John Woods/The Canadian Press/AP
John Woods/The Canadian Press/AP

Welcome to Canada Week

For the next 7 days, The MMQB will cover North America's other great football league. To kick things off, Bears coach Marc Trestman, winner of two Grey Cups in Montreal, explains the rules and nuances that make the CFL unique

By
Marc Trestman
· More from Marc·

Note from editor-in-chief Peter King: Today opens Canada Week at The MMQB. It’s the opening week of the Canadian Football League season—the league traditionally plays from the end of June until the end of November, with the league championship, the Grey Cup, always happening around our Thanksgiving. We’re trying something novel here at our site: We’re covering three CFL games, with Toronto at Winnipeg on Thursday night (our Jenny Vrentas will be on site) and we’ll have some other features on the site to tell you about the game up north. I’ll have a full explanation at the end of the column, in an abridged Five Things I Think I Think.

Now for this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback guest columnist, Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman, on his five seasons as a Canadian Football League head coach.

CHICAGO — I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts on the Canadian Football League this morning—and I am grateful to The MMQB for devoting some time covering the opening week of the CFL season. From 2008 to 2012, I had the privilege of coaching the Montreal Alouettes, one of the flagship franchises in the CFL, before becoming the head coach of the Chicago Bears in 2013. I never looked at the job as a stepping stone to a head coaching position in the NFL, but was simply grateful to owner Bob Wetenhal and general manager Jim Popp for the opportunity to become a head coach and to serve the players and entire organization as well as their great fan base.

I can also tell you I absolutely loved every minute of my time in Montreal, one of North America’s great cities. I also loved and respected the players and coaches, as well as the brand of football played in the CFL.

There are now nine teams in the CFL, and because of that there is a great deal of familiarity between the organizations. The league itself is tradition-filled and more than 100 years old. Each team plays each other up to three times during the 18-game season. Here are some more CFL nuances:

  • The game is played on a 110-yard field with 20-yard end zones. 
  • The field is 65 yards wide (compared to the NFL’s 53 yards), with a 20-second time clock between plays. That leads to action-packed football. 
  • There are only three downs to make 10 yards, not four. 
  • They play 12 players to a side, and the defensive line must line up a yard off the ball.  
  • Six eligible receivers can be in motion prior to the snap.
  • On kicking teams, there are no fair catches, which makes for a very exciting punting game with the wide field.

By the way, when I arrived in Montreal for training camp in May 2008, not only did I have to learn a new game, but I had forgotten that Montreal was bilingual (French first, English second) and as culturally diverse as any city in North America. We always had a handful of bilingual players on our teams.

In the CFL, all the games are on national television: TSN, the Canadian sports channel. The Grey Cup—the CFL’s championship game, played in late November every year—is the equivalent of a national holiday in Canada, the same way we treat the Super Bowl in the United States. Unlike the NFL, the CFL is made up of stadiums with capacity around 30,000. People ask me about the players who play the game in Canada and I always tell them they are the same as the NFL players. Many CFL players had the chance to play in the NFL briefly, or were late cuts in NFL camps over the years.

Another important difference between the CFL and NFL: the makeup of the teams. In the CFL, you have a 42-man game-day roster, and 20 of the 42 players must have Canadian heritage. The two quarterbacks don’t count against the ratio and you have to start seven Canadians among your 24 starters. But, there is no difference in the competitive makeup of each player. The men in the Montreal locker room were essentially no different than the men in our Chicago locker room. The players truly love the game, train extremely hard in the off-season, are highly competitive and “football intelligent,’’ and the game is as important to them as the NFL players I have coached. The only difference is the CFL player salary is significantly less than the NFL player. The CFL has a collective bargaining agreement, but the salary cap is $125 million lower than the NFL’s this year.

Trestman coached CFL legend Anthony Calvillo for five of the quarterback's 20 seasons. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/AP)
Trestman coached CFL legend Anthony Calvillo for five of the quarterback’s 20 seasons. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/AP)

When the games are played, no one’s thinking much about the salary cap, however. The population in Canada is about 30 million. In 2009, we played the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Grey Cup. The TV ratings were incredible—43 percent of the entire nation tuned in to watch that game, the biggest TV audience to watch any show in Canada all year. There have been 102 Grey Cup games, and they’re always such a matter of civic and national pride.  The week of the Grey Cup in late November becomes a week-long national holiday. I loved coaching in those games. 

