The Grey Cup (Wikicommons)
And so it's down to this.
Sunday, after an 18-game regular season and two playoff games, the Beast-in-the-East Toronto Argonauts will face the Best-in-the-West Calgary Stampeders for the 100th Grey Cup match.
The Grey Cup is emblematic of superiority in Canadian football, and it's been around since Lord Albert Grey -- then governor-general of Canada and descendant of the inventor of Earl Grey tea -- donated the silver chalice in 1909.
It's the second oldest trophy in North American professional sport -- after the Stanley Cup, bien sur -- and it's been broken, come under fire in Afghanistan, been caught in a strip club, been kidnapped and held for ransom, and ... well, it's a colourful history.
Although in its current incarnation the Canadian Football League has only been around since 1958, many of the teams predate that. And it's the fastest, most wide-open, football you can watch.
With 12 players a side on a field 15 yards wider and 10 yards longer than NFL fields, and endzones 10 yards deeper, it requires a different kind of athleticism. Catch a game sometime, if you get a chance, and you'll see what I mean.
Meanwhile, here are some fun facts about la coupe Grey and the CFL:
- Used to be a late fall excuse for a nationwide party. And by party, I mean piss-up. There's a famous photo of a drunk westerner (probably a Calgary Stampeder fan) riding his horse into the lobby of a venerable and staid eastern hotel, for example. My friends stuck to more mundane pursuits, like one year playing touch football on the roof of an Etobicoke highrise. Yes, beer was involved. I was working that day, alas.
- The "Fog Bowl", played Dec. 1-2, 1962, in Toronto. It started on Saturday, and all you could see at times was the ball arching out of the mist and then back down, only to disappear. The game was suspended in the fourth quarter, and completed the next day.
- There are currently only eight teams in the CFL, but a movement is afoot to resurrect the Ottawa franchise. Again. It is an anamoly of the Canadian game that, when there were nine teams, there was a Saskatchewan Roughriders and an Ottawa Rough Riders. A certain lack of creativity, perhaps, but endearing. (The last Ottawa team was named, for reasons unknown, the Renegades.)
- The league perceived an opportunity for expansion into the U.S. in the 1990s. It was a stupid, costly move that mercifully didn't last long, and led to the only time the cup left the country, when the Baltimore Stallions won it in 1995. The Stallions later morphed into the new Montreal Alouettes.
- Anthony Calvillo. The Alouettes QB is, at 78,494 yards and counting, the most prolific passer ever in professional football. And, no, Brett Favre isn't next -- he's No. 3, behind Damon Allen, whose CFL career ended with the Toronto Argonauts, and one step ahead of Warren Moon, who won five straight Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos before heading south to Houston.
- Moon and former player and coach Bud Grant are the only two people in both the NFL and CFL halls of fame.
- The rules. Oh, my, the rules. Those involving kicking are my favourites. Put simply: You have to field the ball. No wimpy fair catches. You get five yards -- on pain of penalty -- from your opponents to secure it, and then you're fair game.
- And no touchbacks, either. If the ball goes into the endzone, you either run it out or surrender a point (called a rouge). That applies to punts, kick-offs and missed field goals. Sometimes that rouge can mean the difference between winning and losing.
- Backfield in motion: Everyone behind the line of scrimmage can be moving forward -- or sideways or backward or slantways -- before the ball is snapped. But you can't prematurely cross the one-yard-wide "neutral zone" -- that's an offensive offside and a five-yard penalty. All the motion can drive newly arrived defensive players from south of the border nuts.
- Three downs instead of four makes the game faster and more interesting -- and Calvillo's numerous records even more astonishing
And that's enough of that. It's a fun game, not nearly as stylised as the NFL game and much, much speedier (and not just because the commercials aren't nearly as incessant).
Catch it if you can. If you can't, ESPN usually gives a game summary on the day. ESPN has a fondness for the CFL because it broadcast the games when the fledgling network was just getting started.
As for the balls, well, yes, they are bigger. Marginally, but naturally.