Basque Fact of the Week: Canadian Hall of Fame Quarterback Sam Etcheverry

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, the culmination of the National Football League’s season, which saw star quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, and Dak Prescott light up the field (yeah, these last two are on my fantasy football team, so I might be biased; and I’m rooting for the Bengals!). However, there’s another league, a bit further to the north, in which the son of Basque sheepherders was once the brightest star. He is one of the greatest to ever play in the Canadian Football League: Sam “The Rifle” Etcheverry.

Sam Etcheverry, quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes. Photo from the Toronto Star.
  • Sam “The Rifle” Etcheverry was born on May 20, 1930 in Carlsbad, New Mexico. His parents were Jean Baptiste “Jim” and Florence (nee Arreguy) Etcheverry, Basque sheep ranchers. Jim had been born in Urepel, Nafarroa Beherea. Born in Texas, Florence’s father was from Anhaux, Nafarroa Beherea, and her mother was from Mexico.
  • Sam attended high school in Carlsbad and, upon graduation, went to the University of Denver. He still holds many of the passing records for the Denver Pioneers. But, his career really shined when he joined the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League (then known as the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union) in 1952.
  • In Montreal, he was named an all-star six times and once was awarded the Schenley Award for most outstanding player of the Canadian Rugby Union. He once passed for 586 yards in a game, in 1954, a single-game passing record that stood for 39 years. He led the CFL in passing for six years and was the first professional quarterback in any league to throw for more than 4,000 yards. He took his team to the Grey Cup, the Canadian version of the Super Bowl, 3 times, losing each time to Edmonton. However, his 508 yards in the 1955 Grey Cup still stands as the record.
  • When he was traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1960, he opted instead to leave the CFL and join the National Football League, playing two years with the-then St. Louis Cardinals. However, he didn’t receive much playing time and in 1963 asked to be released from his contract.
  • In 1964, he returned to Canada, this time as head coach of the Quebec Rifles of the United Football League. After that league folded, he coached at the college level for a couple of years before being hired as the coach of the Alouettes. In his first season as coach, he took his team to the Grey Cup, where they beat Calgary in horrid conditions. He coached a few more years before retiring after the 1972 season.
  • Sam was elected to the the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1969 and the University of Denver Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996. In 2006, he was ranked 26th out of the top 50 players to ever play in the Canadian Football League. He died in Montreal in 2009.

Primary sources: Newest Carlsbad Hall of Famer remembered as childhood hero, Mike Smith, Carlsbad Current Argus; Sam Etcheverry, Wikipedia.

Thanks to Eneko Sagarbide for suggesting this topic.

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