CFL football is a fast and exciting game. I never really changed my football philosophy very much to fit the CFL—because I was convinced you could play the same way we do in the NFL. But without Anthony Calvillo, the all-time leading passer in Canadian football history, the support of  GM Jim Popp and the entire organization with so many good football players, I am sure it would have not been possible.

People have asked me what I learned in my five seasons in the CFL, and how it prepared me for the NFL.  The simple answer is there’s no way I’d have been as prepared to be an NFL head coach without my five years in Canada. I’d had 11 stops as an assistant coach in college or pro football before I was hired by Montreal. I found that being a head coach in Canada was a great training ground for being a head coach in the NFL.

On page 2, I’ll explain a few lessons I learned, and how I got better as a coach in Montreal.

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302 comments
JonCanuck
JonCanuck

The  NFL is more popular than the CFL because of the millions of millions dollars  that  are bet on EVERY game.

Most (NFL   jocks?) pay no attention to the game itself... ONLY  the bottom line- how much did I win?

As far as athleticism and skills  are concerned,  and most would agree, the CFL is the best!!!

WayneY
WayneY

Noooooooo...please don't cover the CFL at all. It means NFL types will catch on to the skill level and take even more all-star players away! Not to mention borrowing the excitement of the CFL brand of football for the plodding NFL brand. (JJ). Chris Berman always gives props to the CFL. He is a fan of good football, period.

ChrisFlint
ChrisFlint

This is a great piece about a league that has passionate fans and a quality product. The atmosphere of a CFL game is similar to a major D1 college game. The fans will do anything to see their team, including tailgate and and sit/stand in -40 Celsius weather.

I live in Viking's country (my hometown is closer to Minni than any other major city), but I know many people who will not miss a Blue Bomber's regular season game (8 hour or more drive).


It is a great league and I have to thank someone as well known as Peter King for bringing attention to it.

JodyBuxton
JodyBuxton

There are a couple of things you might need to see to believe, one is what, or rather who, fills McMahon stadium when the Riders come to town.


And the Labour Day classic between the Riders and Bombers in Regina, with the rematch, "The Banjo Bowl", the following week in Winnipeg.

MichaelUzenko
MichaelUzenko

Marc Trestman is a class act. Although I am not a fan of the Al's, I always respected the man. When he moved to the NFL, I actually started watching the Bears !

gregatacd
gregatacd

One quirky rule that Mark Trestman didn't refer to (since it rarely comes into play... except at the end of the game) is the "onside punt" (what?).

The jist is that anyone behind the punter (including the punter) can jump on a punt that goes at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Also, you can punt from anywhere. So, QB throws into the flat, he punts the ball down the field. Pretty much everyone is behind him at the time and hoofing it down the field to jump on the ball. 

Happens rarely, but is a lot of fun to watch when it actually does happen.

I also like the fact that when converting a touchdown, if the kick is blocked (or for 2 points, a pick or fumble) and returned the other way, the defense gets the 2 points. Again, rare, but it has to be considered in a coaches decision.

accottawa
accottawa

ABSOLUTELY loving this column on MMQB hope to see more.  Nice to see SI recognize the CFL is a legit game.  I remember as a kid driving to Montreal from Ottawa, being in Olympic Stadium for Vince Ferragamo's home opener, I got there early to take some pictures as it was such a big deal, plus my ARGOS were playing.  Well when I was taking my shots an photographer from SI (who was covering a Superbowl QB coming to Canada) asked me if I wanted to be at field level to help him with his cameras.  I got some bench shots of all the great Als...Overstreet, Dala Riva, Billy Whiteshoes Johnson and Tom Cousineau the classic MLB of the time.  A great game and memory thanks to SI...Keep it up

plplpokok
plplpokok

The CFL is a great game. Great!


