Saturday, June 29, 2019

Letter of Recommendation: The Canadian Football League

By Mitch Moxley
June 15, 2017

In November 1989, the Saskatchewan Roughriders met the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at the SkyDome in Toronto for the Canadian Football League’s championship game. I was 9 years old, and I had already developed a tortured relationship with the Roughriders, familiar to any of the million-odd people who live in the province where I grew up. Until that point in the club’s 79-year history, the Riders had taken home just one title; in an eight-team league, this fact seemed to defy the laws of statistics.

With the game soon to begin, we placed wagers on the outcome. I knew everyone would pick the Roughriders, out of loyalty if nothing else. Sensing opportunity, I chose the Tiger-Cats. It was a win-win, I thought: In the unlikely event of a Riders victory, I could rejoice; if they lost, I would be, by a 9-year-old’s standards, rich. I had already learned not put my faith in the team.

In a stunner, the Riders won 43-40 after a field goal with nine seconds remaining. The team soon reverted to form, and wouldn’t win another championship until 2007, when I was living and working in Beijing. I followed that game online from my desk at work, and when I saw the clock run down, the Riders still up by 4, my eyes dampened. In my life, there’s not a team in any sport in any place that means more to me than the Roughriders, an obscure, often mediocre club from a windy city, Regina, where I haven’t lived in 18 years and where I have no family left. It sometimes seems as if this football team is one of the last tethers I still have to the place that made me.

Canadian football isn’t rugby or Australian-rules football; it has much more in common with the American version of the game. But it’s like American football in the way Canada itself is like America: just similar enough to arouse what Freud called the “narcissism of small differences.” Canadian football is played with three downs instead of four, and with 12 men to a side instead of 11. The C.F.L. field is 110 yards long and 65 yards wide, and the end zones are 20 yards deep instead of 10. Touchdowns are 6 points, and field goals are 3, just as in the N.F.L., but there is also a single-point play with a French name (a rouge) awarded for punts that go into the end zone without being returned.

These differences add up to a game that is more stereotypically Canadian. It’s more civil than the N.F.L.; there are fewer concussions per team per season, perhaps because the players are generally smaller. It’s more modest in a financial sense as well: The C.F.L. salary cap is $5.15 million per team, compared with the N.F.L. salary cap of $167 million. Even the championship’s name is more humble, a Grey Cup instead of a Super Bowl. The C.F.L. has long been ahead of the N.F.L. in terms of diversity. It has been home to more than 100 black quarterbacks, double that of the N.F.L.

But those same rules that make the Canadian game more Canadian also make it more dynamic. The larger field promotes greater, and more chaotic, movement on the field. Three downs necessitate more passing per possession. There’s no fair-catch rule on punt returns; instead — this may be the most Canadian rule of all — defensive players must wait five yards from the receiving player until he touches the ball, which means more and longer returns. More plays are run out of a shotgun formation, and there are as many as six eligible receivers. A 20-second play clock, half the N.F.L.’s, speeds up the game. In fact, the pass-centric, no-huddle offenses now popular in the N.F.L. have long been the norm in the C.F.L.

There was an unfortunate period in the 1990s when the C.F.L. embarked on an American expansion that saw short-lived teams like the Las Vegas Posse, the Birmingham Barracudas and the Memphis Mad Dogs. C.F.L. teams were then required to dress 20 Canadian-born players — now the number is 21 — but the United States teams were exempted from that rule. The league had become too ambitious, too American. It forgot its roots as a league with uprights situated at the goal line instead of the back of the end zone; a league that, for 67 seasons, had two teams with essentially the same name (until 1996, Ottawa’s franchise was called the Rough Riders).

