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Thursday, 1 August 2013

The CFL (Canadian Football League)

The Early Days
The CFL (the Canadian Football League) is the 2nd most popular professional sports league in Canada. Professional hockey (the NHL) of course has always been #1. Only in the US and Canada is “football” recognized as the sport with forward passes and a quarterback. Throughout the rest of the world “football” is called soccer. The origins of the North American game come from rugby. In fact, the CFL didn’t get its name until 1958. Previously to 1958 the league operated under the auspices of rugby unions.
The first organized football game is said to have been played between Harvard University and Montreal’s McGill University in 1874. Half of the game was played by Harvard’s rules and half of the game was played by McGill’s rules. The Canadian version of the game included using an oblong ball verses a round one.
Although American football and Canadian football are very similar there are some differences. I will list some of more obvious differences a little later. The history of football in the US and Canada is quite different as to the direction the game went. In the US football became a huge college sport that grew and grew. No matter if the state you lived in was big or small if you had a successful college team you had bragging rights and whether you lived in a large city, a small town, or out on a farm, most often people cheered for their state. There were a number of rivalries. When the 1920s came along, wealthy sports entrepreneurs realized that there were other sports that could fill stadiums the way Babe Ruth and others did in baseball by creating professional leagues. Red Grange was to football in the 20s as Babe Ruth was to baseball.
Canada really didn’t have the population back in the 20s and 30s to support huge stadiums other than the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens in hockey. Football was basically an amateur game in Canada until after WW2. Of course a few bucks were paid under the table to star players.
Two players back in the 1930s who played on Canadian football teams back then that would later have national notoriety in Canada were Red Storey and Annis Stukus. Red Storey played for the Toronto Argonauts from 1936-1941. In 1938 he scored 3 touchdowns in 12 minutes and helped secure the Grey Cup in that game. The Grey Cup in Canada is the equivalent to the Super Bowl title in the US. Red Storey excelled at a number of sports including hockey and lacrosse. Eventually he became an NHL hockey ref. He resigned as a hockey ref in 1959 after a dispute with the president of the NHL, Clarence Campbell. For a number of years Red Storey lived a few blocks away from me in the district of NDG in Montreal. His kids, Bob and Doug went to the same schools I did. Bob later had a brief career in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
Red Story
One thing Red Storey and Annis Stukus had in common aside from being great athletes was the gift of the gab. Both never met a microphone they didn’t like. Annis Stukus played on the same team, the Toronto Argonauts, as Red Storey did in the 1930s, from 1935-1941. He was on 2 Grey Cup winning teams. Many Canadians got to know Annis Stukus as the colour man alongside announcer Johnny Esaw on television broadcasts of CFL games in the 1960s. He was instrumental in forming the Edmonton Eskimos football team in the 1949 and was the first coach and general manager of the BC Lions in 1954. He later went on to be the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets of the upstart WHA hockey league. He signed Bobby Hull to an unprecedented 10 year 1 million dollar contract. Annis Stukus lived to the ripe old age of 91.
Annis Stukus (in the middle)
CFL Team Names
The Toronto Argonauts are thought to have gotten their name due to the popularity of amateur rowing on Lake Ontario in the 1930s. The Montreal Alouettes are named after a bird. An allouette is the French word for a lark. In English newspapers in Montreal in the 50’s and 60’s sportswriters would often refer to the Alouettes as “the larks”. For many years there were wings on either side of the team’s helmets, kind of like the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. For many years there were 2 teams in the CFL with the same name. One team split the name into 2 words while the other went with one word. They were the now defunct Ottawa Rough Riders and the still active Saskatchewan Roughriders. My guess is that the name came from the cavalry that charged up San Juan Hill in Cuba with later to be US president Teddy Roosevelt. What the name has to do with Canada is beyond me. I believe the BC Lions are named after the Lions which are two mountain peaks on the North Shore of Vancouver. The Edmonton Eskimos are the most northern team in the CFL and the closest team to where Eskimos live. The Calgary Stampeders are named after the world famous annual rodeo that is held in Calgary. The Hamilton Tiger Cats name came about by two teams, the Tigers and Wildcats merging into one team. The Winnipeg Blue Bomber football team was first formed formed in 1930. It is a little unclear but the blue bomber part of their name seems to also have something to do with fighter planes in WW2.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Montreal Alouettes
Toronto Argonauts
Defunct Ottawa Rough Riders
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Saskatchewan Roughriders
Edmonton Eskimos
Calgary Stampeders
BC Lions
 The Differences Between Canadian Football and American Football.
#1 The most obvious difference is that Canadian football has 3 downs and American football has 4 downs. Just this factor alone makes the games quite different particularly regarding the quarterback. It creates more passing as there isn’t the luxury of running the ball with the extra down as they have in the US. It also demands that the quarterback be more mobile and have some scrambling ability. In the NFL a quarterback can succeed by staying in the pocket behind the defensive lineman. In the CFL the quarterback has a bigger field and more room to scramble away from tacklers. Potential CFL quarterbacks from the US have always been judged by their throwing arms and scrambling ability.
#2 The Canadian football is not as fat as the American football. It is only slightly different.
#3 The field in Canadian football is 110 yards verses 100 yards in the US. Don’t be confused if you ever watch a CFL game and the announcer says a team is on the 55 yard line. The end zones and the width of the field are also larger in the CFL than in the US. This benefits the passing game as there is more field for the defensive players to cover.
#4. Import Rules. This has changed a few times over the years. The basics are that a certain amount of the players have to be Canadian. Players are sometimes referred to as imports at non-imports. Currently, each team can have a maximum of 42 players. 3 have to be designated as quarterbacks. 20 non-imports are mandatory as are 19 imports. A player can not apply for Canadian citizenship so he can become a non-import. Although Canadians often play key positions like running back and wide receiver it is rarity for a Canadian to play quarterback. Most of the specialty teams are comprised of Canadians. There are a number of Canadian players who have had long careers as linemen.
#5 The Canadian game has 12 players and the American game has 11 players on the field. Both games have the same amount of offensive players at the line of scrimmage with the 12th man in Canadian football being in the backfield as a running back.
#6 The CFL plays their games from late June through November. The Grey Cup which decides the league championship is played in late November. There are two league divisions in Canada, The East and the West. The teams that are 2nd and 3rd in each division in points play each other to decide who will play the division champion. The winner of that game goes on to participate in the Grey Cup.
There are a number of other differences like the timing of the game, fair catches, blocking receivers, etc.
The Canadian game seems to be more wild and woolly than the American game. Typically there is more scoring and less routs. The game winner is often in doubt late in the 4th quarter. If you have followed American football at all you know that a lot of games are pretty well over by the end of the first half. Former NFL colour man Don Meredith was well known for singing “The party’s over….” on ABC’s Monday Night Football.
The Grey Cup