Me, I watch every game I can in person, listen to every pre-game on the radio of every team (when team A radio goes to a commercial I switch to the radio of team B), record the games I miss (of course) and then when I watch the game live I have to go home and watch it on TV again (which usually makes for 9 hours of straight football but my wife understands).  Why?  Because it's that good!


But my coup de grace, was going to Montreal, from a long ways away, to see the Al's play before AC retired. Hit the city too of course. Best $3,000 I have ever spent and would do it again in a second. The game is THAT good. Get into it. You won't regret it.




localidiot
localidiot

Please write about the history. Too many people are under the delusion that the CFL is some kind of watered-down, dumb-cousin imitation of the NFL, when in fact the two leagues evolved in parallel, with each adopting its own refinements and rule changes over the years. 


Americans ask, why is the CFL field so big? It's because the field available for the earliest games in the US just happened to be smaller, and that became the standard.


A bit of trivia: Which two universities played in the first North American football game? 

JakeBlues
JakeBlues

Awesome way to promote the CFL. Thanks Peter! The CFL is like the old saying, "To know her is to love her.".

Show up early for the Rider game on Sunday for some of the pre-game party on the practice field.

Need to have a beer or two at Bushwakkers in Regina. Voted Canada's best brew pub in 2012. Recently won the 2014 Canadian Brewing Awards for the best English Pale Ale in the entire country called Regina Pale Ale. Knowing you are a hophead, try their Chico or Bombay IPA. People line up outside in -20C December each year for hours for the privilege of taking home a 6 pack of their seasonal Blackberry Mead.

For the record, I do not work at Bushwakkers...I am just a true fan. Sadly, they are closed on Sundays, so you will miss out. Guess you will either have to come back or go to The Freehouse where they serve a couple of Bushwakkers' beers as specialty pours.

albaranello
albaranello

As a Canadian who loves the NFL first it's fun to have "our" game promoted through MMQB. I do agree, with the advent of the spread offense in the NFL, the NFL does look a lot more like the CFL. I would like to hear more from current bubble NFL players and their willingness to play or not in Canada. And how do they make the adjustment to wider field, halo rule, 3 downs...etc. 

Sling
Sling

Thanks for the article.  Great to hear from Trestman.


Looking forward to future articles this week.



Bulbaczar
Bulbaczar

Great start to the week! I'm looking forward to the rest of the articles.

Peter Parker1
Peter Parker1

What would happen to the CFL if the league limited the number of imports/Americans even more?  Make it more even more Canadian?


There are a few people who have already posted on here and appear to have a strong knowledge of the league.    The question I have for them is which CFL teams have really gone to a predominantly Canadian roster (i.e. with a significant number of import spots still available) over the past decade and have been successful?  Whenever I have looked over different rosters on occasion, the number of imports is always very close to the maximum allowed.


It has been said many times over by those who have been successful in this league that a CFL team's strength comes from the quality of it's non-import content.  If so, then why not have even more Canadians in this league? 

StanleyKennethSandomirsky
StanleyKennethSandomirsky

Enjoy the beer in the "Hat" but when you get to Sask. try the Original Sixteen by Great Western Breweries. It is an award winning ale named after the 16 employees who partook in ownership when it looked like the demise of the brewery was inevitable. Original 16 is not available at Taylor Field. 

And a big welcome to Regina this Sunday. The atmosphere will be just like that at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Our 30,000 plus Rider fans can almost equal the noise and excitement of the Hawks 68,000. 

yb.robbie
yb.robbie

Awesome.  Well done PK.  Looking forward to the week..



Zedcat
Zedcat

Thanks for the coverage of the CFL. I love the NFL and have been to some great games in Buffalo but the CFL will always be the closest to my heart. 


Though the crowds are smaller than the NFL stadiums the passion for the teams is no less. The traditions and history give the league meaning.  The Hamilton Tigers (now Tiger-Cats) have been around since 1869 and the Toronto Argonauts are from the same period.  Anyone who has been to a Grey Cup, particularly in the smaller cities can attest to the passion.  It's a full week of festivals for the ordinary dedicated fan with it's own traditions. The Calgary pancake breakfast, Riding the Stampeder's horse through the hotel lobby, the Grey Cup parade and the old beaten and well worn Grey Cup carried into the stadium by full red coated Mounties. 


