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.”

Marathon

Answers.com claims that you need to stop believing the myth that marathons are 26 miles long “because of the ancient Greeks”:

One common myth is that marathon is 26 miles because that is the length that the Greek messenger ran from Marathon to Athens to announce a Greek victory.

In actuality, today’s race length dates back to the 1908 London Olympics.

Runners were set to race about 26 miles, but an extra 385 yards was tacked on so that the royal family could good view of the race, according to the NY Times.

Google Maps claims that the shortest route on drivable roads between Marathonas and Athens is 42.7 km, which translates to 26.5 miles, so it doesn’t sound like too much of a myth. Wikipedia says that:

The International Olympic Committee agreed in 1907 that the distance for the 1908 London Olympic marathon would be about 25 miles or 40 kilometres. The organisers decided on a course of 26 miles from the start at Windsor Castle to the royal entrance to the White City Stadium, followed by a lap (586 yards, 2 feet; 536 m) of the track, finishing in front of the Royal Box. The course was later altered to use a different entrance to the stadium, followed by a partial lap of 385 yards to the same finish.

The modern 42.195 km standard distance for the marathon was set by theInternational Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) in May 1921 directly from the length used at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.

In other words, prior to the 1920s, there was no standard length for a marathon (just as there is no standard size and shape for a baseball field even today). They then settled on one based on the 1908 Olympics, which only tangentially had to do with the royal family.

A better myth that you need to stop believing would be that Pheidippides ever made the run in the first place, following the Athenian victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Herodotus, our main source for the Persian wars, mentions a runner named Pheidippides who ran to Sparta to ask for help, but the first mention that Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce “Victory!” right before falling down dead was Lucian of Samosta, who lived and wrote in the second century AD. In other words, like Archimedes shouting “Eureka” and running down the street naked, or like Newton getting hit on the head by an apple, it’s one of those delightful stories that add spice to a lecture, but which must then be disavowed. (Stephanie Trigg would call it “mythic capital.”)