The Grey Cup is named after a former governor general of Canada, Lord Earl Grey, the same guy who had a tea named after him. The Cup was first awarded in 1909 and is given to the winner of the game which is an East verses West affair.
All of the current teams in the CFL and the defunct Ottawa Rough Riders have participated in the Grey Cup Championship. The Toronto Argonauts have won more Grey Cups (12) than any other team but a number of those wins were before 1950.
Some used to call Grey Cup week and the festivities “The Grand National Drunk”. Casual and serious fans would turn up from all over Canada at the host city for some heavy duty partying. A few would end up in such sad shape that they would miss seeing the game. Most often if your team wasn’t in the game you would cheer for either the West or East.
Over the years there have been a number of power houses in the league. The Edmonton Eskimos won 3 straight Grey Cups in the early 1950s and 5 straight from 1978-1982.
In 1954 Montreal Alouettes running back Chuck Hunsinger fumbled the ball while attempting a forward pass with Montreal up by 5 points and only a few minutes left in the game. At the time Montreal was on about the Edmonton Eskimos 20 yard line. Edmonton quarterback Jackie Parker who was playing on defense at the time (a number of players played both offense and defense back then) scooped up the ball and ran 90 yards for the winning touchdown.
1962 was famous for the “fog bowl. The Grey Cup that year was fought between the Hamilton Tiger Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The game was played at the CNE Stadium in Toronto. It got so foggy that players had a hard time making out one another. The game was halted in the second half and the balance of the game was played the next day.
In the 1964 Grey Cup game defensive tackle Angelo Mosca of the Hamilton Tiger Cats put BC Lions running back Willie Fleming out of the game with a questionable tackle. Although BC won its first Grey Cup there was some long time animosity on the part of BC quarterback Joe Kapp. Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca ran into each other at an event in 2011 at the Grey Cup which was being held in Vancouver. Both men were in their 70s. Mosca was using a cane for support. A brief fight broke out with Mosca falling back through the curtains after getting slugged by Kapp. Old passions never die I guess. The outcome of this fight might have been very different back in the day as Mosca was one nasty S.O.B.
Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca
In 1977 over 68,000 fans packed Montreal’s Olympic Stadium for that year’s Grey Cup between the game Montreal and Edmonton. Although the stadium had a retractable roof it didn’t work. The playing field was slick with ice after a recent snowfall. Montreal put staples in their cleats for traction but Edmonton didn’t have that luxury. Montreal won the game 41-6.
The most points scored in the modern era in a Grey Cup is 50 by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1990 against Edmonton.
Grey Cup games are often close well into the 4th quarter. Two high scoring games that were close were the 1989 game between Saskatchewan and Hamilton that ended up with Saskatchewan winning 43-40 and the 1996 game between Edmonton and Toronto with Toronto winning 43-37.
Some of the CFL’s Hall Of Famers

