by John Furgele
The Canadian Football League begins its regular season tomorrow night with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers opening their new 33,000 seat stadium by hosting the Montreal Alouettes. For those who scoff at the three down league, watching some CFL could and should provide many with a little football fix before the NFL season really begins after Labor Day.
The Grey Cup, the CFL’s Super Bowl has been contested 100 times. Fittingly, the team that has won the most Grey Cups, the Toronto Argonauts, won the 100th renewal by beating Calgary in Toronto last November. The Argos, or Boatmen have won Earl Grey’s chalice 16 times. The cup was donated by the aforementioned Governor General Earl Grey in 1909. For most, when you see or hear Earl Grey, you think of tea.
The CFL is a unique brand of football and has no pretenses. Its goal is to promote its own game, not compete with the NFL. This isn’t the World Football League stealing Larry Csonka or the United States Football League taking away Hershel Walker or Doug Flutie. It’s a league where each team can only have 15 “imports,” (American players), so many are home grown Canadian youngsters. Like the NFL, the league’s television ratings have soared in recent years, with TSN—the ESPN of Canada—holding the broadcast rights. The NBC Sports Network will carry 14 games this season, including the playoffs and the Grey Cup Game, which is usually held the Sunday before or after U.S. Thanksgiving. ESPN 3 will also be carrying CFL games.
The league is different. For starters, there are 12 players to a side. And, unlike the NFL, multiple players can be in motion and like the Arena league, they can be heading forward before he ball is snapped. The defense has to be one yard off the ball, meaning second and inches is almost impossible to stop. There are only three downs, meaning second down conversions is an important statistic. The end zones are 20 yards deep, meaning first and goal from the five can still mandate a go route. On field goal attempts, the defense puts a player in the end zone. If the kick misses, the player has to run or kick the ball out of the end zone, or he can take a knee and concede a single point to the kicking team, so yes, it’s conceivable that Montreal could beat Toronto 1-0. Teams have 20 seconds to get the plays off and with three downs, there are plenty of possessions to be had. Lastly, each team gets only one timeout per half, making sure that the game progresses, something the NFL and NBA should consider.
There are eight teams in this exciting league. The East division consists of the Argonauts, Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tiger Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, while the West division has the British Columbia Lions, Calgary Stampedes, Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders. In 2014, Ottawa gets its third shot with the expansion Redblacks, meaning that the Blue Bombers will likely go back to the West division.
The summer sports calendar is limited. There’s MLB, WNBA and Major League Soccer. NFL training camps are three to four weeks away and college football doesn’t start until August 29. But, football fans don’t worry, the Canadian Football League is here and it’s certainly worth a try to help curb your football fix. It is fun and most importantly, it’s pressure free sports viewing. Why not head north of the border for some football fun.