BC Lions run on Nathan Rourke jerseys is real, not ‘chimera’

Leos co-general manager Neil McEvoy has been with the CFL club since 1995 and doesn’t recall anything like this ever happening with another player.

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The BC Lions recently sold replica Nathan Rourke jerseys.

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Lions co-general manager and director of football operations Neil McEvoy has been with the Canadian Football League club since 1995 when he started selling tickets. He doesn’t remember anything like this ever happening with another player.

There’s no word from anyone with the Lions on how many Rourke lines they started with and what they initially expected for sales, but it would seem to speak to the popularity of the second-year quarterback from 24 years and building buzz around the Lions’ 6-1 start.

For those who want them, the Lions shop webpage on Monday promoted Rourke jerseys as “now available”, thanks to a “restock”.

“If you had told me six months ago that we would get to a point where we wouldn’t have any more Nathan Rourke shirts, I would have told you that was a pipe dream,” McEvoy said. “But here we are. It happened.

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“You certainly see a lot of Rourke shirts walking around the stadium on a match day.”

Rourke was born in Victoria and raised in Oakville, Ontario.

In a league desperate for the Canadian quarterback continent, he was going to be outstanding regardless of his numbers.

It just so happens that his stats have been so good on some nights that it prompts a double take to make sure you saw what you thought you saw the first time around.

He completed 34 of 37 passes for 477 yards and five touchdowns in Saturday’s 46-14 game against the Edmonton Elks.

His 91.9 completion percentage on the night set a CFL record for a quarterback with 30 or more attempts, surpassing the 90.3 (28 of 31) set by Ottawa’s Trevor Harris in 2016. Only two other quarterbacks have hit 90% in the game with 30 or more shots — Jason Maas with 27-of-30 for Edmonton in 2004 and Henry Burris with his own 27-of-30 for Hamilton in 2012.

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Rourke’s mark is third best when you cut to a minimum of 20 attempts, behind Ricky Ray’s 95% (19 of 20) with Toronto in 2013 and Ray’s 92% (23 of 25) with Edmonton in 2008.

Ray set the CFL record for highest single-season passer rating in 2013 with 126.4. He did it in 11 games, driven by 21 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

That bettered the league mark of 118.8 that Dave Dickenson set with BC in 2005, and Dickenson beat Ken Ploen’s 118.2 standard in 1962 when he was with Winnipeg.

Rourke is currently at 133.2. He also leads the loop with 2,418 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, putting him on pace to throw for over 6,200 yards and 54 touchdowns.

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Doug Flutie set the touchdown record when he connected on 48 in 1994 with Calgary. There have only been five 6,000-yard seasons in league history, led by the 6,619 Flutie amassed for the Lions in 1991.

McEvoy is quick to say that the credit for the Lions’ success must be shared. He said Rourke has benefited from an offensive line that gives him time, a running back in James Butler who gets things going when he’s lucky enough to have a receiving body with three guys who would be the #1 option on most other teams. .

It is totally true. It’s also true that Rourke has rarely looked like a young man learning the ropes.

Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke looks for a pass during the first half of Saturday's game against the visiting Edmonton Elks.
Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke looks for a pass during the first half of Saturday’s game against the visiting Edmonton Elks. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /Canadian Press Files

McEvoy wonders if Rourke didn’t take advantage of first-team practice rehearsals last year because starter Michael Reilly was struggling with an arm injury. Reilly retired in the offseason and Lions coach Rick Campbell – who shares general manager duties with McEvoy – immediately named Rourke the starter.

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“Michael knew he was leaving us in good hands. It made his decision to retire easier,” McEvoy said.

Rourke has gotten so good so quickly that you’re starting to see suggestions that the National Football League will come calling sooner rather than later. Money would be significantly better south of the border, but McEvoy also thinks Rourke “appreciates the chance he has to play and improve… I don’t think he wants to hold a clipboard somewhere in this moment.”

For what it’s worth, Rourke has another season after that on his three-year rookie deal with the Lions.

However, the success of Rourke and the team has yet to translate into increased box office sales. The Lions drew a reported crowd of 16,342 for the Elks game. McEvoy says fans at BC Place Stadium seem more energetic than they have in the past two years. There’s also this Rourke merchandise marker.

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“Things are moving in a positive way,” McEvoy said.

The team has historically drawn better in the fall. We’ll see if there’s a spike then, especially if the leaderboard success continues.

sewen@postmedia.com

twitter.com/SteveEwen

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Charles P. Patton