Quarterbacks: Jack Jacobs-Winnipeg, Sam Etcheverry-Montreal, Tobin Rote-Toronto, Peter Liske-Calgary, Jackie Parker-Edmonton, Kenny Ploen-Winnipeg, Russ Jackson (Canadian)-Ottawa, Joe Kapp-BC, Warren Moon-Edmonton, Bernie Faloney-Hamilton, Ron Lancaster-Saskatchewan, Doug Flutie-Calgary, Joe Theismann-Toronto, Sonny Wade-Montreal,  Jerry Keeling-Calgary, Tom Wilkinson-Edmonton, Damon Allen-Edmonton, Dieter Brock-Winnipeg, Tony Clements-Hamilton, Tracey Ham-Edmonton, Danny McMannus-Hamilton, Matt Dunigan-Edmonton.

Warren Moon-Edmonton Eskimos
Running Backs: Dick Shatto-Toronto, George Dixon-Montreal, Johnny Bright-Edmonton, George Reed-Saskatchewan, Willie Burden-Calgary, Mike (Pinball) Clemons-Toronto, Normie Kwong-Edmonton, Rocky DePietro-Hamilton, Earl Lunsford-Calgary, Rollie Miles-Edmonton, Allen Pitts-Calgary, Mike Pringle-Montreal, Dave Raimey-Winnipeg, Willie Fleming-BC, Tommy Grant-Hamilton, Gerry James-Winnipeg, Joe Krol-Toronto, Leo Lewis-Winnipeg, Ron Stewart-Ottawa, Bill Symons-Toronto, Dave Thelen-Ottawa, Virgil Wagner-Montreal, Tom Scott-Edmonton, By Bailey-BC,  Royal Copeland-Toronto.  Cookie Gilchrist- Saskatchewan-Hamilton-Toronto is the only player to turn down induction into the CFL Hall of Fame.

George Reed-Saskatchewan Roughriders
 Receivers And Tight Ends: Terry Evanshen-Montreal, Brian Kelly-Edmonton, Tommy Joe Coffey-Edmonton, Peter Dalla Riva-Montreal, Whit Tucker-Ottawa, Milt Steagel-Winnipeg, Jim Young-BC, Don Narcisse-Saskatchewan, Hal Patterson-Montreal, Red O’Quinn-Montreal, Joe Poplawski-Winnipeg, Ray Elguaard-Saskatchewan, Darren Flutie-Hamilton, Brian Fryer-Edmonton, Brian Kelly-Edmonton, Herman Harrison-Calgary, Tony Gabriel-Ottawa.

Hal Patterson-Montreal Alouettes
Offensive Linemen: Roger Aldag-Saskatchewan, John Bonk-Winnipeg, John Barrow-Hamilton, Rod Konop-Edmonton, Tony Pajaczowski-Calgary, Jim Mills-BC, Miles Gorrell-Hamilton, Frank Rigney-Winnipeg, Herb Trawick-Montreal, Chris Walby-Winnipeg, Kaye Vaughan-Ottawa, Al Wilson-BC, Dan Yoakum-Montreal, Ted Urness-Saskatchewan, Martin Ruby-Saskatchewan, Bill Frank-Winnipeg, Ellison Kelly-Hamilton, Ron Atchison-Saskatchewan, Bill Baker-Saskatchewan, Ed George-Montreal, Dan Ferrone-Toronto, Bill Frank-Winnipeg, Tom Hinton-BC, Jack Abendschan-Saskatchewan, Herb Gray-Winnipeg, Roger Nelson-Edmonton.

