Rushing Yards: The CFL's Milestone Seasons

By Chris Lawton

The 2023 CFL season is firmly in the rear-view mirror now. Records have been added to, for both team and individual statistics as they are every year. While now the focus shifts forward to the 2024 Draft and coming season kicking off in summer.

But, whatever your excitement for the future, if you love the game, you also want to celebrate its rich and storied past., It is always good to celebrate its history. Which got me to thinking. What are the milestone passing yardage season in CFL history? And where should we start looking from?

Where In Time To Start

To be clear, I don’t mean every time the rushing yardage record was broken. Rather, each time a milestone was breached. Like the first recorded yardage leader. Or the first time someone ran for 900, 1,000, 1,110 yards season and so on in the CFL.

We need to remember that the CFL was only founded officially in 1958. Because of this, even though the Grey Cup has been contested since 1909, we have to start this list in the 1950’s. When dealing with players who played in the CFL we only get statistics dating back to 1950 for the WIFU (West) and 1954 for the IRFU (East). Which means we will start with a WIFU passer from 1950 and go from there. Which means we start in Winnipeg.

1950: Tom Casey

111 carries for 637 yards, 6 touchdowns, 5.7 yards per carry.

According to Wikipedia this is where the records start. There may be better historians of the game who could make a case for starting earlier. But based on the information to hand we are starting with Tom Casey.

Tom Casey was a great two-way players from the 1950s. Prior to being in the CFL he spent a year with the New York Yankees of the AAFC in 1948. Then in 1948 he was a Hamilton Wildcat. But his real success came with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

He was a Western All-Star for six consecutive seasons from 1950 to 1955. Those awards came between 1950 and 1952 as a running back and from 1953-55 as a defensive back. It was as a running back in 1950 that he set the first mark – 637 yards at 5.7 yards, making him the leading rusher in the WIFU.

Casey made it to the Grey Cup in 1950 and 1953 but never won a ring. He is enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

1954: Howard Waugh

166 carries for 1,043 yards, 7 touchdowns, 6.3 yards per carry.

Waugh joined the Calgary Stampeders in 1954 and in his first season became the first back to breach the 1,000 yards rushing barrier in CFL history. He then promptly left for two years military service. Serving in the U.S. Air Force where he rose to the rank of lieutenant.

He would return in 1957 and added 499 yards to end his Canadian football career. Waugh wasn’t with the Stampeders very long appearing in a total of 24 games. He played 14 games in 1954 and 10 in 1957. Worth noting then that he broke over 1,000 yards whilst not playing in two games that season too.

1955: Normie Kwong

241 carries for 1,250 yards, 10 touchdowns, 5.1 yards per carry.

You can tell these were newly kept records in the 1950’s because the record, and milestone marks keep getting pushed forward year on year. In fact, from 1955 to 1958, two legends of the game would really accelerate the single season rushing record, and push the mark past the 1,200, 1,400, 1,600, and 1,700 yards in a single season milestone rushing marks.

First to do that was Normie Kwong in 1955. This was during the Edmonton Eskimos dynasty that won three consecutive Grey Cups between 1954 and 1956.

1956: Normie Kwong

232 carries for 1,437 yards, 5 touchdowns, 6.2 yards per carry.

Kwong was back again, extending his own record, and breaking the 1,400 yards milestone. The Esks would win their final Grey Cup of the three-year run at the end of the season, with Kwong, Jackie Parker, Rollie Miles and Johnny Bright in the backfield combining for 451 yards rushing.

For the second year running Normie Kwong was named the Most Outstanding Canadian. he would go on to be enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1969.

1957: Johnny Bright

259 carries for 1,679 yards, 16 touchdowns, 6.5 yards per carry.

You can’t mention Johnny Bright without mentioning the abomination that was the ‘Johnny Bright Incident’. Especially because we don’t want to pretend things haven’t happened. You can read more about it here.

By 1957 however, Bright was a three-time Grey Cup champion, who was about to go on a five-year run as a workhorse for Edmonton. In 1957 he set a record for yards, and his 16 touchdowns in a single season were a career high.

1958: Johnny Bright

296 carries for 1,722 yards, 8 touchdowns, 5.8 yards per carry.

