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Book Rocket Ismail for a Speaking Engagement
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Ismail is best known as one of the greatest kick returners in college football history, playing for the University of Notre Dame for coach Lou Holtz, and for his nine seasons in the National Football League with the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders, the Carolina Panthers, and the Dallas Cowboys, but his greatest impact on sport may have come when he was signed to the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts for an unheard-of $18.2 million over 4 years in 1991.
Nicknamed "The Rocket", Ismail stood only 5' 11" tall but had strong hands and blazing speed on a football field, making him exceptionally dangerous both as a kick returner and as a receiver. Ismail recorded two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the NFL and was a CFL All-Star in 1991, as well as the most valuable player of the 79th Grey Cup.
Ismail is the older brother of former NFL wide receiver Qadry Ismail.
Ismail first came to prominence as a receiver for the University of Notre Dame. Boasting such premier college players as Ismail, Chris Zorich, Tony Rice, Todd Lyght, Jerome Bettis, and an assortment of others, Notre Dame won the national championship in 1988, placed second in 1989 winning the Orange Bowl against the University of Colorado, and again went to the Orange Bowl in 1990 but lost due to a penalty which negated an Ismail punt return for a touchdown in the closing seconds of a 10-9 victory for the University of Colorado. That year, Ismail finished second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy as the United States's top college football player, losing out to Brigham Young University quarterback Ty Detmer.
Ismail was known as a tremendous game breaker who could turn a game around with his unmatched speed. During the 1989 regular season game against the University of Michigan, Ismail returned two kickoffs for touchdowns sealing the Wolverines' downfall. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice, and received numerous awards, including All-American status.
A certain #1 draft pick in the 1991 NFL draft, Ismail decided at the last minute to announce he would sign a record contract with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League starting during their 1991 season. As a result, Ismail was chosen by the Los Angeles Raiders 100th overall in the 1991 NFL draft.
Ismail was the property of the Raiders in the NFL, but the CFL had no rules requiring teams to respect the NFL draft. It would have been difficult to offer Ismail enough money to lure him into coming north, but the CFL had just the owner to try it: Bruce McNall, who, with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and actor John Candy, had recently purchased the Toronto Argonauts. The Argonauts made Ismail an offer unheard of for a CFL player: $18.2 million spread over four years. The average value of Ismail's full contract, $4.55 million per season, dwarfed the anticipated 2006 CFL season salary cap of $3.8 million per team. The CFL had a salary cap in place since 1991, but the rules contained an exemption for a "marquee player" who would not count against the cap. Doug Flutie of the British Columbia Lions was about to be paid a million dollars under the exemption, but Ismail's contract dwarfed anything North American football had ever seen, as Ismail's yearly salary was, at that time, the largest in Canadian or American football history.
Ismail moved north to the Argonauts in time for the 1991 CFL season, and in his first game as a professional football player, returned a kick 73 yards for a touchdown in front of the rabid crowd at Toronto's SkyDome. Ismail concluded his rookie season in style at the 79th Grey Cup. Ismail scored an 87-yard touchdown on a kickoff return and was named the game's most valuable player as his Argonauts defeated the Calgary Stampeders 36-21 to take the game's crown. Ismail came within fifty yards of breaking teammate Michael "Pinball" Clemons's franchise record for single-season kickoff yardage, and made the 1991 CFL All-Star team as a wide receiver, while finishing runner-up to B.C. Lion Jon Volpe for rookie of the year. It was a strong year, but nowhere near justifying his exorbitant salary.
The 1992 CFL season was a dimmer one for Ismail. Although he broke Clemons's franchise record for single-season kick return yards (a record that still stands), he was unhappy in Canada as the Argonauts slumped to a 6-12 record, missing the playoffs. With the huge contract forming an albatross around Toronto's neck and McNall increasingly facing financial trouble, Ismail left the CFL, and, after the season, signed with the NFL team that drafted him: the Los Angeles Raiders.
In his first year as a Raider, Ismail was removed from the media circus that had surrounded him as an Argonaut. Just an ordinary receiver on a fairly good team that finished 10-6, Ismail caught for a respectable 353 yards as a rookie in 1993. The next year, Ismail hauled in 513 yards and five touchdowns, and when the Raiders moved to Oakland for 1995 Ismail went with them. However, his 491-yard season was a slight disappointment.
After 1995, Ismail was traded to the Carolina Panthers for a fifth-round draft selection. The 1996 incarnation of the Panthers under Dom Capers was a strong team, finishing 12-4, but Ismail was only a minor part of it as he recorded a career-worst 214 yards, without a single touchdown to his name. 1997 was a slight improvement, as he recorded 419 receiving yards and added a pair of touchdowns.
In 1998, however, Ismail finally came into his own. In contrast to 1996, when Carolina was good but Ismail was awful, the 1998 Panthers were an abominable 4-12 but Ismail was strong, receiving 69 passes for 1,024 yards, two yards short of doubling his previous career high. Ismail added eight touchdowns, and finally made his name as a good, if not great, NFL wide receiver who was capable of an occasional spectacular play.
Ismail signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent for 1999, and on a team that included future CFLers Jason Tucker and Chris Brazzell at receiver, Ismail was the leader. He caught for a career-high 1,097 yards from Troy Aikman, and scored six touchdowns, including a 76-yard walk-off touchdown pass from Aikman to give the Cowboys a 41-35 win over the Washington Redskins. At only thirty years old, however, Ismail had hit his peak.
In 2000, injuries limited Ismail to eight games, and he recorded an ineffective 350 yards receiving. 2001 marked Ismail's last year of professional football, and though his 834 yards was best on a poor team that rotated Quincy Carter, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner and Anthony Wright through quarterback to try and replace Aikman, Ismail was done. The Cowboys, caught in salary cap limbo, released Ismail, and he did not sign anywhere for 2002.When one looks at Ismai'ls total NFL career the reasonable conclusion is that his was disappointing. He failed to average even 500 yards a season, never made the Pro Bowl, was never all pro, and never won an NFL title or Super Bowl. His unceremonious NFL career ended in 2002 when Ismail was cut and thus he 'retired' at the age of only 33 years of age.
Let our team of booking agents help create a memorable experience with hiring Rocket Ismail for your store grand opening, golf outing, trade show booth or corporate outing.
NOPACTalent acts as a Celebrity Speakers Bureau and Athlete Booking agency for corporate functions, appearances, private events and speaking engagements. NOPACTalent does not claim or represent itself as Rocket Ismail’s speakers bureau, agent, manager or management company for Rocket Ismail or any celebrity on this website. NOPACTalent represents organizations seeking to hire motivational speakers, athletes, celebrities and entertainers for private corporate events, celebrity endorsements, personal appearances, and speaking engagements.