I live in New York now, and though I still say “soory” instead of “sorry,” I am often mistaken for an American. The last time the Riders won the title was in 2013, the same year I moved to the city. I watched the game at a bar in Murray Hill with folks from Saskatchewan who booked their vacations on the seemingly safe assumption that the Riders wouldn’t make the championship. The Grey Cup was hosted in my hometown, Regina, that year, again versus the Riders’ old rival, the Tiger-Cats. Tom Hanks attended the game with his friend the comedian and Canadian Martin Short, and Hanks delighted locals and my bar-mates alike when he said to an interviewer, “What could be finer than to be in Regina?” — this rhymes if you know how to pronounce “Regina” properly, which Hanks did. We toasted to that sentiment, and for a few moments, as I watched the Riders dominate in their green-and-white uniforms, it was as if I were 9 again, happily losing the safest bet I ever made.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The CFL Needs to Do a Much Better Job of Marketing Itself

The article below is a reprint from 2016 written by @JasonGregor. Though his article is dated, I think this his opinions are very insightful and worthy of a reprint, especially when we see each week stadiums that are nowhere near filled to their capacity. 

"The Canadian Football League needs to understand how to market itself, and realize it's losing fans, not gaining them."


While other leagues are finding ways to become more inclusive, the CFL is seemingly becoming more exclusive.

More and more teams are limiting dressing room access to media, which means fewer stories for fans to see, hear and read. It is laughable how behind-the-times the league is when it comes to dealing with the media, who are an extension of the fans.

Last week, the decision-makers at head office decided to part ways with freelance writers Justin Dunk and Rod Pedersen.

Dunk is a good young reporter who covers the league very well and who has broken many league stories. He will still do this, just not for the league-run site.

Pederson, the longtime voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, is a huge supporter of the CFL and is not afraid to share his opinion. He is well-known among CFL fans, and even those who disagreed with him would read his stuff.

Pedersen teed off on CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge a few weeks ago on his own blog, and I’m sure that’s why he isn’t writing at anymore. Pedersen didn’t need the gig, he has a lot going on, but the CFL needs people like Pedersen, who are hugely passionate about the league, because the harsh reality is that number is shrinking, not growing.

Pedersen took issue with the Orridge after he said the Roughriders “compromised the reputation of the CFL” after being fined for roster violations and practicing with ineligible players. So what? A little controversy is never bad.

However the commissioner and league should look in the mirror when mentioning the idea of compromised reputations, because a few weeks after the Riders were fined $60,000, the CFL decided to change the rule regarding coaching challenges in the middle of the week after one game had already been played. Why does a professional league change a rule in the middle of the week?

I’ve always been a fan of the CFL, but I find my interest in the league is slowly fading. Not because of the players or the game, but because of how the league is run. And the response I get from many fans on my radio show is their interest in it is dwindling as well.

The Edmonton Eskimos are the defending Grey Cup Champions, but they haven’t made any gains among fans this season. There was excitement in November when they won, but it fizzled out quickly, and they were unable to build on it heading into this season.

If a championship can’t ignite some new passion in your city, I’m not sure what can. That is a major concern, and the league needs to take a long look inward during the off-season and find some ways to attract new fans to and keep loyal fans interested.

They need leadership from the top, and since he’s been hired, Orridge simply hasn't provided any. Instead, we've seen numerous, glaring mistakes.

Last year during Grey Cup week, the league unwisely decided to unveil a new website. However, it wasn't even complete when it went live two days before the Grey Cup. They looked amateurish.

There was the coach-hiring debacle in December, when Orridge put a freeze on coaching hires after some teams poached coaches from other organizations. There were no fines or penalties. He just stopped teams from filling out their coaching vacancies.

The charm of the CFL has always been the personalities of the players. They aren’t paid millions. They aren’t mercenaries. They come from various backgrounds, and often, you saw them become part of the community. Fans related to them and respected them.

However, nowadays, fans know less about the players than ever before, despite there being more platforms for the league and teams to promote their players.

The CFL unveiled a new website, but there are rarely any features on the players. They might want to think about checking out websites of the other pro leagues in North America and take notes.

Those leagues are either promoting their players themselves or having their broadcast partners do it for them.

