of the Oustanding Canadian Award have been excellent football players, but the sad truth is that most of the "skill" positins in the CFL such as Quarterback and Running Back (blocking Fullbacks don't count!) are almost exclusively manned by American imports, and those are the players most likely to be recognized for the Oustanding Player Award. As with the Outstanding Player award, there are tropies for the divisional winners who become the finalists for the Outstanding Canadian award.  The East winner gets the Lew Hayman Trophy and the West winner is given the Dr. Beattie Martin Trophy.

For many years, the CFL had just three major awards, with the Outstanding Lineman Award being the third award to go along with the Oustanding Player Award and the Oustanding Canadian AWard.  The Outstanding Lineman award was first given in 1955 with Tex Colter of the Montreal Alouttes as the first winner.  The Oustanding Lineman AWard was discontinued in 1974. The problem was that the Oustanding Lineman award was open to both offensive and defensive linemen and in such a competition, the more glamerous defensive linemen are almost always going to win.  There are no standard stats to measure the performance of an offesive lineman whereas defensive linemen can record sacks, tackles, interceptions, knockdowns, and fumble recoveries to back up their claim to excellence.  In order to give more recognition to offensive linemen, the Outstanding Lineman award was discontinued and replaced by the Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award and Outstanding Defensive Player Award. The Demarco-Becket Memorial Trophy, first awarded in 1957, formerly went to the Oustanding Lineman in the West, but it changed in 1974 to become he West award for Outstanding Offensive Lineman while the Norm Fieldgate Trophywas created to honour the Outstanding Defensive Player in the West.  In the East, the Lou Dandurand Trophy was created in 1975 to honour the East Oustanding Offensive Lineman and hte James P. McCaffrey Trophy was added for the Outstanding Defensive Player in the East.  There was no trophy awarded for linemen in the East prior to 1975.

The Outstandng Rookie Award was added to the CFL awards in 1972, with the division winners being awarded the Jackie Parker Trophy (West) and the Frank M. Gibson Trophy (East).

The newest of the "Outstanding" awards is the Oustandng Special Teams Player award which was created in 2000.  This award is also called the John Agro Award.

The one major award that the CFL gives out to players which does not have "Outstanding" in the title is the Tom Pate Memorial Trophy.  This trophy is given in honor of Tom Pate, a linebacker for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who died as a result of an aneurism during a game in Calgary in 1975 at the age of 23.  This award is given out by the CFL Players Association for sportsmanship and dedication to the league and the community.

The one major award that does not go to a player is the Annis Stukus Award which goes to the coach of the year on the CFL.  It was first awarded in 1961.

There are a couple of other awards given out, though they are division only awards.  The Eddie James Memorial Trophy has been given annualy since 1950 to the leading rushier in the West.  The Dave Dryburgh Memorial Trophy is given to the leading scorer in the West and has been warded since 1948.  There are no Eastern equivalents to these awards.