Frank Rigney-Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Defensive Linemen and Defensive Ends: Tom Brown-BC, Jim Corrigall-Toronto, Grover Covington-Hamilton, Dan Kepley-Edmonton, John Helton-Calgary, Angelo Mosca-Hamilton, Joe Monford-Hamilton, Ed McQuaters-Saskatchewan, Glen Weir-Montreal, Junior Ah You-Montreal, Dave Fennell-Edmonton, Bobby Jurison-Saskatchewan, Don Luzzi-Calgary.

Angelo Mosca-Hamilton Tiger Cats
Defensive Backs And Linebackers: Paul Bennett-Winnipeg, Danny Bass-Edmonton, Wayne Harris-Calgary, Marv Luster-Montreal, James Parker-BC, Eldrid Payton-Winnipeg, Ray Nettles-BC, Larry Hibaugh-Edmonton, Garney Henley-Hamilton, Ben Zamiassi-Hamilton, Don Sutherin-Hamilton, Gene Gaines-Ottawa, Norm Fieldgate-BC, Less Browne-Winnipeg, Alondra Johnson-Calgary, Tyrone Jones-Winnipeg, Willie Pless-Edmonton, Harvey Wylie-Calgary, Ralph Goldston-Hamilton.

Wayne Harris-Calgary Stampeders
Kickers: Don Sweet-Montreal, Dave Cutler-Edmonton, Bob Cameron-Winnipeg, Lui Passaglia-BC, Dave Ridgeway-Saskatchewan.
Lui Passaglia-BC Lions
Coaches: Bug Grant-Winnipeg, Frank Clair-Ottawa, Peahead Walker-Montreal, Perry Moss-Montreal, Marv Levy-Montreal, Jim Trimble-Hamilton, Wally Buono-BC, Eagle Keys-Saskatchewan, Bud Riley-Winnipeg, Hugh Campbell-Edmonton, Ron Lancaster-Edmonton, Don Mathews-Toronto, Dave Skrien-BC, Annis Stukus-BC, Ralph Sazio-Hamilton, Joe Moss-Toronto, Joe Restic-Hamilton, Joe Galat-BC, Cal Murphy-Winnipeg, Leo Cahill-Toronto.
Leo Cahill-Toronto Argonauts
Note: Players and coaches identified with teams they spent the longest times with. 

CFL Players Who Also Had Careers In The NFL Or The AFL In The US
Alex Webster, RB, Montreal Alouettes 1953-1954. New York Giants 1955-1964.
Tobin Rote, QB, Toronto Argonauts 1960-1962. Green Bay Packers 1950-1956,Detroit Lions 1957-1959, San Diego Chargers 1963-1964, Denver Broncos 1966.
Jim Young, WR/RB BC Lions 1967-1979. Minnesota Vikings 1965-1966.
Sam Etcheverry,QB, Montreal Alouettes 1952-1960. St. Louis Cardinals 1961-1962.
Jeff Garcia, QB, Calgary Stampeders 1994-1998. 1999-2011 San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tampa, Oakland, Houston.
Fred Beletnikoff, WR Montreal Alouettes 1980. Oakland Raiders 1965-1978.
Doug Flutie, QB, BC Lions 1990-1991, Calgary Stampeders 1992-1995, Toronto Argonauts 1996-1997. Buffalo Bills 1998-2000, San Diego Chargers 2001-2004, New England Patriots 2005.

Doug Flutie-Calgary Stampeders
Joe Theismann, QB, Toronto Argonauts 1971-1973. Washington Redskins 1974-1985.
Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, WR, Montreal Alouettes 1981.Houston Oilers 1974-1980, Atlanta Falcons 1982-1987.
Ricky Williams, RB, Toronto Argonauts 2006. New Orleans Saints 1999-2001, Miami Dolphins 2002-2003, 2005, 2007-2010.
Mark Gastineau, DE, BC Lions 1990. New York Jets 1979-1988.
CFL Trivia
-Carl Weathers who played Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies played for the BC Lions from 1971-1974. Fred (The Hammer) Williamson who was an American movie actor played 1 year for the Montreal Alouettes in 1968. Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson played for the Calgary Stampeders in 1995.
Carl Weathers-former BC Lion- in the Movie Rocky.
-CFL coach Jim Trimble (Hamilton and Montreal) was part of a group that invented and marketed the  “slingshot” single post goal post.