The Labour Day games are fanatical, my bias being for the game in Hamilton.  The 'Cats could lose every game of a season but if they beat the reviled Toronto Argos on Labour Day the season was still a success.


For many many years the two leagues were equal, it was the power of televisions and the 10 to 1 population difference that put the NFL on its trajectory.  The CFL deserves no less respect.


Thanks Peter and the MMQB staff, it's appreciated.  You will love Western Canada, come east soon!

RikNik54
RikNik54

Great slant and nice to see...., Chris Berman always does a Grey Cup pick as he also appreciates the nuances of our game...Joe Theismann amongst others played up here as well....as for Doug Flutie....awesome guy and great QB....look forward to the remaining articles....

AndreaLawrie
AndreaLawrie

Thank you for providing a space for NFL-known personalities to provide both incite on and their experience within the CFL to NFL fans - its rules, its nuances, the community involvement of its players, the community support by it's fans.  I am fortunate to live in a CFL market that has multiple professional sports teams; many other CFL markets have only their CFL team and the support they show their teams shows their appreciation of the quality football their teams play.  But the Als are the team I went to see with my Grandfather and I now take my kids to.  Four tickets in the end zone for the price of one ticket to my beloved Canadiens.  And what a show at the game!  Little down time, never waiting for play to resume.  I have been to NFL games, but the price, location of the stadiums I have been to, and TV timeouts don't foster a desire to go very often, although I watch NFL on television, almost religiously.  Please encourage fans of the NFL to not only watch CFL football, but to go see a game!  It is family affordable fun, in Montreal the stadium is a ten minute walk from heart of downtown, and is quality professional football.  Please continue, and if possible expand, coverage of CFL football.  Well done and thank you MMQB!

DwightZimmerman
DwightZimmerman

I hope you keep doing articles about the CFL. I know little about it, and this article makes me want to know more.

Peter Parker1
Peter Parker1

I like the CFL because it's not a big money league.  The rank and file who play in this league know the score and are better prepared for life after football because they are often actively involved in careers during the seasons as well as the off season.


But for all the CanCon rules in place, the league has not had a Canadian trained star quarterback since Russ 

Jackson in the 60s.  That's embarrassing from a player development standpoint of, say, a half century since!!! 

Instead, we have a plethora for 37 year old plus retreads playing the position and have a nice National Geographic tour of our CFL cities.

Gs1
Gs1

So Canadians are allowed to discriminate? Imagine if we did that here for baseball or or basketball (only 5 starters so at least 4 would have to be American?). In the NFL its not an issue because most Canadians don't compete as much here. But still imagine if the NFL even implied at a quota? Not knocking the CFL, more power to them. Football is fun no matter what kind it is: pop warner, flag football or college or CFL or NFL. Just interesting that people areok with discrimination in other countries but heaven forbid if we do here.

Doanertouque
Doanertouque

the canuck in dallas thanks you for this.  I'm "grey cup" in fantasy nfl leagues.  good job PK.

Verner49er
Verner49er

What a great idea!! Who should you write about in Winnipeg? The fans. I was travelling recently and I had a conversation with a Cleveland Browns fan. I told him I knew how it felt to have your hometown team disappoint year in and year out. He said " Oh I don't think that's possible". I told him that Winnipeg hadn't won a Grey Cup in 24 years. "That's not so bad" he said. "there's only 8 teams in the CFL", I told him. "Yeah ok, that's pretty bad". SYMPATHY FROM A CLEVELAND BROWNS FAN!! That's when you know you're fan base is hurting.


We have made 5 Grey Cup games in that span but we just can't get it done. I'll admit, I'm not the biggest of Blue Bomber fans. I love my Niners, and the CFL usually just kills time for me. What always takes me to the stadium are the fans. Are they frustrated? Sure. But every year at this time the passion is there and the atmosphere is second to none. Write about the fans. They're far more interesting than the Bombers.


