This Week in Canada

Sue Spang

I spent last weekend not in Canada, but at home in Rochester, NY. Over an early dinner Sunday afternoon, my father, off-handed, asked if I would be watching the Grey Cup, “a Canadian tradition.” I had absolutely no idea about what this might entail. My mind turned to competitions in areas I thought to be particular to Canada. Curling? Mounted police? Some secret, more-elite-than-the-NHL hockey league?
“Obviously,” my dad replied, “the Grey Cup is the championship for Canadian Football.”
“Is that soccer?” I asked, feeling it to be a fair question.
“You haven’t been following the Toronto Argonauts?” he responded.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
“The Argonauts — a team in the Canadian Football League.”
As it turns out, Canada is home to its very own version of – an entire league of, in fact – American football.ish. And so, I took those precious few last minutes at home to let my father, the most Canadian American I have ever known, explain what he knew of Canadian Football to me.
The Canadian Football League, Ligue canadienne de football, is pretty much the same as the NFL, but with a number of distinct differences. More specifically, what the Canadians seem to have done is to take American football and make it just a little bit harder. The first notable variation is that the CFL plays on a 110-yard field. Though running 30 extra feet to score might not seem like that substantial a feat, allow me to mention that in Canadian football, each team only gets three downs instead of four, demanding either much smarter play or a lot of turnover.
If on a kick-off or punt the ball makes it to the opposite end-zone — “Which,” my dad was sure to remind me of, “is really hard on a 110-yard field” — and the opposing team chooses not to return the ball, the ball will be placed on the 20-yard line, as in American football. The trick comes in that the team that kicked the ball gets a point. I later asked a Canadian friend about this practice, and she replied, “I don’t know anything about football, but that sounds like good, old-fashioned Canadian fairness to me. I’ll believe it.”
I asked my father how many teams were in “this mighty Canadian Football League,” at which point my mother yelled, “THREE!” from the laundry room.
“A LOT,” my dad retorted sternly. “There’s Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, probably Calgary.maybe Edmonton.” He struggled to defend himself. “I mean, there must be six teams, because things aren’t worth doing unless there are six.” I felt this to be a good rule of thumb for all aspects of life.
As it turns out, there are 8 teams in the CFL, and I can’t resist listing the names: Toronto Argonauts of course, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Montréal Alouettes, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the British Columbia Lions, the Calgary Stampeders, the Edmonton Eskimos, and, my favorite, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Confusingly, the past of the CFL has seen teams from the Southern and Western United States — the finest among these were clearly the “Las Vegas Posse” and the “Shreveport Pirates.”
The CFL has a few great pieces of trivia surrounding its history. In the 1960s, the last time an exhibition game between an NFL team and a CFL team occurred, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat the Buffalo Bills. Additionally, at one point, actor John Candy and hockey star Wayne Gretzky were part owners of the Toronto Argonauts.
Join thousands of Canadians in watching the Grey Cup Championship game of “Canada’s Second-Most Popular Sport” this Saturday, where the ferocious Alouettes are predicted to destroy the Stampeders, three downs at a time.