The Calgary Stampeders have won nine games in a row. I haven’t see one fun or unique interview with a player about their streak.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers resurrected their season with a seven-game winning streak.

They play each other this week. It is the biggest marquee match-up of the season and you can’t find anything about on the front page of on Tuesday morning.

The NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA promote the heck out of their stars and their rivalry games.

Sell yourself. If you don’t do it in 2016, you won’t be successful in any business.

You can listen to Jason Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on TSN 1260, read him at and follow him on Twitter @jasongregor

Canadian Football in Milwaukee? It Almost Happened

Just a few weeks after Brett Favre made a frantic headfirst dive into the County Stadium end zone to beat the Atlanta Falcons and close the book on the Packers playing in Milwaukee, there was talk – serious talk – of a team relocating to Milwaukee to replace the departed Packers and keep the Cream City in the pro football business. Of course, no NFL team would be willing (or allowed) to encroach on Packerland, but the Canadian Football League (CFL) was more than willing – eager even – to plant their flag in Milwaukee.

Pictured Above: Brett Favre celebrates after scoring the winning touchdown in the Packers’ final game in Milwaukee.
The writing was on the wall for Milwaukee NFL football by the early 1990s. With expansions planned at Lambeau Field – including the addition of nearly 100 new private boxes – it no longer made financial sense for the Packers to continue their 60-plus year tradition of playing a portion of their home schedule in Milwaukee. The timing was lousy in more ways than one for Milwaukee. The Packers had finally reached the end of their quarter-century post-Lombardi slump and were about to begin an equally-long run of success. The departure also dealt a financial blow to the Brewers and ensured that the Packers would not play a role in their quest for a new publicly-financed stadium.

But while the NFL regarded the Packers shift as a move in the right direction for one of the league’s landmark franchises, the CFL saw it as an opportunity. An exclusively-Canadian enterprise since its founding in 1958, the CFL limped into the 1990s nearing financial disaster. Nearly every one of the league’s teams were having money troubles by 1993, when CFL officials embraced the idea of expansion into the US marketplace as a summertime pro football league as a potential saving grace.

In 1993, the league expanded into Sacramento and, in 1994, added franchises in Shreveport, Las Vegas, and Baltimore. The Baltimore franchise – unofficially branded as the reborn Baltimore Colts – were by far the most successful of the American teams, averaging over 37,000 fans per game. The Las Vegas Posse, on the other hand, was a failure in all respects. They drew fewer than 10,000 fans per game – including a low attendance of just over 2,300. They finished the season with a record of 5-13 and were so financially strapped that they were forced to hold team practices in the parking lot of the Riviera Hotel. By the end of the season, the franchise was looking for a new home.

In Milwaukee, real estate developer Marvin Fishman began making phone calls. Fishman had been among the original owners of the Milwaukee Bucks and had tried to win an American Football League franchise for Milwaukee in 1965. He loved the idea of introducing Canadian football to Milwaukee and CFL officials were similarly excited about the idea of moving into the Cream City. Milwaukee had a built-in and eager fan base cultivated by the Packers and a high-capacity facility in County Stadium. Just after the new year, the Milwaukee Journal reported that the only thing standing in the way of Milwaukee joining the CFL was the seemingly pedestrian finalization of a lease between the new team and the Brewers. Fishman, who was poised to become a partner with the existing Posse ownership, prepared to announce the move.

Pictured Above: Milwaukee County Stadium in football mode in 1994.
But it was not quite so simple as that. For one thing, Milwaukee was a poor fit for Canadian football. Literally. While the standard NFL playing field of 120 yards just fit onto the grass at County Stadium, the 150 yard-long CFL field would have required major renovations to the bleachers. But CFL backers were confident that a waiver from the league could allow a Milwaukee franchise to play on a smaller-than-regulation field.

