On November 29, the Edmonton Eskimos defeated the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 in the one hundred and third playing of the CFL’s championship Grey Cup.
The CFL played its version of the Super Bowl alongside a number of exciting storylines. The Eskimos were looking to capture their fourteenth Grey Cup, 10 years removed from their last. After suffering through a 2-16 record last year, Redblacks’ quarterback Henry Burris helped catapult the team to the top of the Eastern Conference and was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player.
The effectiveness of new rules regarding coach challenges and pass interference introduced at the beginning of the season were also a major topic of conversation, however the most pressing issue up for discussion was a perennial one: will the CFL survive? For as long as the CFL has been around, there have been questions surrounding the league’s financial status.
In an age where the NFL has asserted itself as a cultural phenomenon and money printing machine, the CFL faces down television ratings — the league’s Canadian broadcaster TSN reported a 15 per cent drop in ratings from last season. These factors do not seem to equate to a sustainable franchise. The CFL cannot compete with the NFL in terms of money or branding, but maybe it’s wrong to think of the two as competitors.
The CFL season runs from June to November, the NFL season from September to February. The CFL allows a team with the ball only three tries to make a first down, while the NFL allows a team four. A CFL field is a full 20 yards larger than an NFL field. Where the smaller NFL field and more downs favours running the ball and making high-percentage plays for short yards, the CFL rules force teams to take more risks and look for big plays more often.
Watching an NFL game is like watching a chess match, watching a CFL game is like watching fencing. They require many of the same skills, but the strategies and execution unique to each are what make them entertaining and distinct from one another. The best football players in the world play in the NFL, no question there, but that doesn’t mean that the CFL players are bad.
Kerry Joseph played three years in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks before playing 12 years in the CFL, winning a Grey Cup in 2007 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Most famously, Warren Moon, one of the most successful quarterbacks to ever play football, won five Grey Cups, a Rose Bowl in college, and nine NFL all-star selections, becoming an ambassador for both leagues and a gold standard for football’s most important position. The CFL, however, is more than its players or rules — it’s a tradition.
For over 100 years Canadians have come together to celebrate what makes us who we are at the Grey Cup. The CFL has never been about marketing, or paying the highest salaries, and neither has Canada. We have endured not because we were the most important, but because of an inherent sense of self-importance, proven by that endurance.
Will the CFL grow to eclipse the NFL? No, and we like it that way. Football is about football. And the CFL is about Canada.