This original article appears over at First Down Sports Podcast.
I didn’t play football as a kid. It wasn’t available to me in the town I grew up in, and even if it had been, would I had even given it a try back then? I can’t say for sure, to be honest. Despite that, football has easily become my favorite sport to watch and talk about. Nothing else is even close.
Courageously, I have not missed a single snap of a Cleveland Browns game since 2006 and can honestly say I’ve caught 99% of those snaps live. PVR and NFL GamePass had me covered for the few I missed and also aided me in watching on average, 5 to 6 non-Browns games every week in their entirety. I am an NFL fanatic, and can talk, debate, and argue with anyone about this sport until one side passes out.
Until recently, I thought the Canadian Football League was a joke. Admittedly, I was one of “those” guys. “They get a point just for kicking it far, what the hell is this?!?” I just didn’t understand the game and wasn’t interested enough to give it a chance because all the real talent was in the NFL, as far as I was concerned. Instead of trying to figure it out, I just made fun of it. Guilty as charged.
I lived in downtown Toronto for six years and every year I told myself I would follow the Argonauts. When they won the Grey Cup on their home field, I literally lived a 5-minute walk away and still couldn’t bring myself to care. Turns out, very few people in Toronto cared either, but that’s a sad story for another day. The point is, I had the ultimate and unlimited access to the direct product.
Then the First Down Sports Podcast came into my life and suddenly I found myself forced to understand the Canadian game. We started covering local football and I was asking questions left and right trying to understand what the hell was happening out there. It’s really just football, so for the most part it was easy to follow, but once in a while, something would happen that I couldn’t grasp, so I would pepper Wray (Dunn, founder of the FDS podcast, my co-host and Canadian Football official) with my many questions.
Before long, not only did I understand what was happening on the field, but more importantly, I understood why it happened. The strategy of the CFL game started to become clear, and I was hooked. Hooked enough to dive head first into the CFL as a fan who both promotes and defends it, instead of being a snob, watching and snickering at it from the outside. I am officially immersed into season two of this football journey and here are some things that I like and dislike about the Canadian Football League.
… 3-down football! I’m shocked at this revelation, but I really do. I love how fast-paced the game is as a result of the three downs and how often the possession of the football changes hands. They throw the ball a lot in this league, run the ball when it’s sometimes unexpected and don’t have nearly as much fear of handing the ball over to the opponent as they do in the NFL. They know that even against a great team, they have a good chance to get it back.
… how the attitude of some of the long-time CFL faithful fans can be as irritating and snobbish as mine once was as a fan of the NFL only. These people turn their nose up at the idea that high profile NFL players like Johnny Manziel coming up North can be good for the league by increasing the league’s exposure down south.
I’ve heard two different slants on this take. First, that the CFL doesn’t need that attention and that all those people can all just go on watching their NCAA powerhouse SEC conference and piss off. Second, that the interest in the league created by “these” players will only be for a short-term gain and none of those viewers will actually stick around. In my opinion, any exposure is good exposure and ultimately, if your sport/game is fun, competitive, and compelling enough, some of those people will stick around. I did.
… the CFL’s kicking game. Wray likes to say that in the Canadian rules, the kicking game is never about field position it is all about scoring, for both sides of the play! That statement is a bit hyperbolic in my opinion, but not by much. The Rouge is a really interesting source of points that can truly alter a game plan. Seeing games end with a “1” is fun, and only in the CFL will you see the punt returner turn around and boot the ball right back in the other direction! Every punt and kick-off is gets returned, which can result in plenty of excitement for obvious reasons. Also, with the uprights right on the goal line, the teams are in field goal range much sooner which results in more points. More points is always fun!
… the lack of quality quarterbacks currently in the league. There are two QBs in Alberta that are elite (whatever that means) and the rest of this league is mostly an uncertain mess, if you ask me. Matt Nichols, Trevor Harris and Jeremiah Masoli seem to have it all figured out one minute and look like hot garbage the next. Travis Lulay was a joy to watch in person, so I really hope that guy can stay healthy. I won’t even get into what is going on with the rest the guys. I hear over and over that CFL quarterbacks need time and that the defences are so much more complex. At the risk of reverting to my former snobbish self, I just don’t buy that. I have only been a true fan for two years so if I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but the most talented passers in the world are reside in the southern United States and for the most part, they choose not to come up here. You can’t rush a quarterback? I think you absolutely can, if he is good enough. I wish we could attract more of the ones that are.
… the size of the field. The wider (and longer) field creates so much space and space is exciting. The end zone is the size of Prince Edward Island! Only in the CFL do you see Go Routes from the 12-yard line. And to be honest, I wish I saw it even more!
… the fact that there isn’t yet a tenth team in the league. Sure, part of this is fueled by the fact that I personally want the CFL here in the Maritimes, but even a tenth team in somewhere like Quebec City would make me happy at this point.
Week 1 byes are really a terrible thing and no fan base should have to wait an extra week when the season kicks off! I hear plenty of arguments about how the divisions mean very little right now and how a tenth team could lead to the divisions being abolished altogether. I strongly disagree with this. I think divisions should be even more important than they already are! If the league adds a fifth eastern team, what I would like to see is teams play their whole division three times each (12 games), the other division teams once each (5 games), and then they play one extra game against the team in the opposing division that finished in the same position the year before. The crossover would be eliminated in this case, and division rivalries would become even stronger. This would also reduce some travel costs for the teams as well, as the CFL isn’t exactly swimming in money. This is a bit of an unrefined idea, so the home and away aspects of the schedule would have to be decided somehow. I’m sure I could come up with something, and if I could, so could they.
… that this is the CANADIAN league and well, I love my country. I have always felt guilty about the way I acted towards the CFL without knowing the product, so I’m really glad I’ve taken the time to figure it all out and how to love it.
I’ve only been a legitimate fan of the CFL for a couple of years now and these are all just my opinions based on my experiences so far, so what do I know? Feel free to tell me.