My Confession: I Love Canadian Football
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on Yahoo! Voices, Monday, September 12, 2011
I am an American. I bleed red, white and blue. I was born in this country, I've raised a family in this country and I served over 21 years in the U.S. military. But I have a confession to make, I love Canadian Football!
I first began following the Canadian Football League in the early 1990's when my favorite player, Doug Flutie, signed with the British Columbia Lions in Vancouver. He spent a couple of years with the Lions and then signed with the Calgary Stampeders. I wanted to see him play in person, so I made a trip across the border from my home in Michigan to Toronto in August of 1994. Calgary beat the hometown Toronto Argonauts that day 52-3 at the SkyDome, which today is known as the Rogers Centre. The Stampeders were so far ahead after the third quarter that they sat Flutie in the fourth quarter and let his backup get some playing time, a guy by the name of Jeff Garcia, who would go on to have a fair amount of success himself in the NFL, mainly with the San Francisco 49ers. Flutie won a Grey Cup (the CFL equivalent of the Super Bowl) with Calgary in 1992 and two more with Toronto in 1996 and 1997 before signing with the NFL Buffalo Bills.
The CFL has a great history and a unique style of play that is a bit different from the NFL. The CFL field is 110 yards long and is also wider than an NFL field. Its end zones are 20 yards long and the CFL uses 12 players on the field. They also allow just three downs instead of four to get a first down.
There are currently eight teams in the CFL; Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Saskatchewan, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Edmonton and British Columbia. The Toronto Argonauts franchise can trace its roots back to October 4, 1873, making it the oldest football team in North America. The Grey Cup Trophy has been awarded to the best team in Canada since 1909, which makes it older that the NFL, which was formed in 1920. In 2012, the 100th Grey Cup CFL Championship game will be played in Toronto.
There was a time when American football players routinely played in Canada. Until NFL salaries began to skyrocket in the 1980s and 90s, players in both leagues made roughly the same amount of money. A number of players who became famous in the NFL actually got their start in the CFL; Warren Moon, Joe Theismann and Rocket Ismail to name a few. More recently, Ricky Williams spent a season in the CFL in 2006 with Toronto after he was suspended by the NFL. And it isn't just players. Coaches like Bud Grand and Marv Levy also started in Canada before moving to the NFL.
From 1993-1995, the CFL tried expanding into the United States. One team, the Baltimore Stallions, actually won the Grey Cup in 1995, beating Flutie and the Stampeders. But after the 1995 season, the CFL folded the five teams it had in the U.S. The Stallions franchise was moved north of the border and became the new Montreal Alouettes, a team which had folded in 1987.
On Friday night, September 2, I was back in Toronto with a couple of my sons to see the Argos take on the BC Lions. It was raining when we arrived in town so I assumed that the Rogers Centre roof would be closed for the game. This was the first time that my youngest son had gone with me to see a game in Toronto and I was hoping that he would get to see the stadium with the roof open.
As we sat in our seats prior to the start of the game, watching the two teams warming up, the roof slowly began to open. The retractable roof of the Rogers Centre is a marvel of engineering; two sections slide open while a third section rotates to the opposite end on the stadium. The Lions went on to win the game, 29-16.
It was also a milestone for me personally as I have now seen all eight CFL teams in person, either in Toronto or in nearby Hamilton, which is the home of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as well as the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
In the days before satellite dishes and dozens of channels devoted to sports, it was hard for me to keep up with what was going on in the CFL. Newspapers rarely carried any CFL news or transactions. The Internet became the only place where I could find game recaps and articles. In the past few years, however, it has gotten a lot easier to follow the CFL here in the states. The NFL Network began airing CFL games on a weekly basis in 2010 and YouTube posts highlights from every CFL game.
Don't get me wrong, I am a huge NFL fan, too, but there is just something about the CFL that intrigues me as a football fan.
Just because I live in the United States doesn't mean that I can't enjoy following Canadian football. While other NFL fans are counting the days to the start of the NFL season in September, I am getting my football fix beginning in July with the start of the CFL season.
Can you really have too much football in your life? I say no.