Furthermore, Fishman had overestimated the Brewers’ interest in sharing their home with a CFL team. He had hoped that the Brewers might require only a token yearly lease payment – something along the lines of $1 per year – in order to take in the additional concession and parking money from nine CFL home games per year. But the Brewers did not see it that way. Packers games had been regular sell-outs and provided excellent concession revenues during the off-season. But the CFL season ran July to November, meaning the Brewers would have to deal with the bi-weekly wear and tear to the field for most of the summer and could potentially lose out on lucrative weekend home series (CFL games were played on Saturdays) to accommodate the football club. And looking to the future, the Brewers wanted as few complications as possible with their plans for a new baseball-only facility – one that would likely mean the demolition of County Stadium. If a CFL team called the stadium home, an argument could be made for keeping it standing after the Brewers left, possibly upsetting plans to built a new ballpark near the present stadium site. The Brewers countered Fishman’s request for free rent by asking for more than $40,000 per game in rent – a figure that the Posse group could not hope to pay.

Throughout the spring of 1995, with the Packers gone and the Brewers out on strike, talk lingered of the CFL in Milwaukee, either through expansion or relocation. The Shreveport Pirates – coached by former Packers head coach Forrest Gregg – were rumored to looking at Milwaukee, as were the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That August, CFL commissioner Larry Smith toured County Stadium and proclaimed it a perfect site for CFL football. “It’s a fantastic market that already has a football tradition,” he said in a press conference in the stadium parking lot.

Pictured Above: CFL commissioner Larry Smith, who championed Milwaukee County Stadium as a site for CFL relocation or expansion, even though the Canadian rules field would not fit on its playing surface.
But as he spoke, the CFL’s American experiment was already doomed. The Las Vegas Posse, unable to find a suitable home after the Milwaukee deal fell apart, had moved their operations to Miami and planned to rejoin the league in 1996. But the 1995 season – in which the CFL featured five American teams, including new franchises in Birmingham and Memphis – would be the last for the CFL in US. Admitting that American interest in the Canadian version of the game was too sparse, the league retreated north of the border for the 1996 season and has since remained there. The 1994 Packers-Falcons thriller remains the last pro football game played in Milwaukee.

Originally Posted

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Tracking the CFL’s Longest Yard

Canadian football’s chief statistician is reconstructing the league’s history, one play at a timeby Aaron Hutchins Nov 21, 2013 (Reprinted From MacLeans)

For decades, the record for most touchdowns scored by any single CFL player in a Grey Cup game was three, a record shared by three players: Red Storey in 1938, Jackie Parker in 1956 and Tom Scott in 1980. Then, in 2011, the record was shattered, not with any superstar performance in that year’s game, but through dogged research of a game played nearly a century earlier, before the days of the forward pass. One long-forgotten member of the Hamilton Tigers, Art Wilson, scored four touchdowns in the 1913 Grey Cup, and he finally got his due.

Steve Daniel is responsible for keeping track and verifying statistics for the CFL, photographed in his home. (Photo by Jimmy Jeong)
It was just one in a long line of efforts to set the record book straight by Steve Daniel, the CFL’s statistics guru, who has possibly the league’s loneliest job. In modern professional sports, statistics are invaluable. They are used by coaches and players to compare performances and analyze plays. The numbers also help create story lines about athletes or coaches chasing records in history books. Yet, until a few years ago, the CFL was barely in the statistics game. Front-line data gatherers at each stadium interpreted rulings differently, Grey Cup game reports from decades past didn't include modern statistical categories such as “tackles,” and something as simple as a roster of the names of every player who ever put on a CFL uniform was incomplete because old game sheets only listed players’ surnames. Working from his home in Richmond, B.C., as the CFL’s top statistician since 2005, Daniel is the sole keeper of the entire league’s statistical history (every touchdown, tackle, sack and catch), a database of numbers he’ll be updating when the Grey Cup gets underway in Regina on Nov. 24. Coaches today rely on Daniel’s numbers to scout such things as how their teams fare on running plays against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, or how often quarterbacks throw interceptions against the Edmonton Eskimos’ defence. “My boss once said to me: ‘The Buffalo Bills of the NFL have three statisticians on their team. We have you, for our league,’ ” Daniel says. “I thought that was a pretty good statistic in itself.”

