For many CFL fans we honestly were not sure if we would have seen this past weekend. In fact, there were many both north and south who wondered if the league had any life left in it at all. Pundits and prognosticators were everywhere, many of whom honestly didn't, and still do not, know what the hell they were and continue to talk about.
Now mind you, is the CFL out of trouble? Not by a long shot. Yet, this weekend, albeit for three very brief nights, we as CFL fans could finally take a break from all the gloom and doom and to say that Canadian football is back. Maybe not for the 21+ week season we are normally accustomed to, but for one that, though it may only be a 14-game regular season, harkens back to an earlier time when said number of games seemed perfect.
For many of us who can remember in both Canada and America, a 14-game regular season was the norm in the 1970s, and in the age of a pandemic, such a truncated season is more than OK, for we grew up with it. Obviously, I am in the minority on this one, and truth be told an 18-game regular season is needed by the league to help recoup all the financial losses of the past year and a half. Yet, no matter how much we want to wish the pandemic away, it is still a fact of life and with it an old school CFL season is what all of us will witness this year, one in which it will seem that every game matters.
What we saw in Winnipeg on opening night was an old school game in which the running game of the Bombers made the difference in a Grey Cup rematch that. In BC, we saw the type of game that I tell my friends about as to why they should watch the CFL, and with it a bit of history as Takeru Yamasaki became the first Japanese to score points in a major league football game in North America. Had the Lions defense not laid down in the first half against the Riders, the kid would not have been put in a bad spot in his CFL debut. Lastly, in Alberta, we got to see two slugfests, which ended in both the visiting teams scoring upsets. These opening day victories hopefully bode well for the much-maligned Eastern Division.
We also saw very decent attendance and television figures for week one. Which for most of us who watch are often the ultimate numbers that matter in football, for they help us gauge in which direction our league is headed. Unfortunately for most of us, those numbers are a constant source of disappointment as the league has repeatedly, season after season, failed to attract new viewers and a younger generation of fans. Yet, as we saw this past weekend, the Canadian game played on the field reminded us fans of what makes the CFL truly great, and that is quite simply- THE GAME!
The CFL does not need to change the way the game is played, and if anyone says so, or claims that it is a bush league, then in all likelihood they either have not seen a CFL game, have no clue what a Canadian game consists of, or are just pure ignorant. The Canadian game is perfect and does not need to be tweaked so that it might, hypothetically, attract new fans. What the league desperately needs though is a marketing push to get the word out on all the great players with star like ability that play in The Great White North.
In a word, the CFL needs to start focusing on the show business aspect of sports entertainment, and honestly there is no reason it can't. Sadly though, as history has shown us, the CFL likely won't. Ever since the Rocket and Flutie left Canada, the league has repeatedly failed to capitalize on the star power potential of players like Bo Levi and Andrew Harris, to name just a few from the current generation. If the league is to really survive this next decade it must take the initiative and leverage the power of its fans (who work for free) on social media with the story telling ability of TSN and start pushing the stories and narratives that can help it be relevant again.
Which is why I ask, no, make that beg, the league and TSN to take the initiative to create its own version of NFL Films, and promote and market the league like it deserves and us fans deserve! And if the league does that, I have no doubt that it will attract new generations of devoted fans, just like the Sabols did with me every I heard the voice of God himself, John Facenda....