Earl Winfield was undoubtedly one of the greatest players to ever wear the Hamilton Tiger-Cats uniform. Not only a top flight CFL receiver of his era, he was also among the CFL’s top game breakers on special teams with his electrifying kick return abilities.
Despite playing on some dismal teams for the majority of his career, Winfield managed to rewrite the Tiger-Cats record books for receiving and kick returning. Winfield still holds countless Tiger-Cats team records. Including Most Touchdowns (87), Most Receiving Yards (10,119), and Most Punt Return Touchdowns (11).
Earl Winfield as a receiver
When Earl Winfield retired from the CFL in 1997, he was among the top 10 players all-time in receiving yards. In 2002, when he became an eligible candidate for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Winfield was still among the top 10 players. Since than he has dropped out of the top 10, while several of his peers have passed his career yardage totals and have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Earl Winfield as a punt returner
As one of the finest punt returners the CFL has ever seen, his 11 punt return touchdowns rank 2nd all-time in the CFL record books.
Perhaps Winfield’s special teams accomplishments were over looked during a period in CFL history that was especially rich in Hall of Fame caliber returners… Such as Mike “Pinball” Clemons, and Henry “Gizmo” Williams.
But if you consider the amount of attempts Winfield had in comparison, his 11 touchdowns is quite remarkable. Winfield played in 140 games and was able to reach the endzone 11 times on just 281 attempts. That’s an average of just 2 returns per game, and roughly 1 touchdown per 25 returns.
In 1988 the Hamilton Tiger-Cats set a team record for most punt return touchdowns in a single season when they reached the endzone 5 times. Earl Winfield was responsible for 4 of the 5 return touchdowns that season. One of those punt returns was also part of another record, when on September 5th, 1998 Winfield became the first player in CFL history to score a touchdown three different ways. Including a 101 yard punt return touchdown, a 100 yard kickoff return touchdown, and a pass reception touchdown. Winfield finished the game with 400 total yards. Just another example of how Winfield lifted his team greatness.
Earl Winfield’s Impact on Hamilton and the CFL
Winfield’s impact on the city of Hamilton and the CFL should not be forgotten. Many fans credit him for keeping the fan base energized during a time in Tiger-Cats history when the team was struggling on and off the field.
The Tiger-Cats were a sub .500 football team for the majority of Winfield’s time in Hamilton. But despite the lack of team success, Ticat fans were always entertained when Winfield was on the field at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
During a time when the Tiger-Cats and the CFL as a whole were struggling financially, Winfield even took a large pay cut. He was coming off the finest season of his career, posting career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. If anything Winfield deserved a raise, instead he took less money to stay with the financially strapped Ticats for one more season.
“With all that the league has been through, you can’t talk about the money, because you ain’t going to get a lot of money out of it right now.” – Earl Winfield (1996)
Winfield retired from football following the 1996 season. But returned to the Tiger-Cats mid way through the 1997 season to once again help the struggling team.
Should Earl Winfield be in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame?
Why Earl Winfield isn’t in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame remains a mystery to many Tiger-Cat and CFL fans. Is he the victim of having a poor supporting cast? Does the fact that he never won a Grey Cup Championship hurt his Hall of Fame resume? Perhaps his role as a returned man hurt his receiving numbers just enough to be overlooked. Or maybe injuries prevented him from getting over the hump…
Whatever the reason may have been, he has done just about as much as any individual could for a franchise. Earl Winfield is a worthy candidate for induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.