Before the game you should check out the World Cup on Bannatyne Ave. Great food and atmosphere the last couple weeks.

whirlaway
whirlaway

The US kicking game is just silly.

Fair catches, dead balls, touchbacks. What excitement.

Make the returner return the ball.

Put some risk in your game.

QBJim11
QBJim11

While in Winnipeg take in The Forks area down by the river and try the fish (Manitoba pickerel). Awesome food and a great visual place.

gyffesme
gyffesme

Works for me, Peter. Cover the Grey Cup. Seems a more interesting version of football than what the Raiders and Browns have put (puked) up in recent years.

ArdenSeeley1
ArdenSeeley1

It's really unfortunate that a lot of CFL hate actually comes from within Canada, Toronto specifically. Toronto loved the CFL until the Maple Leafs were one of the best teams in the NHL, the Blue Jays were winning back to back World Series and the NBA set up shop, immediately Toronto stuck their nose up the the CFL. People from Toronto wanted their football team to compete against major markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles like in the NHL, MLB and NBA rather than the Saskatchewan's and Hamilton's of the CFL. Which is very unfortunate considering the CFL is a great and unique Canadians institution.

Most who hate on the CFL aren't true football fans anyways. I am in school to become a teacher and therefore spend large amounts of my time doing my student-teaching practicums at schools in my area (high school and middle schools) and many of the kids do not follow the CFL in favour of the NFL. However you can tell the closest these kids come to being football fans is playing the Madden video games and watching a few highlights on TSN, since you can tell they don't really know much even about the NFL, I'm an NFL fan too so I'll ask them about it and you can tell they're BSing or hardly know a thing. The NFL is a huge hype machine, magazine covers, video games, players appearing in commercials and so on. The casual fans who doesn't watch must sports (such as a busy high school kid) sees that and immediately eats it up. The CFL should invest into becoming for visible, especially to younger people. It's unfortunate that kids don't realize how lucky they are to have a pro football team in town. There are only 41 teams between the NFL and CFL. If the CFL didn't exist and the NFL just had 41 teams Canada would be lucky to have 2 teams, never mind 9.

It drives me nuts when I see NFL-snobs post on articles like this saying NFL gets higher TV ratings in Canada then the CFL does just because they along with their few close friends only watch the NFL. Look outside your little bubble of ignorance and do some actual research. Only the NHL gets higher ratings than the CFL in Canada. Hell, in the States the CFL gets higher ratings than the MLS and the US Open.

bobhoffman
bobhoffman

Peter - this is a great idea. Best of luck this week, and I hope it is a success. The Trestman and Flutie piecs are great reads.

bobhoffman
bobhoffman

Excellent idea, Peter. I wish you good luck and hope that people enjoy it.

PeterZanger
PeterZanger

Enjoying Canada Week coverage. It's a nice change of pace from all the non-stories coming out of mini-camps. However I HATE, HATE, HATE the new SI website! Change for change sake is stupid!

CraigReynolds
CraigReynolds

Love the CFL coverage. Articles by Trestman and Flutie were both excellent. My college-age son has been a CFL fan for years. I can see what the attraction is. Looking forward to reading game-day coverage.

endsin1m
endsin1m

Go to the Bushwakker in Regina. Order yourself a Saskatchewan hotplate and enjoy a delicious craft beer. Then watch the Roughriders skin the Ti-Cats.

theboneman21
theboneman21

CFL is awesome.


~ Multiple players in FORWARD motion.


~ The rouge (if a kicked ball goes into the end zone, if you DO NOT get it out, you surrender a point so it encourages returns)


~ Larger field. The makes for a more wide open game with a lot of east-west. Smaller players have value. You don't see a lot of 400 "athletes" with knees about to cave in as they desperately waddle to the sideline in search of oxygen caused by the rigors of sprinting an inhuman 21 feet.


CFL does not have the concussion epidemic. Why ? Larger fields = players have to be ATHLETES who can TACKLE. Not behemoths who lean on each other.