And it was in his role as chief stat keeper that Daniel helped rediscover Wilson’s record. Playing in front of 2,100 fans at the Hamilton Cricket Grounds a century ago, Wilson’s record day was long lost in newspaper archives. The league’s historian, Larry Robertson, had become aware of old news reports about the feat and, after bringing it to Daniel’s attention, the duo spent months combing through newspaper archives. Among the eight dailies covering the game that day, they found a tangle of conflicting reports for how many touchdowns he scored, a consequence of reporters sitting in the stands without the benefit of television or instant replay. Robertson has an additional theory. “Reporters in those days liked to have a drink or two,” he says. That Grey Cup was a blowout, with Hamilton defeating Toronto 44-2. “I would say, by halftime, half the reporters started to lose interest in who was scoring the points on the field.”

Regardless, drawing from the information they could gather, Daniel and Robertson created a chart to remake what they thought was the most accurate account of the 1913 championship game, including Wilson’s four touchdowns. “Statistics is not just science, it’s not just process,” says Daniel. “It’s interpretation. That’s the key that most people don’t get.” He took their conclusion to the heads of the CFL and the record books were quickly updated. “You are in fact affecting history,” says Daniel. “I think about that all the time.”

Daniel’s dream of being a statistician started in childhood. In his spare time, he’d lie on his bedroom floor, compiling stats from his little-league baseball games. “My dad would yell at me: ‘Do something with your life!’ ” Daniel recalls. After high school, he followed his father’s footsteps into a job at BC Hydro, where he toiled as a manager for 20 years before being laid off in 1994. With one year’s severance pay and his wife’s blessing, Daniel convinced the Portland Trail Blazers professional basketball team to let him compile the team’s statistics in games—for free.

A year later, when the Vancouver Grizzlies joined the NBA, then-general manager Stu Jackson hired Daniel to work with the expansion team. He’d compile the results of every play in practices and games, put them into a database and see which plays were most successful against which teams. “We gave him a nickname,” says Larry Riley, director of scouting with the Golden State Warriors, who previously worked with the Grizzlies. “We called him ‘Numbers.’ And we did it out of respect.”

Even though Daniel had no reputation in the basketball world, he soon found himself sitting at tables among general managers and coaches for the NBA draft. Daniel wasn't there to measure a player’s heart or character, but he created a mathematical formula to determine a player’s efficiency on the court.

Modern-day sports fans have become obsessed with statistics, and both media and sports managers have caught on to their importance. Billy Beane, the general manager for baseball’s Oakland Athletics, was captivated by overlooked statistics such as “on-base percentage.” He believed he could create a winning club without having to break the bank with all-star players. Beane’s experiments with sports and statistics were captured in the book-turned-movie Moneyball. Meanwhile, Nate Silver, the statistician who correctly predicted the outcomes in all 50 states for the 2012 U.S. election, was recently scooped up by sports-media juggernaut ESPN to use his statistical expertise for data-driven sports analysis. Daniel may not have the name recognition of those two, but he has been employing the same types of strategies since he first entered the NBA.

When the Grizzlies moved from Vancouver to Memphis in 2001, Daniel followed for a few years, but with his family still back in Vancouver, he opted to leave the job and return home. When his former Vancouver colleagues heard he was back in town, they quickly got him a job with the B.C. Lions as a press-box PA announcer.

It was from the sidelines of the 2005 Grey Cup where Daniel came to understand fully the shortcomings of the CFL’s system for gathering stats. As he watched, Anthony Calvillo, the legendary Montreal Alouettes quarterback, threw a pass to Dave Stala. Daniel was ready to announce Stala’s catch over the PA to the 59,000 fans in attendance, but the front-line statistics crew had mistakenly recorded another player, Ben Cahoon, as making the catch. “Cahoon is the all-time leading receiver in the history of Grey Cups,” says Daniel. “And here’s the guy being credited for a catch he didn’t make.”

