CFL: why don’t we stand on guard for thee?

I woke up on Saturday, opened my curtains, and noticed a brisk November wind carrying snowflakes through the early morning (maybe afternoon) air. I thought to myself, “it’s about time, this is Canada. Snow in November is normal, expected.” But this November has not been normal; it has not been Canadian. Earlier this month, hundreds of students packed Gert’s to take in the results of the American election. This past weekend, many of my Canadian friends have decided to post on Facebook what they are thankful for, seemingly forgetting that we celebrated Thanksgiving a month ago. Whither my culture, my country?

However, this month’s saddest event occurred on Sunday. For those unaware, or those who don’t watch TSN on the regular, Sunday marked the 100th iteration of the Grey Cup. This trophy, the oldest in North America, is reflective of Canada itself. It represents a league overshadowed by one south of the border, it is played in the harshest of elements, and it is refreshingly unique and misunderstood. Unfortunately, the halftime show duo of Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Bieber produced more headlines than the champion Toronto Argonauts.

But there is more to the Grey Cup—and to Canada—than an inferiority complex. Sure, the majority of the players in the league are only here because they couldn’t make it in the NFL. Yes, the most famous Grey Cups, the 1950 ‘Mud Bowl,’ the 1962 ‘Fog Bowl,’ and the 1977 ‘Ice Bowl,’ were defined by the weather. But this is a game that is refreshingly humble amidst the uncontrollable commercialization of pro sports. Above all, the league engages communities regardless of their size, and is uniquely ours as a nation.

The average CFL salary is about $85,000; though, it is not uncommon for rookies to earn less than half of that sum. Undoubtedly, this is a generous salary for playing a game, but it dwarfs in comparison to the median NFL salary of $770,000. CFL players play at the second highest level of professional football globally, but they are—as far as professional football players can go—regular guys. Every superstar in the league has some fatal flaw that kept them from ‘making it.’ Despite that fact, for many, the love of the game and a newly adopted country drives them to play football in this strange land. Some, like Toronto Argonauts legend Mike “Pinball” Clemons, now even call Canada their adopted home.

The endearingly local nature of the league also adds to its appeal. Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal might be the ‘sexy’ places to play, but the teams with the greatest followings reside in smaller cities. The Saskatchewan Roughriders represent the Regina metro area of 210,556—marginally bigger than Green Bay, Wisconsin, the NFL’s tiniest outpost. Their fans travel to see the team play its rivals across the prairies, and bring the party to whichever stadium they invade. Moreover, the club is community owned, meaning that fans on its board of directors make the most important decisions. From Calgary to Hamilton, the CFL’s die-hard supporters prove that the game is alive and well, particularly in the smaller locales which they call home.

Finally, this game is ours. It is even more Canadian than hockey. No other country in the world plays football with three downs and awards single points for missing a field goal—how Canadian is that? The NFL is great, its skill is unparalleled, but occasionally we should stop looking south. We should stop being envious at what our neighbours are doing and take pride in what we have created, what generations of Canadians have loved and called their own.

Next year, when the Grey Cup is played on the frozen tundra of Mosaic Stadium in Regina, take part in this Canadian tradition and embrace the game, that is as beautiful as Canada itself. We started doing it 100 years ago; it’s time to re-join the party.

—Adam Sadinsky

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