The following was taken from a column that appeared in the National Post on Saturday, June 14, 2008.
by Mark Cohon, CFL Commissioner
It was Grey Cup 2007, and 53,000 Canadians were on their feet, belting out “O Canada.”
Here was a living, breathing, singing map of the country, formed by people from every corner of it, united in celebration.
The sight was unforgettable. The sound was deafening. And the moment, for me, was defining.
I thought of my parents, immigrants for whom life in Canada was a conscious choice, instead of a happy accident.
I thought how grateful I am they moved here from Chicago when I was just a toddler, how this country embraced us, and how much my Mom and Dad have loved it back.
I reflected on my own decision, after working in New York City and London for many years, to come back to Canada, because of its quality of life, its enduring values, most of all, because this is where we wanted to raise a family.
I thought about the Grey Cup, and its magical hold on our nation. How it has always shone.
I considered how many people in the crowd that day gather at each and every Grey Cup, and the bond they share with their fellow travelers, how they are as diverse as their backgrounds and respective home provinces, and yet at that moment, they were one.
I considered the fans I had met that year in our stadiums across Canada, Moms and Dads and kids, in seats the average family can afford, for whom a game is a rite of passion.
I looked at the field, distinctly Canadian in its dimensions, and anticipated the game, uniquely Canadian in its origins, traditions and rules of play.
I took some pride in knowing that those who play it also excel in much quieter forums: in classrooms and children’s hospitals across the country, where they champion causes bigger than football.
And I realized what my seatmate, one of our provincial Premiers, said aloud, that there are so few things like this that truly bring Canadians together, and I thought that’s true, especially in an era of free trade, the internet, and Stanley Cup finals in places like Florida and California.
Having worked for the NBA and Major League Baseball, I was struck by the fact that of all the big sporting events I’ve attended—from the World Series to the NBA Finals to Premiership championships—nothing was as authentic as a Grey Cup, and no crowd was as celebratory as this one.
And so I sang like everyone else: loudly and proudly.
And I savoured the simple fact that I was there with my fellow Canadians—folks from Halifax and Victoria, Portage la Prairie and downtown Toronto, on their own ticket, out of love for the game, respect for the Cup and, truth be told, for the sheer joy of it all.
In this space, I could have chosen to detail how strong our league is today, how dedicated our governors are, how TV ratings are higher than ever, and attendance is the strongest it has been in two decades.
But I’ve chosen to write about this one intensely personal experience because I believe it makes a profound point: The Canadian Football League matters.
It matters to Canadians. It matters to Canada. It brings us together. And it brings out our best.
There are those who disagree with me. They will tell you the CFL doesn’t matter, because it’s not the biggest or the flashiest or the wealthiest.
Well, if those were our only yardsticks, Canada itself wouldn’t measure up.
But we know it does. It measured up to my parents’ hopes and dreams, and it measures up to mine, just as it clearly measured up for the 53,000 who stood as one last Grey Cup Sunday.
This is our country. And this—the Canadian Football League—is our league.
That’s our motto for 2008: This Is Our League. You’ll see it on our fields, on your television screen, maybe on a t-shirt.
It’s a celebration of what’s uniquely and distinctly ours.
It’s an invitation to come out and experience what I did on that Grey Cup Sunday: a thrilling sense of belonging.
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