This was possibly Bright’s best year as a running back. He had nine 100-yard rushing games, as well as setting a single season yardage record that would stand for some time.

Funnily enough though, he would be named league MOP in 1959, when he rushed for almost 400 yards less over the season.

Bright rushed for 10,909 yards in 13 seasons, had five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and led the CFL in rushing four times. He retired as, at the time, the CFL all-time leading rusher. That may have been surpassed but you can see the impact his time in Edmonton had because he still owns many of their records. Including most rushing yards in a career: 9,966, most rushing yards in a season: 1,722, most 100-yard games in a career: 36, and Most 100-yard games in a season: 9.

Bright was enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1970. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

1975: Willie Burden

332 carries for 1,896 yards, 10 touchdowns, 5.7 yards per carry.

Johnny Bright’s record from 1958 had been surpassed in 1961 when Earl ‘Earthquake’ Lunsford rushed for 1,794 yards. This made him officially the first back to carry the ball for a mile in a single season. But he did not break the 1,800 yards milestone barrier. That came 17 years after Johnny Bright’s last milestone rushing season when Burden almost hit 1,900 yards.

Burden was with the Calgary Stampeders from 1974 to 1981, but this, his second season in red and white, was far and away his best. He set the CFL record with 2,127 yards from scrimmage and led the league with 2,387 all-purpose yards and 15 total touchdowns. For his efforts he was voted CFL MOP.

He was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 2001.

1994: Mike Pringle

306 carries for 1,972 yards, 13 touchdowns, 6.4 yards per carry

Mike Pringle was twice named CFL MOP, but this was not one of those occasions. (He scooped the award in 1995 and 1998). Despite that, this is a year when Mike Pringle set the CFL record for yards from scrimmage in a single season. His 1,972 yards rushing were supplemented by 442 yard receiving totalling 2,414 yards from scrimmage.

After being released by the Falcons in 1991 he joined the Sacramento Surge of the WLAF. Whilst with the Surge in 1992 he would win a World Bowl title. A training camp with the LA Raiders didn’t result in anything. But Pringle did make his first step into the CFL. Having signed for Edmonton however he was used sparingly.

The arrival of the short-lived US expansion era in the CFL provided Mike Pringle with another opportunity. One he would go on to take with both hands.

Pringle signed as a free agent with the expansion Sacramento Gold Miners for the 1993 season. With the Gold Miners, Pringle appeared in all 18 games and was used more as a receiver out of the backfield than a runner. He carried the ball only 60 times for 368 yards but caught the ball 56 times for 523 yards.

As part of a trade the next stop for Mike Pringle was with the Baltimore Stallions. In 1994, his third season in the CFL, and first in Baltimore, Pringle saw his career take off in a big way. He followed that up in 1995 by rushing for 1,791 yards. In his two seasons in Stallions colours he had 617 carries for 3,763 yards, (6 yards per carry), and 26 touchdowns.

1998: Mike Pringle

347 carries for 2,064 yards, 9 Touchdowns5.9 yards per carry

Now playing for the Montreal Alouettes, this remains the only 2,000 yards rushing season in CFL history. Pringle added 26 catches for 349 yards. This gave him 2,414 yards from scrimmage on the season. Matching his own CFL single season record from 1994.

At his retirement, Mike Pringle was the all-time leading rusher in CFL history. He still holds the record, 16,425 yards rushing, as well as the record for most yards from scrimmage (20,255).

Pringle won the Grey Cup on 3 occasions (1995, 2002 & 2003). They were all with the same franchise and the latter two were won under the Alouettes banner. However, the ’95 win was with the Stallions – the only time a US based team has won the CFL title.

Mike Pringle was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame following a career that saw him run through 13 seasons in the CFL averaging 1,263 yards per year.



Chris originally started following the NFL with the ‘first wave’ of fans when it was shown on Channel 4 in the 1980’s. He has been a keen supporter of the Miami Dolphins since 1983. Chris first encountered the CFL in 2016 and instantly fell in love with the Canadian game. He has been writing about the CFL 2017. Chris has a degree in history, postgraduate degree in librarianship and can be found on twitter as @CFLfanUK