Canadian Football

For historical reasons Canada has a different code for gridiron football than does America. There is a Wikipedia article comparing the two (in brief: Canadian football has a longer and wider field, goalposts on the goal line, three downs, twelve men a side, and unlimited motion in the backfield on offense). I don’t know what code is “better”, but I’m glad that Canadian football is its own game and not simply “football played in Canada.” This way, Canada is guaranteed its own league! This situation contrasts with the other three major North American professional sports – baseball, basketball, and ice hockey – which have universal codes and for which the border doesn’t exist, at least as far as the major leagues are concerned. But because Canada is poorer than the US, and is often shafted by the exchange rate, very few Canadian cities can afford to sponsor teams in the NBA or MLB (currently there is only one city, Toronto, since the Grizzlies moved to Memphis, and the Expos moved to Washington DC). Hockey is a little more equitable: 7 of the 30 NHL teams are hosted by Canadian cities, although they don’t tend to make the playoffs much, and the last time one of them won the Stanley Cup was in 1993.

(Now, there is nothing preventing Canadians setting up their own professional leagues, and I think that it would be great for Canada to stop beating its head against the wall, to withdraw from the North American major leagues and to set up the Canadian Basketball Association, the Canadian Baseball Association, and the Canadian Hockey League, as parallel organizations to the Canadian Football League. Sure, the overall quality would likely be lower than the American leagues, but the leagues would be Canadian, and hopefully even cities in the Maritimes could then have their own teams.)

All this is by means of introducing Engraved on a Nation, a TSN documentary series on the Grey Cup, the CFL’s championship trophy, originally filmed for the 100th Grey Cup game, which was played in 2012. Eight episodes explore various aspects of the Cup and its place in Canadian history – I only wish that they had done one on the life and times of the 4th Earl Grey himself, Governor-General of Canada (1904-11) and its namesake.* My favorite so far: “Playing a Dangerous Game,” about the 1969 Grey Cup game, played in Montreal as “outreach” to Quebec, but a potential target for FLQ terrorists.† What a time that was…

* The Stanley Cup is also named after a Canadian GG, in this case Lord Stanley of Preston, who held office 1888-93. Of course, any potential Canadian Hockey League would get to award the Stanley Cup, in accord with the Cup’s original mandate. And say what you will about how the CFL is outshone by the NFL, at least its championship trophy is older and classier.

† You will note that the game is being played between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Ottawa Rough Riders. Yes, only a space separates the names of these two teams. They were originally in separate leagues, and when the CFL was formed in 1958, it was left with this curious situation. Alas, the Ottawa Rough Riders folded in 1996, and Saskatchewan has forbidden subsequent CFL teams in that city to take the name Rough Riders. For shame! This was one of the delightful features of the CFL, and no worse than the SEC teams LSU, Mizzou and Auburn all bearing the nickname “Tigers.”