By Zane Miller
Mervyn Fernandez was a Canadian Football League and National Football League wide receiver, playing with the BC Lions of the CFL from 1982 to 1986, before returning to the team in 1994, as well as playing with the Los Angeles (now Oakland) Raiders of the NFL from 1987 to 1992.
Fernandez earned two Grey Cup championships with the Lions in 1985 and 1994, as well as CFL All-Star honors in the 1984 and 1985 seasons, the Most Outstanding Player Award in 1985, and the Jackie Parker Trophy for the West Division’s rookie of the year in 1982.
Fernandez was born in Merced, California, on December 29th, 1959, and would go on to make a name for himself with his high school football team, the Andrew Hill Falcons in San Jose, where his skills earned him the nickname “Swervin’ Mervyn” by his quarterback. The nickname would stick throughout his career.
After graduating high school, Fernandez played junior college football with the De Anza Dons in nearby Cupertino, California, before returning to San Jose to play for the San Jose State Spartans in 1981.
Fernandez played the season under head coach Jack Elway, father of future Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway. The team had a successful 1981 season with a 9-3 overall record, as well as going undefeated in conference play. Fernandez earned eight touchdowns (seven receiving, one rushing) on the season, as well as two interceptions as he also played on defense periodically.
Due to the strong results on the season, the Spartans found their way into the California Bowl against the Toledo Rockets, the first-ever time that the California Bowl had been played. Fernandez was on fire in the game, catching all three of San Jose State’s touchdowns, but sadly it wouldn’t be enough as Toledo kicked a late field goal to win it 27-25.
Fernandez went pro after his season at San Jose State, joining the BC Lions for the 1982 season. While the Lions had a winning record, going 9-7 on the season, the team finished second-to-last in the West and missed the playoffs. Fernandez had a strong season, catching eight touchdowns with one punt returned for a touchdown. Fernandez ended up picking up rookie of the year in the West, although he would come in second in overall rookie of the year to Ottawa Rough Riders quarterback Chris Isaac.
In 1983, Fernandez was drafted in the 10th round of the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Raiders, however he declined the offer and chose to remain in the CFL. The Lions improved significantly in the 1983 season, going 11-5 and finding their way into the playoffs. They defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 39-21 to advance into the Grey Cup, their first Grey Cup appearance in 19 years.
However, the Lions would fall just short as the opposing Toronto Argonauts won it 18-17, coming back from a 10-point deficit at halftime. Fernandez caught a touchdown pass in the loss, along with a total of 10 touchdowns in the regular season.
1984 would be a breakout season for Fernandez, as he picked up a career-high 17 touchdown receptions. The Lions took advantage of his potential as they had a 12-3-1 record to return to the playoffs, however they would be defeated in the first round by the Blue Bombers, losing 31-14.
Fernandez nearly matched his previous year’s total in 1985, scoring 15 touchdown receptions. The Lions once again got the job done in the regular season, going 13-3, and defeated the Blue Bombers 42-22 in the first round to get back to the Grey Cup again. However, the win would come at a cost, as Fernandez was injured an unavailable to play in the championship game.
The Lions faced the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 73rd Grey Cup, and was played on neutral turf in Montreal. Despite missing Fernandez from the lineup, the Lions handled the Tiger-Cats with a 37-24 victory to claim their second Grey Cup title.
Fernandez returned to the Lions in 1986, but would not be as effective as he missed seven games due to injury and caught only five touchdowns. Despite this, the Lions adjusted to a new 18-game schedule and went 12-6 on the season to make it back to the playoffs. The Lions won in the first round over the Blue Bombers with a 21-14 win, but would be eliminated in the conference final by the Edmonton Eskimos, who won 41-5.
In 1987, with the NFL in need of replacement players due to a league-wide players’ strike, Fernandez was recruited and eventually convinced by Raiders owner Al Davis to return to the United States and play for the Raiders. Fernandez struggled in his first NFL season, playing in only seven games with no touchdown catches. The Raiders struggled as well despite a strong 3-0 start to the season, as the record went downhill once the strike ended and the team finished at 5-10.
While 1988 saw Fernandez play in all 16 games for the Raiders, he started in only one game on the way to four touchdowns on the season. The Raiders finished with a 7-9 record, missing the playoffs once again.
Fernandez had his strongest NFL season in 1989, catching nine touchdown passes, but the Raiders were unable to capitalize as they finished with an 8-8 record to miss the playoffs again.
In 1990, however, the Raiders broke the playoff drought with a 12-4 record, and took down the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round 20-10, but would be crushed by the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game, losing 51-3. Fernandez started in nearly every game in the 1990 season, grabbing five touchdown receptions.
The 1991 season saw the Raiders go 9-7, but still make the playoffs as a wild card. In the wild card round, the Raiders were defeated by the Kansas City Chiefs 10-6. Again Fernandez started in the majority of the games, but only had one touchdown reception to show for it.
1992 would see Fernandez’s role with the team diminished, as he was played primarily as a backup, and would struggle once again with no touchdown receptions. The Raiders as a whole would struggle as well, going 7-9 and missing the playoffs. This would be the final season in Fernandez’s NFL career.
Fernandez would unable to find a roster spot for the 1993 season, and thus returned to Canada to once again play for the BC Lions in 1994.
Unfortunately, Fernandez was limited to playing only nine games in 1994 due to injury, catching only two touchdown passes, and would be unavailable for the playoffs. The Lions finished 11-6-1 to score another playoff berth.
The Lions took down the Edmonton Eskimos in the first round with a 24-23 win, then eked out a 37-36 victory in the conference final against the Calgary Stampeders to face the Baltimore Football Club in the 82nd Grey Cup.
With the Lions having home field advantage as the game was held in Vancouver, the Lions claimed a 26-23 victory as they hit a last-second field goal for their third Grey Cup championship.
Fernandez retired from football after the 1994 season. His son, Joe, played preseason football with the Seattle Seahawks in 2007 after a successful college football career with the Fresno State Bulldogs.
In 2019, Mervyn Fernandez was elected into the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame, to go along with his place on the BC Lions Wall of Fame.
Special thanks to @shaungerow for suggesting this article!
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