Long before Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, two outstanding modern-day “two-sport” professional athletes, the Leafs had their own two-sport star.
His name was Gerry James.
In truth, I don’t have a lot of specific memories about James as a player. When he was part of Punch Imlach’s teams in the late 1950s, I was maybe 5-6-7 years old. But I definitely recall him as a Leaf— it helped that I collected sports cards as a child, and had photos of Gerry James as not only an NHL’er but also as a member of the Canadian Football League Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Not surprisingly, his reputation as a hockey player was that of a rugged, hard-nosed guy, much like former Hab and then Leaf teammate Bert Olmstead (but without Bert’s offensive prowess). James was more of a "star" in football world in Canada, and finished his career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1964, after playing many years for his home-town Winnipeg Blue Bombers. In fact, he was good enough to be elected to the CFL Hall-of-Fame.
Much like Bo and Deion many years later when they morphed from summertime baseball player to NFL stars in the fall, James would complete his summer and fall responsibilities with the CFL Bombers, and then join the Leafs for the rest of their schedule.
Interestingly, James was part of the ’59-’60 Leaf team that went to the Cup finals, losing to Montreal in that series. (This was just a couple of seasons before the Leafs really became the team of the early part of the decade, winning those three Cups in a row between 1962 and 1964. James was focusing exclusively on football by then, I believe.)
I just looked up some of his 'numbers', and noted that he did not actually play with the Leafs in the 1958-’59 season. Someone following this site who was around at the time may have some information about that.
James also earned a place in the Manitoba Hall-of-Fame, not surprising given his unique achievements. To this day, there are few, if any, other guys that I am aware of who have been able to play football and hockey professionally at the same time.