"I have loved football as an almost mythic game since I was in the fourth grade. To me, the game wasn't even grounded in reality. The uniform turned you into a warrior. Being on a team, the mythology of physical combat, the struggle against the elements, the narrative of the game..." ~ Steve Sabol (NFL Films)

Sunday, June 6, 2021

It is Still "Our League"

(Originally published on March 15, 2021) As one of those few Americans who follows the CFL religiously but also lives in a country where anything not "NFL" is deemed inferior, the last week in Canadian football news has been, by all accounts, a very surreal one.  It began with the death of a beloved player and one who unfortunately, due to my lack of access to the Canadian airwaves 40 years ago, I never got to see play. The remembrance of him reminded me of the days after Walter Payton's untimely death here in the home of American pro football, Chicago (sorry Canton, but that is a fact).  We as fans both north and south love our heroes of the past. However, it abruptly turned when news broke about where the Canadian pro game is heading.

"It Was More Than Just a Game...."

So, as you take a look at the two videos below you may be thinking, this isn't CFL or for  that matter even football related. Oh dear reader, rest assured this is not click bait, but rather an ode to what it is that makes all of us root for our leagues and teams, the passion of being a fan.  As a Cubs fan from my earliest days (1977 to be exact is when baseball became part of my world) I think I know a few things about being not just a fan, but a long suffering one. I am also a die hard Arizona Cardinals fan, as well as a Bears and Sox fan, and like with many of the women who I have dated, I know disappointment.  However, that is not not why I am writing this, but rather to remind you, the reader, that whenever someone questions you on your CFL or XFL loyalty and passion, tell them to go stuff themselves, for they don't know what a true fan is if they are questioning your passion or loyalty for leagues and teams that many have neither heard or or care about.

The CFL and Kmart

I wrote this article back on March 17, 2021, and while it might be a bit dated at this point, I apologize for nothing, because so far the CFL, other than the name change of Edmonton, has not really provided us with any real positive news about the future of the league...

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Multi-National Football? How & Why?

I remember waking up on Sunday, February 9, 2020 with a sense of a new chapter beginning that day. Pulling into MetLife Stadium seeing tailgate tents, cornhole, the smoke of grills, it all reminded me of my college Saturdays down south. Never being a real follower of the NFL, there was the feeling that this was truly something different, and it was. It. Was. The. XFL! ~ By James @ the Sports Throne

Saturday, March 20, 2021

How the CFL Welcomed Black Players

St. Louis Rams of the CFL?

"U.S. Football Fans Urge CFL to Play in St. Louis"

Heartbroken fans have turned to the CFL with the hope they could still have a team in St. Louis after the NFL Rams moved to Los Angeles.

CFL Films: Traditions- British Columbia

CFL Films: Traditions- Calgary

CFL Films: Traditions- Winnipeg

CFL Films: Traditions- Saskatchewan

CFL Films: Traditions- Ottawa

CFL Films: Traditions- Hamilton

Tracking the CFL’s Longest Yard

Sadly Steve Daniel was laid off by the CFL in September of 2020 due to the COVID-19 fallout. I sure hope he is doing well and has succeeded in obtaining that PhD he spoke of to the Toronto Sun. When I speak of the passion of the game of Canadian football to Americans it is because of people like Steve, for they, along with the players, are the true back bone of the CFL. Men like Steve and countless others behind the scenes are the modern day hidden figures who have made the league "go" for it's entire lifetime.  Without men with the passion of Steve and the others who have poured their heart and soul into the CFL, the league would have never made it into the 21st Century.  Hopefully soon the CFL will return and men like Steve can return to the game they love and continue doing the wonderful things they have done for Canadian football for many many years to come!

CFL in America History 1993-1995: A Retrospective

Following the demise of the United States Football League in 1985 and the World League of American Football's presence in the US in 1992, America was left without an outdoor alternative to the NFL. The financially-strapped Canadian Football League decided that they would step into the void. The league established outposts from Sacramento, California to Baltimore, Maryland and as far south as San Antonio, Texas. Several of the CFL's best players including David Archer, Mike Pringle, Matt Dunigan and Tracy Ham landed on American teams, giving the new teams plenty of talent. The Baltimore club battled in two Grey Cup championship games and is the only non-Canadian club to win the coveted prize.