Here is the awesomeness of the rouge featuring Trestman's team. 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5BFaykcxGg


gregatacd
gregatacd

You can also kick a fumbled ball to advance it (called a 'dribbled ball'); it's still a loose ball of course but imagine someone fumbling the ball and it bounces into your feet... you kick it down the field 20 yards while everyone is converging on your spot. You have a distinct advantage of now running down the field to recover the ball.

winnieg
winnieg

@localidiot Harvard and McGill. Harvard's field was smaller. I totally agree about the evolution of the two games being so interesting. Each game has also borrowed from the other over the years, NFL taking the 2 point conversion, CFL having recently adopted the coaches replay challenge.

localidiot
localidiot

@Peter Parker1 Teams have never gone to a predominately Canadian roster and they probably never will. It's all about numbers. There are only around 25 major Canadian university programs in the entire country, and compared to the NCAA, that really is peanuts. Even though Canadian boys grow up with the Canadian game and the university programs in Canada have improved immensely over the past 20 years, they just aren't on the same level as the Americans coming up through the US colleges. There are a few Canadian standouts and the top player in the league last year, RB Jon Cornish, is a Canadian, but California alone produces more players than all of Canada.  

Sling
Sling

@StanleyKennethSandomirsky  I would also suggest he buy a "Pil" hat kit.  Drink the beer, then put the carton on your head at the game.  Love that hat. ;)

cheswick
cheswick

@Gs1  Actually it is done in the USA. The MLS has a very similar rule in which a certain number of roster spots must be filled by Americans. 

kvl019
kvl019

@Gs1  The reason why the CFL has an import quota is to allow kids in Canadian College football programs to have an opportunity to play pro ball. In the USA, there are literally hundreds of colleges and universities that have football programs. Essentially, it is a football factory down there. If the CFL were to eliminate the import quota, the Canadian programs would probably fold and a lot fewer Canadians would have a chance at playing pro football. Over the last few decades, the number of Canadians competing for NFL positions have climbed as a result of Canadian football programs increasing in popularity and quality. However, the programs here in Canada will never match those in the US. Whether the football fans in Canada like it or not, we are known for hockey, not football.So......discrimination or not, it is a necessary evil that must be kept if Canadian kids want to have a chance at playing pro football.

Bearsclone
Bearsclone

@Gs1 In the late 90s or early 2000s there was some talk that the NHL might have to limit the number of international players on NHL rosters, because the language and cultural barriers were turning off a lot of potential fans who felt no connection to the players on their home team.  I know in Chicago a lot of Blackhawks fans were put off by the number of Russian players who were headlining the team at the time.


Luckily, the NHL never had to mandate such a thing, and there are a generation of great North American players like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, etc, but don't think it couldn't have ever happened.


European and Asian basketball leagues routinely place a limit on the number of "foreign" players, because the locals simply aren't going to pay money to come and see nothing but North Americans playing for their local team.


It's not a racist or nationalist thing, it's just recognizing the fact that fans need to be able to connect with their professional players and feel some tribal kinship.   I don't blame the CFL for wanting to ensure that a certain portion of its players are Canadian.   


Akarik
Akarik

@Gs1 It's extremely common practice in sports leagues all around the world. It's more like trade tariffs if anything. American sports generally don't need to worry about it because of population, lack of international popularity and lack of national teams for international competitions. Where those factors do apply is soccer, and the MLS has quotas. The point is to grow the game on your own turf, importing players is easy. 

SinclairPhos
SinclairPhos

@whirlaway This is interesting.  I had no idea there were no fair catches and such in the CFL.  The Bears have signed a return man with CFL experience this off season.  Given these rules, he should have a definite advantage in the NFL

ScottTuckydeHaan
ScottTuckydeHaan

Oops, guess I was a bit late and didn't see that was already answered. Good job

Peter Parker1
Peter Parker1

@localidiot @Peter Parker1 So what I infer is that Canada doesn't have enough talent through  it's university and junior football programs to fill a larger majority of the rosters and therefore the on field product would not be as good and perhaps viewership would decline?  Fair enough. Money talks.


One of the things I like about the CFL is precisely because of Cornish:  when he won his post season awards (including, don't forget, the Lou Marsh for Canada's best athlete), he found out when he was working at his offseason job, working as a bank teller at TD Canada Trust!


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