Given the conflicting information, Daniel chose to announce what the stat crew reported about Cahoon making the catch. But he made note of the error. The next day, he was promoted to chief number cruncher for the B.C. Lions and set about filling the many gaps in the club’s history books—no easy task since, according to club folklore, Vancouver stock promoter Murray Pezim had thrown all the records into a garbage bin when he bought the team in 1990 because he wanted the team’s primary focus to be selling tickets. “So I started rebuilding,” Daniel says.

When the CFL saw how Daniel revamped the Lions’ statistics database, the league hired him to standardize every team’s numbers. One of Daniel’s very first orders of business in his new role was to go into the Grey Cup history books and reverse that one catch by Cahoon, taking the receiving yards away from the record holder and giving them to the rightful recipient. Then he started digging deeper. “To me, a player who played in the 1956 season is every bit as important as one playing now,” Daniel says. To that end, Daniel has since gone back and watched every Grey Cup game from when it was first televised in 1952 to update every number, including “tackles,” which weren’t officially tallied until 1980. “So now, if someone asks me the record for most tackles in a Grey Cup game, I can tell you it was Juan Sheridan [with the Montreal Alouettes] in 1955, with 16.” Prior to Daniel’s research, that record belonged to Saskatchewan’s Renauld Williams from 2009.

During the CFL season, Daniel has little time to focus on the history books. Fans expect numbers updated in real time on their smart phones, something stats crews at every stadium collecting data can provide. Even with his promotion, Daniel remains as the stats crew chief at all Lions home games. “It’s no fun just sitting in your office watching TV,” he says. But the 56-year-old will diligently watch every single play afterward—even if the game was boring or a blowout—to make sure there were no mistakes on his part or that of the other stats crews gathering info for him. “He’s a lens on every game, and he’s our sole point of end accountability for corrections,” says Kevin McDonald, vice-president of football operations for the CFL. “Steve is the keeper of our information. It’s a pretty big responsibility.”

And yet, numbers can only go so far. They don’t capture the person off the field: his character, background or history. Since Wilson wasn’t a star player and never received much attention in the press, one mystery still largely eludes Daniel and CFL historians: Who, exactly, was Art Wilson?

"They Call It Canadian Pro Football"

As we patiently and breathlessly await the second week of the 2019 CFL season to come, I pay homage to my favorite league here. As an American I know that the CFL is a league that for all of its existence has lived in the shadow of the American behemoth known as the National Football League.  Though much smaller in stature, it has existed with the NFL on the same continent for well over 100 years, and as it has a large number of Americans, is the only truly international football league on the planet.  The league has survived wars, depression, expansions, contractions, territory incursions, bankruptcies, other leagues (including Donald Trump and Vince McMahon) and scandals.  In essence, it has survived all those things that killed rival leagues in the United States (again I reference Trump and McMahon), the main reason being is that it has never really attempted to compete against the football giant here in the south.

The following article, written by Bruce Arthur, appeared several years ago during the summer of 2014 at the Monday Morning Quarterback when Peter King and his crew traveled to the Great White North to discover the hidden gem that is the CFL and Canadian football.  What they discovered was a league rich in tradition , but not so unfamiliar to those of us in the south, but still very much "Radically Canadian."  To me, the CFL is a modern day throwback that reminds me of what the old American Football League must have looked and felt like as it struggled to gain credibility. The difference however being is in Canada, the sport must compete against not just against the NFL, but also the National Hockey League (NHL) for the attention and affection from fans.  

"They Ours, We're Theirs"

For some people, all they know about the Canadian Football League comes from the time Homer Simpson watched the CFL draft, and the announcers say the Saskatchewan Roughriders scored only four rouges all last season. The show was missing the Ottawa Rough Riders, and how two teams with the same basic name were in the same eight-or-nine team league for 35 years. Oh, and one of them once drafted a dead man. If that was in there, joke-wise, you’d pretty much be covered.

