So rumor has it that the NFL network is going to show 14 CFL games during the course of the NFL offseason. For those of you who don't know, the CFL is the Canadian football league. Yes, we also play football. After all, there's three months of the year when there isn't hockey on. We need something to keep us entertained.
Now I know that between NFL offseason rumors and college football there's still enough football in the news during the barren summer months to satisfy most fans, but for those of you who want to watch an actual football game I present to you five reasons why NFL fans should check out the CFL.
Take, for example, last Friday's game between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Toronto Argonauts.
After Winnipeg scored a field goal with six seconds to go in the first half to go up 17-16, Toronto elected to have Winnipeg kick-off to them instead of taking the ball at the 35 and attempting a last second hail mary.
Knowing that Winnipeg was going to squib the kick, the Argonauts special teams coach called for a very bizarre play. Toronto received the kick-off and proceeded to punt the ball right back where it came from. A fortunate bounce allowed the ball to reach the end zone before a Blue Bomber finally pounced on it. After much review and deliberation by the officials, it counted as a single point, and a pretty important single point in the end as the Argonauts went on to win 36-34.
As if that wasn't crazy enough though, it turns out that that was not the goal of the play. If Argonaut special teams players had had a better idea of what was going to happen and had been able to be the first ones to the ball, they would have scored a touchdown.
Another, more famous example of the ingenuity that takes place in the CFL occurred during the 1977 Grey Cup game between the Montreal Alouettes and the Edmonton Eskimos. A combination of melting and refreezing snow led to the field looking more like a hockey rink than a football field.
In the days leading up to the game, both teams tried every type of cleat imaginable in order to try and gain traction on the field. Nothing was working until Alouettes defensive back Tony Proudfoot had the idea of putting staples in the bottom of his cleat. This stroke of genius allowed Montreal to dominate the Eskimos 41-6 and win the Grey Cup.
While it is true that 99 percent of players who try to make the jump from the CFL to the NFL ultimately fail, there is still that 1 percent chance that you may witness the birth of greatness. The obvious example being Warren Moon.
After he went undrafted after college, Moon turned to the CFL and signed with the Edmonton Eskimos. Moon and the Eskimos went on to win five straight Grey Cup championships in 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1982. Moon won the Grey Cup MVP in 1980 and 1982 and was named the CFL player of the year in 1983.
Moon is one of only two people to have been inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. The other? Former Vikings coach Bud Grant, who won four titles with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before coaching the Vikings.
Johnny Rodgers, Joe Theismann, and Tom Cousineau all honed their skills in the CFL before making the jump to the NFL.
Yes, three downs may take some getting used to. Yes, the large field and end zone may look amateurish at times, but, at least in my opinion, these two factors combine to produce some very exciting football.
In the NFL, three short four-yard gains is good enough for a first down. In the CFL, three short gains is usually not an option. Teams are more inclined to go big on second down because sometimes they have to in order to gain a first down. Combine that with the larger field and 20-, 30-, 40-, or even 50-yard plays are much more common than in the NFL. The passing game reigns supreme in the CFL.
An obvious consequence of this tendency to attempt big plays are turnovers. If you compared an average CFL game to an average NFL game there would likely be more turnovers in the CFL game. Also, the running game is not as important as in the NFL. It's not that it's non existent, it's just not as prominent.
If you're a fan of what I like to call "ground and pound football" this may not be the league for you, but if you like it when teams aren't afraid to go for it, then you may just enjoy the CFL.
While some use the fact that there are only eight teams in the CFL against the league, I like to focus on the rivalries that such familiarity creates. The fact that teams play each other multiple times over the course of a season leads to genuine dislike between many of the teams.
The major rivalries are between the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Montreal Alouettes, and the battle of Alberta between the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos.
While these are the major rivalries, every team has some degree of hate for every other team. If possible, check out the annual battle of Alberta on the first weekend of September. There is a good chance some fireworks may occur.
For those of you who are tired of overpaid athletes with huge egos, this may just be the league for you.
The salary cap last year was $4.2 million. That's less than many NFL signing bonuses. I don't know what the average CFL salary is, but I estimate that it is probably between $80,000-$100,000. Obviously the star players make more than this, but not much more.
Quarterbacks Anthony Calvillo and Ricky Ray, the two superstar players in the league, will make around $300,000 this season. Many players have regular jobs during the offseason.
A good example of how humble the CFL is occurred during the height of the recent oil boom. Due to the economic boom caused by high oil prices, Edmonton experienced a housing shortage a few years ago. This shortage coincided with the start of Eskimos training camp. Many players found themselves homeless and ended up staying with fans for a couple weeks.
When you watch a CFL game, remember that these players are doing it purely because they love to play football. They are not making ridiculous salaries. They probably live in the same kind of house as you and probably drive the same car.