How Rocket Ismail Once Signed A $18.2M CFL Contract Then Almost Lost It All — 'I Looked At My Bank Statement, And I Just Went, What The?'
Photo Credit: Slaven Vlasic / Doug Pensinger

How Rocket Ismail Once Signed A $18.2M CFL Contract Then Almost Lost It All — 'I Looked At My Bank Statement, And I Just Went, What The?'

When NASA is ready to launch a ship, the 3-2-1…countdown clearly indicates that take-off is about to occur. And from that moment, without much hesitation or delay, the rocket is dispatched into space with incredible speed. The world has taken this reality and made it a metaphor for a person with astonishing speed and agility, which is where Raghib “Rocket” Ismail enters the chat.

Known for his blazing speed on the football field, Ismail was a Canadian and American football player that rose to success in the late 1980s.

Photo Credit: Brian Masck

As the team’s star wide receiver, Ismail played collegiate football for the University of Notre Dame. According to the College Football Hall of Fame, Ismail led the Fighting Irish to an undefeated season in 1988. He is one of only two Notre Dame football players who were able to earn over 1,000 rushing and receiving yards during his collegiate career. He currently holds the school record for having an average of 22 yards per reception.

After such a successful college career, it was a no-brainer that pro football was the next step. According to an archived Sports Illustrated report, Ismail was the presumptive No. 1 draft pick among NFL prospects. However, he decided to take his talents to the Canadian Football League (CFL), signing with the Toronto Argonauts for $18.2 million over four years. At the time, it was the most lucrative football contract in history.

He would only play two years in the CFL before signing a deal with the Oakland Raiders in 1995. Ismail spent two years with the Raiders franchise before landing with the Carolina Panthers. The wide receiver would spend most of his professional football career with his last team, The Dallas Cowboys. The Texas franchise signed Ismail to a seven-year contract worth $21 million, according to Spotrac.

While the superstar earned top dollar in his over a decade of professional play, bad investments caused him to lose a significant portion of his income.

The Restaurant That Never Happened

At the top of his professional career, Ismail invested $300,000 into Rock N’ Roll Café. The restaurant was poised to be in New England, designed to leverage the success of the Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood franchises.

Sports Illustrated reported that one of his advisors noted that the plan for the restaurant was fail-proof. However, it never came to fruition, and Ismail never recouped his six-figure investment.

Can't Stop, Won't Stop

The restaurant falling through did not stop Ismail from wanting to make some critical business moves. His next investments included a religious movie and a music label.

Later, he would invest in prepaid phone dispensers, a line of cosmetic surgical supplies, and a souvenir calligraphy business.

And while he had a string of bad luck with the above-mentioned businesses, Ismail did not give up. In 2009, he invested $250,000 in a specialty mouthguard that retailed for $79.95.

According to the Sports Illustrated report, the wide receiver said the mouth guard’s aim was to assist the body and enable it to “physiologically perform at the highest level.”

This Time Was Different

While he invested in the mouthguard before consulting with his financial advisor, this time, he was familiar with the product since he used it while an active player in the league.

Many credit Ismail’s poor investments to his lack of knowledge. When talking about his financial situation, he mentioned that he felt like money talk was foreign to him.

Sounded Like Jibberish

“I once had a meeting with J.P. Morgan, and it was literally like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher,” Ismail recalled to the outlet at the time.

As he continued to reflect on the past, he noted that one day he looked up and had no idea what happened to his wealth.

“I’d started with this $4 million base salary, but then I looked at my bank statement, and I just went, What the. . . ?”

Don't Believe The Hype

Despite Rocket’s financial mistakes that led him to lose a ton of money, the football player has maintained that he was able to hang on to some of his fortune.

Ismail has kept steady work by contributing to ESPN and Fox Sports Southwest.

Dispelling rumors that he had gone broke, Ismail has never filed for bankruptcy. Additionally, his investment in the mouthguard, Bitetech, is still around today and owned by Under Armour.