CFL jokes tend to be about how this is a small-time, oddball league, and most of them are therefore true. There are Canadians who hate the league because it’s small: because it has often teetered on the edge of dissolution, because it features 18-game regular seasons with eight or nine teams, because Canadians have to play. A lot of people dismiss it, essentially, because it’s not the NFL.

And that’s one reason to love it, actually. The Canadian Football League is, at its heart, a small town. It’s been around forever, through all sorts of weather, and everybody knows everybody. It’s part of the charm. In Hamilton, the same mom and son, Barb and Steve, have been bringing fresh-baked cookies to practice since 1980 or so. They’re like family.

There are reasons for this. The CFL’s minimum salary just rose to $50,000, and not many players stray too far into six figures. The line between fans and players has never been much of a line, if only because their respective take-home (quarterbacks excepted) aren't very different at all.

So Saskatchewan running back Kory Sheets, the MVP of the 2013 Grey Cup, still worked as a truck driver’s assistant in the oil fields last winter, along with two other members of the team. The guy who beat out Sheets for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award, Calgary running back Jon Cornish, was named Canada’s top athlete in December. He did his conference call while on break from his day job as an investment consultant at a bank, in a shopping mall.

The silos of bigger pro sports don’t really exist here, and the result is a league where fans and players can actually live in the same world. Milt Stegall was already the league’s all-time leader in touchdowns when his wife became pregnant with his second child, and he needed a bigger place to live. It was his final season after a stellar career as a wide receiver in Winnipeg, and a local businessman named Ernie Epp offered his basement.

Stegall was skeptical, but he checked it out. The basement was about 2,000 square feet, with a kitchen and a bathroom, and the whole family moved in, rent-free. Epp’s wife watched the kid on game days, and Stegall—a Cincinnati native who played collegiately at Miami (Ohio)—still calls them the Canadian grandparents. Ask Stegall what he misses most about the game, and he pauses. He says it’s the people who watch.

“We need them more than they need us,” says Stegall, who played parts of three seasons with the Bengals and who now does TV analysis for TSN. “I don’t know if everyone understands that, but we need them more than they need us. This is not like the NFL where they don’t need fans to show up to the games because they have the big TV contracts and the revenue sharing.

“Guys who play in the CFL, a majority of us are from small colleges, and if we did play in the NFL it wasn't for that long, so most of us didn't have that much notoriety until we got to the CFL. So we’re thinking, Wow, this is a pretty cool experience, being recognized.

“Because when we go home, the second we cross that border, we’re just a normal, everyday citizen, and nobody recognizes us as a football player or anything else. But when we come back to Canada …”

Then they’re ours, and we’re theirs. Size isn't strength; a connection is. The metropolitan areas of
Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto make up about a third of the national population, and the Grey Cup works fine there, despite that embarrassing 15-year absence from Toronto after the apathetic debacle of 1992. Almost a third of the SkyDome was empty for that game, or about half the population of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

But the championship week works best on the Prairie, in the real cold, outdoors. The Grey Cup inhabits places like Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, and Winnipeg. There, it truly matters, and the tribes all gather together, every year. It’s so damned earnest.

“The Grey Cup is a massive Canadian party, but it’s on a much more human scale,” says Peter Dyakowski, a guard for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who also was named Canada’s Smartest Person in a CBC reality show, and has appeared on Jeopardy. “It’s the same people every year. It’s a human-sized league.” Dyakowski, for the record, has been an all-star, lives in a middle-class neighborhood, and doesn't shop in Hamilton’s fancier supermarkets.

There’s a nostalgia to all this, sure, and the small town isn't always pleasant. In this year’s labour dispute the league played hardball, and the players got small concessions on money and safety in a league with a big new TV contract, and a ninth team, and new stadiums either built, or renovated, or being built across the country. The labour fight, which didn't cost anything but goodwill, may have signified that the recent growth in revenues is going to change this thing.