-Former CFL coaches Marv Levy (Buffalo) and Bud Grant (Minnesota) both coached teams in the US Superbowl.
-Left wing political show host Ed Shultz once had a try-out with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
-Olympic sprinter John Carlos who was one of three black American runners who gave the black power salute in Mexico City in 1968 has a brief career with the Montreal Alouettes and the Toronto Argonauts.
-The Toronto Argonauts once signed” Rocket” Ismail to an 18 million 4 year contract.
-Don Paquette who was part of the famous trade of Hal Patterson and Sam Etcheverry from Montreal to Hamilton in 1960 pleaded guilty after he retired to manslaughter after beating a man.
-Former CFL quarterback J.C. Watts (Ottawa 1981-1986) later became a Republican member of congress in the US.
-Former CFL quarterback Damon Allen holds the all-time professional record for pass completions. His brother Marcus Allen was an outstanding running back in the NFL. This was before OJ.
-Only one team outside of Canada has one the Grey Cup. In 1995 the Baltimore Stallions who were part of an expansion effort by the CFL won the cup. Baltimore, at the time was desperate for any kind of professional football with the former Baltimore Colts having fled to Indianapolis.
-The 7 CFL expansion teams in the US between 1993 and 1995 were the Sacramento Gold Miners who moved to San Antonio and became the Texans, the Las Vegas Posse, the Birmingham Barracudas, the Memphis Mad Dogs, the Shreveport Pirates, and the Baltimore Stallions.
The CFL has seen its ups and downs over the years. They have seen the Ottawa Rough Riders disappear only to be resurrected as the Ottawa Renegades and then disappear again. A new CFL team, the Ottawa Redblacks is slated  to begin operation in 2014.
Ottawa Redblacks new logo.
One of the cornerstone teams, the Montreal Alouettes, moved to Baltimore in 1996. They then returned to Montreal and were renamed the Montreal Concorde before the traditional name Alouettes was restored.

There was a period about 10-15 years ago where many wondered if the CFL would survive at all. Expansion into the US was a total failure in the 1990s. There was some talk in Toronto about getting an NFL franchise which could have killed the CFL.
Canada doesn’t have the population to support 80,000 seat stadiums as the US does. The average attendance per game is currently about 25,000.
In Saskatchewan thousands come from miles around to attend games in the city of Regina. Many wear the green colours of the team. In Calgary a gal on horseback races up and down the sidelines after a Calgary touchdown waving a big team flag. Toronto and Vancouver have stadiums that hold up to 60,000 people. Hamilton and Winnipeg have just built new stadiums for football. The future for the league looks bright.
A number of CFL teams are using Canadian running backs now. By and large college football is flourishing across Canada from the Pacific to the Maritimes. It was once thought by many that French Canadians had little interest in football. French college teams from Quebec have become powerhouses.
Some of the old junior football teams are gone like Montreal’s NDG Maple Leafs but others have popped up with success throughout Canada. The Vancouver Island Raiders from Nanaimo, BC won 3 national junior championships in 2006, 2008, and 2009.
In some ways you might say that the CFL is a bit more amateurish than the American NFL.  There isn’t any really big money to be made in the CFL. First string quarterbacks make in the range of $120,000.00 per year. Most players have some other kind of employment in the off season.
With the CFL you really get the feeling that the players love the game. Some US born players choose to live in Canada after their playing days and some of them get involved in coaching. More than one American player has been surprised at what good athletes Canadian players are.
Football is known for short playing careers. When the time eventually comes that the cleats are hung up for good, the memories of battling with a group of other men from all over the US and Canada linger on for a lifetime. There is nothing second rate about those memories both for the players and the fans.


  1. What about "Cookie" Gilchrist? Well done Colin!
    Bill Conrod

  2. Bill...believe it or not Cookie Gilchrist isn't in the CFL Hall Of Fame. He should be.

  3. Saskatchewan Roughriders are named after the NWMP members who broke broncos in the 1800s...Ottawa Rough Riders may have been named after Roosevelt's troops, but there's also a story that they were named after the birlers (lumberjacks) who rode the logs down the Ottawa river, which may explain the strange logo they had in the early 60s...the Blue Bombers don't take their name from a plane, but were given that nickname in the mid 1930s by a radio announcer, and the idea stuck.