Cards: Pro Set 1991, All World 1991 (x5), Upper Deck Legends College 2011, Classic 1991
Acquired: In Person 2013, Dallas Cowboys Rally Day 12/28
Rocket was one of the original players that I wanted when I first returned to the TTM hobby back in 2010. He had made such a memorable impression on me when I was younger that I put him near the top of my list to find when I returned. I even went so far as gathering the cards, writing his address, and putting a stamp on an envelope. It was then I found out that Ismail does not sign through the mail. Time passed and I put everything aside with my move back to Austin.
Over the past few years I’ve done a decent amount of TTM, but the speedy Ismail kept eluding me. It was then that Dallas started offering “Rally Days” (a fan-centric event at the Cowboys stadium where they give tours of the stadium and ex players sign autographs.) From what I understand the Cowboys organization has been up to this for a while now, and after recent events had featured Rocket signing, I had begun to be whipped up into a fever.
Now, Ismail 99% of the time only signs “Rocket” at the free events. It is only at the paid signings he usually gives out his whole signature; However, under rare circumstances he will sign it for the first person or two in line at a free event. I could care less, as I would be pretty happy either way. In the end I did get the ‘shorthand signature’ but he did sign everything I brought.
After driving to Dallas and waiting for well over an hour, I got up to the front. It had been an excess of Rocket’s time signing, and at these events, the next guy just replaces the one sitting at the table. Ismail is very, very good to fans in person. He spends a few minutes with each one of them, looks them in the eye, shakes their hands, talks to each one, signs a few things, and takes a photo or two. This is great, if you are at the front of the line. It’s not so great if you’re number 62 in line. Very easily, Rocket probably would’ve been able to go through the line 2 or 3 times if he had been ‘handled’ a bit more, but as fans began to clamor and shout, “Hurry up!”, I coldly calculated that I ran a very strong chance of being the last person who would be able to get Rocket that day- and that is exactly what happened.
As a drew a sigh of relief and approached the table, Rocket shook my hand, I told him that I had driven from Austin and had gotten lost getting here. He was surprised I came from so far away, and then asked me how I got lost, to which I said, “Let’s not talk about it.” Rocket got super excited when he found out that I owned a pair of his Reebok Paydirt hi top Pumps back in the early 1990’s and just as excited when he realized I was a ‘card guy’. Rocket then signed everything I had on me as Mel Renfro emerged from the curtain behind him. I began to feel badly when I realized I was the last person who was going to get his autograph that day, but he insisted on signing every one of them, despite my protests. Still all in all Rocket was the prize I had been after all along.
Card companies set up shop like crazy during the early 1990’s but there was no feeding frenzy like that surrounding trying to capitalize off of Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. There was quite a buzz surrounding Rocket when he came out of Notre Dame and every card company wanted to say they had Ismail’s rookie card, because he was the next sure thing to drive sales. In the end, Rocket threw everybody- including the NFL -for a loop.
Bruce McNall was a wheeling and dealing regular Donald Trump of Canada, and he had decided that it was time to buy into gridiron football. Unable to secure an NFL franchise, McNall set his sights on the next best thing at the time: the CFL. Grabbing business partners Wayne Gretzky and actor John Candy, they bought a controlling stake in the Toronto Argonauts. After making waves with the purchase, McNall brazenly fired the first shot at the NFL, signing Rocket to an insane $18 million dollar contract. Rocket was to be the new face of the Argonauts, McNall’s media empire (which included All World Sports Cards), and the CFL. All World hastily put together a 1991 CFL football card set 120 or so strong. Fully trying to capitalize off of the Ismail frenzy, AW produced 10 different cards covering Ismail in the set.
The first year in the CFL, Rocket certainly had NFL executives worried about the Canadian invasion. He lived up to all the hype and excitement that scouts had predicted. With rumored sub 4.2 speed, Ismael could play not only receiver, but also returned kicks, punts and provide mismatches in the slot as a runningback. Ismail caught 64 passes for 1300 yards and 9 touchdowns his rookie season. He also ran for 271 yards and 3 TDs. Rocket averaged 25.4 yards on 31 kick returns and returned 48 punts for 602 yards including a 73 yard touchdown. Finishing second in RotY voting, he was named to the CFL All-Star team for his efforts in 1991, culminating in winning the Grey Cup and being named MVP after the season. 1992 was a frustrating season for Raghib as the team slumped to a 6-12 record. His numbers were down offensively, while his special teams statistics ticked up only marginally. With a financial noose tightening around the organization, Rocket came to an agreement to leave the team- and the league, after the 1992 season.
Rocket arrived in the NFL as a member of the then Los Angeles Raiders in 1993. The Raiders shrewdly used a 4th round pick in the 1991 draft on Rocket. The legendary Al Davis, unable to resist the lure of Ismail’s speed gambled and came up spades. After particularly ornery contract negotiations, Rocket finally came to terms with the Raiders. Never fully living up to the billing and the completeness at which he dominated the CFL in 1991, Rocket spent three years in LA/ Oakland. Starting only 16 games, he had 1357 yards and 9 touchdowns on 88 receptions, and a 21.5 yard average on 104 kick returns. The Raiders, traded Rocket in 1996 to the Carolina Panthers for a 5th round pick.
While the team excelled that year, Rocket only averaged a paltry 16.5 yards per game and failed to score a touchdown. He’d begin to see more playing time in 1997, culminating in a fine 1998 campaign that’d result in his first 1,000 yard season receiving as quarterback Steve Beuerlein‘s favorite target.
The Cowboys poached Rocket off of the Panthers roster. It was ironic considering that Dallas had engineered a trade in the days coming up to the 1991 NFL draft that would have allowed them to take him with the #1 pick, if he hadn’t signed with the CFL. Now here he was joining the team in 1999. It was a vastly different time. Aged were the days of the Super Bowl Cowboys. Chan Gailey was head coach, and Irvin, Smith, and Aikman were getting on in years. Aikman began to complain openly of the staleness that Gailey’s offense ran with. To make matters worse, Irvin would be critically injured in a matchup against the Eagles. Insert Rocket here as the hero of the hour. Ismael stepped in and did his best, catching the winning TD in OT over the hated Redskins in the first game of the season. He’d post his best season as a pro with 1097 yards receiving. After a disappointing 2000 campaign, Rocket played one final season in 2001, for the Cowboys before retiring.
Rocket has been pretty busy since retirement. Living in the Dallas area, he’s been making the rounds on the Rally Day circuit. He’s been a celebrity TV personality on a few shows, appeared as a commentator on the 4 letter network, and was a coach in the Slamball leagues. Considered one of College’s greatest players, it is surprising that Rocket has not been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He lost the 1990 Heisman Trophy race to quarterback Ty Detmer, but as a consolation did land the Walter Camp Award. He is also considered one of Notre Dame’s finest athletes ever to don a golden dome. Rocket’s career stat line for the Irish is: 1,565 yards receiving, 1,015 yards rushing, 1,271 yards on kick returns, and 336 yards on punt returns, to go along with 15 touchdowns.
CFL 33 Rec 100 Yds 1951 Avg 19.5 Td 13 Lg 87t
Rush 70 Yds 425 Avg 6.0 Td 6 Lg 59
Kr 74 Yds 1925 Avg 26.0 Td 0 Lg 55
Pr 107 Yds 1216 Avg 11.3 Td 2 Lg 74