See How They Run: The Best Ball Carriers In CFL History

By Kirk Penton
Updated: August 7, 2007

Mike Pringle

Mike Pringle

WINNIPEG — They touch the ball more than any player on the field except for the quarterback. They get hit between 15 and 35 times per game and are often remembered only for the instances in which they fumble the ball away.

It’s tough being a running back in the pass-happy CFL, but the following 10 players did it with grace, power and much success. From the slashers to the battering rams, here are the top 10 ball carriers in CFL history:

10. Kelvin Anderson

Even though he averaged only five yards per carry, it’s hard to argue with eight (consecutive) 1,000-yard seasons, fifth place on the all-time rushing list and 24 contests with at least 100 yards. The man known as Earthquake played from 1996 to 2003 and won a pair of Grey Cup titles with the Calgary Stampeders before finishing his career with the B.C. Lions.

9. George Dixon

The CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 1962 as a member of the Montreal Alouettes, the dynamic Dixon would have found himself among the all-time rushing leaders were it not for a series of injuries that ended his career after only seven seasons. The New Haven, Conn., native averaged 6.3 yards per carry and had 24 games with at least 100 yards, which ties him for ninth on the all-time list.

8. Willie Fleming

The Wisp played eight seasons for the B.C. Lions, from 1959 to 1966, and his evasive running style was the perfect nickname for the tailback. The Detroit native averaged a stunning 7.1 yards per carry on 868 career carries and guided the Leos to their 1964 Grey Cup. Fleming and Dixon share the CFL record for the longest touchdown runs of all-time, and it’s the longest distance you can go on a football field — 109 yards.

7. Dave Thelen

Recently dropped to No. 9 on the all-time rushing list by Charles Roberts, Thelen was a standout tailback for the Ottawa Rough Riders and, at the end of his career, the Toronto Argonauts, between 1958 and 1966. One of the greatest blocking backs in CFL history, Thelen dashed for 100 yards 30 times in his career, good for fifth on the all-time list. He also showed up in the post-season, producing six 100-yard outings when it mattered most.

6. Normie Kwong

The top Canadian ball carrier of all time, the China Clipper sits sixth on the CFL’s all-time rushing list with 9,022 yards. The powerful fullback, who started with the Calgary Stampeders and finished with the Edmonton Eskimos, wasn’t flashy, but he teamed up with Johnny Bright in the Esks backfield to guide the team to three consecutive Grey Cup titles from 1954 to 1956.

5. Charles Roberts

The man they call Blink is the only active player on this list, and the Winnipeg Blue Bomber will surely find himself a few spots higher when he calls it a career. The 5-foot-6, 170-pound water bug is electrifying and remarkably durable. The Sacramento, Calif., product is already seventh on the all-time rushing list, but perhaps his most incredible achievement is that he is fourth all-time with 32 games of at least 100 yards.

4. Leo Lewis

The Lincoln Locomotive had only 1,351 carries over 11 seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers between 1955 and 1966, but he averaged a whopping 6.6 yards per carry. If the Des Moines, Iowa, product had as many carries as George Reed, he would have racked up an amazing 21,403 yards — nearly 5,000 more than current rushing king Mike Pringle. Legendary coach Bud Grant has said Lewis is the best player he ever coached — north or south of the border.

3. Johnny Bright

The football field at Drake University is now named after this Edmonton Eskimos legend, and why wouldn’t it be? The Fort Wayne, Ind., native retired in 1964 as the league’s leading rusher with 10,909 yards, he had five consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons (over only a 16-game schedule), and he is third all-time with 36 games of at least 100 yards. Bright, who died in 1983, had eight consecutive 100-yard games in 1957.

2. George Reed

The Vicksburg, Miss., native was as reliable as a John Deere combine for the Saskatchewan Roughriders between 1963 and 1975. The most telling stat is that the nine-time all-star holds the CFL record for most 1,000-yard seasons with 11 — and all were accomplished over 16-game seasons. Mike Pringle had nine and Kelvin Anderson had eight, but both did it over 18-game schedules. Reed is second, behind Pringle, with 16,116 career yards, but his 134 rushing touchdowns is a record that may never fall.

1. Mike Pringle

He is the CFL’s rushing king with 16,425 yards and, unless Roberts sticks around for a while, may hold the title for decades to come. Pringle spent 15 years punishing defenders in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos, Sacramento Gold Miners, Baltimore Stallions and Montreal Alouettes. The Los Angeles native had a CFL-record 2,065 yards in 1998 and owns the record for most 100-yard games in a career with 70.