Tuesday, 2 June 2015



A Love Letter to Canadian Football


It must’ve been 1973 or ‘74 because I can remember my friend Tim and me positively skipping with joy down the alley behind my grandparents’ apartment building - which means my mother hadn’t yet remarried and hauled my ass downtown to live with her new husband and three of his daughters. Tim and I, using our own money and the procurement aid of his mom, had scored tickets for that season’s (whichever one it was) Canadian Football League all star game to be played in a tiered concrete wreck on the shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River known as the Autostade. An unsupervised sporting adventure to watch the greatest football players ever awaited us - until the game was cancelled. Perhaps the organizers had sold just our two tickets. This was one of the earliest soul-crushing moments in my life as a sports fan, or maybe just in my life, period; a few had already passed and many, many more were to come.


As the Montreal Canadiens don’t win the Stanley Cup every year and the Montreal Expos no longer exist, there is a gap in my sporting calendar until the CFL begins official league play around Canada Day, July 1. Our game resembles our country in that it’s almost as old; its urban teams are separated mostly by big empty spaces; the loop knows nadirs and glory days; from time to time the entire operation has somehow hung together by the merest thread.


Football was my best sport growing up. I hung up the pads upon my high school graduation. In the early days my brother was my coach. A first cousin of ours was killed playing high school football; my parents allowed me to play on. Tim suited up back then though our lifelong friendship was still in its early, formal stages: ‘Hey, Moore.’ I remember sustaining one minor concussion as a teen: ‘Geoff! Where are you!’ Uh, look at all these staring, intent faces and the fluffy clouds in the sky? Sometimes now I experience a scraping behind my right knee cap, the result of a direct helmet to bone hit unabsorbed by a flimsy foam pad; I remember the pain. Years after quitting I survived a headlong bicycle crash relatively intact; the examining doctors found ancient scar tissue in a few vertebrae in my neck. I attribute the damage to seven or eight seasons of getting thrashed by bigger, stronger and better players.


I love the game and from a fan’s perspective, it helps having played the sport because I can appreciate most its nuances and increasingly refined skills even though these have evolved steadily since the days of the I-Formation. My sister on the other hand, who is not a fan, has reduced football to the level of a reading primer: ‘I run. I fall down. I get up.’ I say something close about soccer: ‘I run. I fall down. I writhe;’ I never played the game.


Tim and I have paid our dues to the CFL. Individually or together we have owned or shared season tickets. We’ve paid to see games played in various cities. We’ve traversed the country to attend Grey Cup championships. We’ve bought the caps and the jerseys. We’ve bumped the television viewer numbers. Through the seasons we’ve done everything a fan is tacitly asked to do. The fusty dollars in our wallets aside, we are no longer an attractive demographic for a league trying to grow its game in this new age of social media and goldfish attention spans. Tim and I now qualify for the seniors’ discounts at IHOP. In our time the ill-fated 1995 expansion Memphis Mad Dogs were a travesty. That squad doesn’t even register on the scale compared to last season’s marketing blitz of apocalyptic video game third uniforms. Horrid fashion is the province of the young.

This attraction to youth leads us to some audacious jury-rigging for the 2015 season. The CFL is attempting to spice up the most boring play in football, the point after. For a single point kick the ball will now be snapped from the 32-yard line instead of the 12. If a team opts for a 2-point conversion, the line of scrimmage will shift from the five to the three. This is an intriguing tweak by a league that has traditionally offered its fans high-scoring, barn-burning games. Too much ain’t enough. We’ll be watching.

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