But it hasn't, not yet. Every sport is at least partly defined by when it begins, and when it ends. Baseball begins in the spring and ends in late fall. The NFL charges into winter, and at the last minute usually escapes to somewhere warm. Hockey and basketball keep you inside all winter, and stop when you want to go outside.

And then there is the Canadian Football League. It begins with the relief of summer, and ends in late November, usually on a dark cold night, with winter yet to come. Like the CFL, winter in Canada is different everywhere. And like the CFL, we all get through it together.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Youthful Magic of Pro Football and the CFL- The View From Chicago

When one thinks about Chicago, a lot of things I am sure come to mind to the outsider- crime, the Cubs (sorry White Sox), Michael Jordan (the Bulls have sucked ever since he left), maybe the Blackhawks (but not until Old Man Wertz allowed home games to be shown on TV), Sears Tower (accept no other names), deep dish pizza, O'Hare Airport (ugh, I prefer Midway), our accents, our traffic, and lastly Da Bears and their venerable homes of Wrigley and Soldier Fields.

You see my friends, Chicago is the home to A LOT OF football history.  Much like Toronto can lay claim to being the home of Canadian football history and Montreal is the home to hockey history, Chicago is where the NFL's history is home.  Yes, I know Canton, Ohio is where the Hall of Fame is, but in Chicago, we still have the only stadium still standing that served as the home of the NFL in it's earliest days when both the Bears and Chicago Cardinals called it their home. Soldier Field also served as the home team to both before the red birds flew south.

However, I digress...

Professional Football in North America

For those of you who follow my Twitter account, you should know by now that I am an NFL Films junkie.  John Facenda will always be the definitive voice of football in America, even centuries from now (if the game survives that long) while Steve and Ed Sabol will forever be the men whose vision turned professional football into a visual art-form.  Unfortunately, the legacy of all three men is fading as are their memories as we move deeper into the 21st Century and away from NFL game men like me, in our 40s to 50s, remember fondly as children, when it was a game of (from our young perspective) heroes...

However, as I saw as a young man the professional game I love, I saw it drift farther and farther away from me and the other fans who grew up glued to CBS, NBC and Howard Cosell (on ABC's Monday Night Football). The sport we loved quickly went from "professional football" to "$$$$$$$ football."

Not that money has never been a factor in the professional game, of course it has.  However, the NFL in their zeal to solidify the market on the pro game in the United States did everything it could and still does, to quash competition (sadly I agree with Trump on this point), make as much money as they could off the backs of fans (have you priced tickets for the NFL lately?), and control their properties (the NFL quashes all copyright violators on YouTube and elsewhere, even though no one is making money off the images).

Which brings me to the subject of the CFL.  The CFL is the purest form of professional football that I know of, for it's players are a mirror image of you and I- honest hard working fans who love the sport and remember that the professional game is dependent on us (the fans) for it to survive in the 21st Century.  I love the fact that it only has nine (ten soon I hope) teams whose rosters are filled with men who play with the burning desire to compete and be successful.  In watching CFL games the one thing I notice more than anything else, is the hustle of each man.  The same type of hustle the NFL players of the 1970s had when I first watched my first professional game on TV during 1977's Cardinals/Dolphins Thanksgiving contest.

Since that game in which Bob Griese (he was my hero then) threw six touchdowns on a cold grew day at Busch Stadium, I have been a hooked football fan, and whenever my thoughts turn to the game I am ten years old again.   Which is how I approach every CFL game on TV and the Internet I watch.  For I am forever that wide eyed child in a Miami Dolphin #12 jersey cheering his heroes on....

Which is now why I listen to every CFL podcast I can, and read every article printed online, for the CFL is a league whose fans are vital to its success and permanence.  The CFL is a place where fans like Lanny and Scotty in Tokyo and other podcasters are truly important to keeping the true spirit of professional football alive and within the reach of all of us who simply want to sit back and enjoy this magical game we grew up with and love....

Next Time- CFL vs. NFL