When you talk about exciting players in the history of the CFL, Willie “The Wisp” Fleming has to be included in the discussion.
Generally regarded as one the most talented players to ever play for the BC Lions, Fleming was a multi-talented player who could score from anywhere on the field on any given play. His speed and shifty style earned him the nickname “The Wisp”.
While Fleming never led the league in rushing, his athletic skill made him valuable as both a runner and a receiver, which made him a unique talent in that era of football. Fleming could turn a play that appeared to be going nowhere into a huge gain. In 1963 Fleming amassed a career best 1234 yards and averaged an amazing 9.7 yards per carry.
Fleming was also involved in one of the biggest stories in Lions history when the club appeared in it’s first Grey Cup in 1963. The Lions went into the playoffs with a 12-4 record and earned a berth in the championship game at Empire Stadium against the Hamilton Tiger Cats. The Tiger Cats were known for their aggressive defense led by Angelo Mosca. The two stars would clash and for Lions fans the result of that clash would go down as one of the most controversial plays of all-time. Fleming ran the ball along the sidelines and out of bounds, and Mosca hit Fleming in what was thought to be a premeditated late, out-of-bounds hit. Fleming was injured on the play and could not finish the game. Hamilton went on to a 21-10 victory, and the sold out pro Lions crowd were outraged byt the apparent “dirty” play.
Fleming and the Lions would get their revenge the following year, when along with Joe Kapp, he led the club to their first Grey Cup championship with a 34-24 victory and Fleming would score the game-breaking touchdown on a 68 yard scoring run running right at Mosca.
Fleming would retire following the 1966 season with 6,125 career rushing yards, 37 touchdowns and an incredible 7.1 yards per carry career average.
- First Lion to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing with 1,051 yards on 125 carries.
- Named a CFL Western Division all-star 3 times.
- Named a CFL League All-Star in 1963
- Voted a member of the B.C. Lions 50th anniversary All-Time Dream Team, in 2003.
- Voted to the Honour Roll of the CFL’s top 50 players of the league’s modern era by Canadian sports network TSN.
- Elected to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1982.
- Elected to the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
- Voted the most popuar BC Lion player three times.
- Most outstanding Canadian in the Grey Cup game: 1985, 1994
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