Monday, 26 November 2018


Grey Cup Day

Throughout my 50 years of cyclical waxing and waning engagement with the Canadian Football League, I have absorbed just one truth. The quasi-national loop more often than not flies by the straps of its jock and its loyal fans love hanging on whatever the turbulence.

Sometimes the CFL has eight teams, but usually nine. Sometimes there are no franchises in Montreal or Ottawa. Sometimes two of its teams have the same nickname. Most times its major market teams struggle to attract fans. Often its very existence is threatened by American hegemony in the guises of the Continental Football League, the World Football League, the United States Football League and always the National Football League, the King I-kong-ic corporate monolith of them all, but sometimes the CFL has franchises based in the United States too.

The CFL was established in 1958. Given the meandering history of the league, it’s only fitting therefore that Sunday’s championship game between Calgary and Ottawa was the 106th edition of the Grey Cup, the country’s ultimate rugby, rugger and football trophy. The final was staged a short train ride away from the Crooked 9 but damned if Ann and I were prepared to shiver outside for four hours in Edmonton in late November. The parts of our bodies designed to be flexible sometimes dispute their basic job functions.

I’ve got my memories of six or seven Grey Cup games played in various Canadian cities, the ticket stubs as triggers. I’ve attended regular season games in stadiums old and new in four provinces. I’ve paid to see the departed: Stallions, Rough Riders, Renegades, Concordes, Gold Miners, Pirates, Barracudas and Mad Dogs, a Posse too. Jerseys hang in my closet, t-shirts are folded in a bureau drawer, caps and toques on shelves, logo mugs in the kitchen cupboard. There are a few dusty hardcover CFL-themed books in the library.

Two stories epitomize the CFL for me. Late last century an advertising colleague offered me a ride home to my downtown apartment after work. We stopped a block from my door at my favourite watering hole. I had a beer. Kevin had a Coke because he was minutes away from taking Highway 2 south to Calgary to spend the weekend with his wife who was then employed by the football club. Kevin said, “Oh, hey, I’ve got to show you something.” We left the pub. He unlocked the trunk of his car. There it was: the most Canadian of all sports trophies, the Grey Cup lying on a blanket in the rear of a Japanese import. No white gloves and tuxedos for this piece of metal. I said, “Jesus, does anybody know you have it?” He said, “I don’t think so.”

Glenn attended his first Grey Cup game in 1977. It was a bitterly cold Sunday, and the site being Montreal, there was a public transit strike. Of course there was. I was at that tilt too; the $24 ticket stub is pinned on the bulletin board above my writing desk. Glenn and I subsequently met each other a year later at college. He was the sports editor of The Plant, our school paper. I contributed record reviews and penned a comic strip. Our friendship went on hiatus once I moved to Alberta and Glenn relocated to British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.

Thursday night Ann and I had dinner with Glenn and his wife Margaret and four of their friends. They were in town for the big game. The visitors were clad in their team’s black and orange, adorned with beads and badges. Glenn told me he’d been to 21 Grey Cups. Margaret had only been to 14, but hey, somebody had to stay home and take one for the team when their two sons were toddlers.

Grey Cup is Canada’s only annual national social event. Edmonton Tourism and Edmonton Economic Development announced Monday morning that thanks to Glenn and Margaret, their friends and other folk like them from across Canada, the Capital Region realized a financial windfall of almost $64-million hosting the football festival. That’s worth closing a few blocks of the main drag for a party. The magic of Grey Cup is that the game is only half of it. The other equally important portion is flying your team’s flag from your hotel room window and sharing morning pitchers of “sluice juice” with like-minded souls from Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton and even Halifax dressed up in costumes and seeking heroic fun. Elvis and the Blues Brothers meet Saskatchewan Man in the Lions’ Den, Tiger-Cats welcome.

Aside from catching up with Glenn for the first time since the 2000 Grey Cup in Calgary, my little black raisin heart was also warmed by a bit of news issued by the commissioner’s office of our modest little sporting league. Ten teams, balanced eastern and western divisions, and true coast-to-coast presence in the nation could soon become a reality. The Atlantic Schooners, to be based in Halifax, now have a name and an apparently stable ownership group who has excited Maritimers enough to shell out for a healthy number of seat subscriptions.

Should the dream team earn a berth in the CFL, I dearly hope the club’s colour palette will be anchored by the hues of Nova Scotia tartan. I suspect its logo would be something of a stylized A based on the sail array of a two-masted vessel. Potential designers will have to avoid the Bluenose on the Canadian dime, the tall mast ship on labels of Molson Export beer and Toronto’s long-discarded classical Greek galley sailing football.

The Schooners will need a place to play. Public risk for private profit is always a bad deal. Pro sports, ultimately a useless distraction, has somehow brainwashed civic leaders that new stadia for private tenants is all to the collective good. Amazon even employed this spinning business model for its HQ2 sweepstakes. Still, from thousands of miles away, I would love to see a Canadian professional football team on our east coast. My reasoning abilities are out the porthole when it comes to our goofy little circuit. The CFL is a survivor against all odds, a touchstone for citizens scattered across a big, empty country. And Jesus, wouldn’t a three- or four-day Grey Cup party in Halifax set kitchens reeling?            

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at

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