CFL expansion into the country was the brainchild of former Commissioner Larry Smith. He envisioned a Canadian League with up to 24 teams, including 8 to 10 teams in American cities, and new teams for Montreal and the Maritimes as well by 1998. Unfortunately, America's CFL entries struggled financially, forcing the CFL to withdraw from the US as quickly as it had entered. Though Smith's idea ultimately proved to be unsuccessful, for three seasons these teams played the distinct game of Canadian football on American soil. This is their story.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Last Grey Cup

Yes, the title of the post is deceiving, but whether we are talking about American or Canadian football, the point is the same, for though sports are universally beloved, in the last year science fiction became science fact in the form of big league sports being played in empty stadiums. Well, except for the CFL.

Specifically, in the 1970s, the now legendary George R. R. Martin wrote a fantastical tale about the end odownfall of them all in “The Last Super Bowl,” a fantastically written short story in February 1975’s issue of Gallery Magazine, a men’s magazine.

The story is actually two tales, as he covers the last Super Bowl which takes place in January 2016 and interjects the depiction of that Super Bowl, between the Green Bay Packers and the Hoboken Jets, and the downfall of real sports. Real sports, in the 2016 of Martin’s fictional world, have been overtaken in popularity by simulated sports.

Simulated sports are controlled by a computer that can put any team, from any era, against any other for the enjoyment of the spectators. The technology he describes in the computers that control the simulated sports were science fiction in 1974, but in 2021, our computers are powerful enough to create those simulations. Just look at video games like Electronic Arts’ Madden Series and Canuck Play's Flutie Maximum Football.

The implications that computer simulated games would overtake the real thing isn’t so far fetched now in a world turned upside down by a pandemic, but back in 1970s, Martin was looking to a future where the complexities of computers and their power seemed infinitely abundant and highly unlikely....

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. 

When the NFL and CFL Played

When it comes to football, the sport truly does not recognize borders, especially that one north of the
United States.  The teams of the Canadian Football League (CFL) are, in many instances, almost as old as those of the United States.  In fact, the CFL and the NFL have peacefully coexisted for nearly 100 years, and though it may now be a much smaller league with minor league status, it is a league steeped in tradition. In fact, I would say that the CFL is much more respectful of its past and former players than those in the NFL.

For the last week, the major story has been the XFL and CFL and the possibility the leagues may align, partner or even merge. One of the questions asked by many is how do you play a game with different competing rules.  Well, there has been experimentation and in the year prior to launching of the American Football League, and in the year in which Chicago said goodbye to its oldest NFL team, the CFL and NFL began a series of exhibition games (the AFL would later play a game in 1961) in which its two elder teams took the field at old CNE (Exhibition) Stadium in Toronto, the site of the 1959 Grey Cup, for North American bragging rights.

Monday, March 15, 2021

A Fascinating Look Inside the CFL’s Oddest Era

There are a lot of CFL history books out there (of which I think I have most), and this one, along with Ron Snyder's book on the Baltimore Stallions, is one of the few that talks solely about the league's ill-fated expansion into the United States.  As the league moves forward with talks with the XFL, I am hopeful that the CFL Commissioner and the owners of the franchises, along with the XFL leadership all read the history books and learn the lessons of the past. If they don't they will only have themselves to blame.  

The blueprints for how NOT to run a league are on the shelves of their local libraries.  The saga of CFL USA is one that was filled with a lot of misplaced hope and only one success story. Had the Browns not left Cleveland, perhaps the Stallions success would have led to success in Texas with San Antonio, and in other markets like Portland, El Paso, Salt Lake, St. Louis, to name just a few. I recommended every fan of the XFL and CFL to read this and the numerous other books out there on the history of professional football, for they all tell the story of how to avoid the pitfalls of failure. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Letter of Recommendation: The Canadian Football League

By Mitch Moxley- The New York Times (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.