Many years ago, Alistair Cooke wrote and recorded for the BBC what was known as “Letter from America” that were missives and observations about life, history, politics and culture in the United States for the home audience in the United Kingdom. As I recalled those days of his educating the British masses on old fashion terrestrial international shortwave and domestic radio, I had recently spoken with Upton Bell on CFL America Radio, with my cohost Scott Adamson, for our “From the 55 Yard Line” history show, it dawned on me that we really do need more people like Scott and those we interview on our show to write about not just football, but also all the elements that surround the history and romance of the game. Which is why I have decided to dive in to the world of writing and partnering with the great professionals and enthusiasts here at Pro Football Newsroom where I hope my essays and observations will compliment the great writing of our very own Stephan Rachuk and podcasters, like Zach Keilman of Gridiron Gallery.
For those of us who are Canadian football fans, the last year has been quite a challenge and one filled with great doubt, apprehension, fear and anxiety that the league and sport we love would be absorbed into the XFL. Cause for concern was genuine for every fan of the Canadian Football League (CFL), for every day, from the times the talks were announced to the day they ended, were filled with rampant speculation and divisiveness within, what is now being called as, the world of alternative gridiron football. The arguments between those who love the CFL and those who were dismissive of it (mainly Americans) were loud and based on a combination of fear, misunderstanding, utter ignorance and dismissiveness of not just the CFL, but Canadians as well. Needless to say, the arrows thrown toward the CFL at times royally irritated me, because not only do I love Canada, but half of my football buddies are north of the Canadian border. So for me it became personal.
However, after a cooling off period, I soon realized that, like I have always known about society in general, is that the only effective way to fight American ignorance about Canada and Canadian football is by education. Thus the reason why Scott and I began out “From the 55 Yard Line” podcast on The Sports History Network, but also why I am writing here. By communicating, from an American perspective, about the CFL, hopefully those who are seeking to gain insight into why Canadian football is so special, will eventually come to love and appreciate all the Great White North has to offer us Americans on the gridiron. Canada has given us here in the south legends like Warren Moon, Joe Theisman, Bud Grant, and even The Rock, but sadly Americans, as the XFL debate showed me, don’t generally understand or appreciate the history of our cousins to the north or the three down version of a game more athletically demanding than what we play here on the plains of Illinois (which ironically enough used to be part of French Canada).
Yet, the ignorance of the CFL, with the advent of the Internet nearly 30 years ago and with it streaming services like ESPN Plus, has lessened, though the league is still seen as a bit of a novelty act in the eyes of many NFL purists (and XFLers too). Which to me has always been completely unfair, especially since many of those who have mocked it have never seen a game or could explain to me why a punter is seen as an important part of the offense on a Canadian field (the rouge is a beautiful thing). Of course there are many in Canada who mock the CFL too, but since I do not hold allegiance to the Crown or hold a passport there I won’t even touch that subject, especially as the league’s popularity has declined whilst simultaneously the NFL has risen. I will leave that discussion to my Canadian friends on the air and in print.
However, as an American I feel I can speak for us fans in the States and also deride those who put down, belittle, or make back handed comments about our cousins to the north and the game played. Unfortunately, during the whole four months of XFL speculation we saw many who didn’t even know football existed in Canada suddenly turn up on the Internet trying to explain to their fellow Americans why, at least at first glance, they believed the five game brand of XFL brand of football was a superior product to the over century old CFL. Yet as time wore on and many of these Americans did their research, some realized just how wonderfully awesome Canadian football is, and why three downs and the rouge are special and especially suited for the wider and longer field. These American podcasters are now part of the CFL family in my view, and their shows, including The Markcast and This is the XFL Show, are a must listen every week. Additionally, many American sportswriters, including our very own Stephan Rachuk, as well as others such as Josh Davis and Mike Mitchell, have all emerged as leading journalists on the CFL news scene.
As a result of this renewed interest and despite the failure of an XFL alliance, I honestly do believe the CFL is on the brink of a renaissance, but of course that can only happen if the powers that be, specifically the Board of Governors, get their collective acts together and come up with a modern 21st Century plan to save the league from itself. The list of problems is of course endless, and to be honest they are just too numerous to really mention in what is intended to be an upbeat and positive article (Though I will mention the fact the CFL needs some type of Madden equivalent game that kids can buy relatively cheap to market the game to the young fans needed to grow the game). So, instead of focusing on the league’s problems, let’s take a look at its strengths so that we may come to appreciate all this wonderful little league to the north offers and has given to us here in the south.
To start off, the CFL has the absolute best and most passionate of fans. From the plains of Regina to the shores of Lake Ontario CFL fans are not afraid to show and wave their flags of allegiance to not just their teams, but to the league itself. From bloggers to podcasters, the CFL fans of the 21st Century have so many ways in which to share their fandom. As the podcasters of the Canadian Football Podcast Network show, as well as the other independent shows like the Third Down Gamble Podcast, 3rd Down Nation Podcast, and the Let’s Talk CFL Podcast, CFL fans, such as Lanny and Scotty of Tokyo’s Unofficial CFL Podcast, and Andrew, Mike and Kayla of The Turf District Podcast, are loyal, passionate and will often promote the league in ways in which the Commissioner’s office will not. If not for these loyal fans, there would not be a CFL to talk about, and as Twitter, blogs and podcasts now allow all of us now to be citizen sportswriters, the new media age has placed the power of marketing in the hands of the fans, the influence which is greater in our league than in any other.
Said power of the CFL fans was well recognized back in 2014 by none other than Peter King of Sports Illustrated, when he and his writing team spent a week in summer traveling through and attending games in Canada. The series of articles he and others (Marc Trestman, Doug Flutie, Bruce Arthur, Emily Kaplan, and Jenny Vrentas) wrote was published under the title of “Canadian Appreciation” and, for those who read them, they all brought to life in words the romance of the CFL. Had you not been a fan before reading all of these articles, then by the end I would venture a guess that you became one and still remain. The SI team understood full well what makes the Canadian game and Canada special, and I hope you (wherever you are in the world) either do or soon come to know not just the game, but the magic, history and romance of a league that makes this soon to be 54 year old fan, still feel like a kid again.