The MMQB :: Getty Images :: The Canadian Press/AP
The MMQB :: Getty Images :: The Canadian Press/AP

Canadian Appreciation

From Regina to Calgary to Medicine Hat, the Canadian Football League is stitched into the fabric of our neighbors to the north. On opening weekend, we see that pride, fall in love with the rouge and get a kiss from Chad Johnson

REGINA, Saskatchewan — So I didn’t see art this weekend in my two Canadian Football League experiences. One game was 29-1 (I love the rouge) in the final minute, Calgary over Montreal and new import Chad “Humble Pie” Johnson. The other, here at rickety Mosaic Stadium, was 31-1 midway through the third quarter, Saskatchewan over Hamilton in a fizzled Grey Cup rematch.

That’s okay. Training camps in the CFL are short, and the early games often stink. What I did find here on the prairies north of Montana and North Dakota—when I asked one Roughrider fan what the nearest American city was, she said, “Minot”—was a fierce love of their game, very little NFL envy, and some wonderment that no one in America cares a whit about this hidden game up here.

Case in point: The quarterback of the Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders, Darian Durant, jogged off the field Sunday on one of the most miserable days for a football game I’ve ever experienced (low fifties, high and biting winds, sheets of sideways rain that occasionally slowed but never stopped all day), and found me. “Thanks a lot for coming and covering us,’’ he said. “We play some good ball, and we have lots of players up here who played at a high level in college. Then I watch ‘SportsCenter’ and they cover everything else, even the international soccer over and over, and never us. It’s frustrating sometimes.” (Note: On Friday ESPN announced a multiyear broadcast deal to carry the CFL. It will carry 17 games on one of its channels and 69 on its digital service, ESPN3.)

So while the NFL is on hiatus with nothing happening, here’s a window into the league you ignore (and I have too, for the vast majority of my football-writing career) on a weekend with four games in a nine-team league:

* * *

CALGARY, Alberta
Saturday
Montreal Alouettes at Calgary Stampeders
McMahon Stadium, 1 p.m. MT

At the stadium where the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympics happened, the place looks about 60 percent full for the Stamps’ opener. I have come with rudimentary knowledge of the CFL, having attended just one game, the 1991 Grey Cup with Rocket Ismail in it. I am trying to see the game as if it were my first CFL experience, which, almost, it is. The first things I notice:

  • Speed of the game. Not just the 20-second play clock, which, in such a passing league, makes the receivers who’ve just run 25 yards downfield have to be mindful to hustle back to the huddle. But because all receivers can be in frenetic motion before the snap, circling the quarterback or sprinting from one side of the field to the other (the CFL field is 12 yards wider than the NFL), the line of scrimmage looks muddled and unfocused. “Sometimes,’’ recently retired CFL receiving legend Geroy Simon told me, “I’d run 40 yards before the ball was snapped. You’ve got to be in better shape for this game than college football or the NFL.”
  • Chad Johnson. Wearing number 85 with “Johnson,” not “Ocho Cinco” on his back, a chastened Chad, 36, was split right mostly, not engaged much in the motion that makes CFL receivers and slot backs long-distance runners. “It’s a track meet,’’ he said after the game. Johnson caught two balls for 20 yards, struggling to adjust to the wild pitches of new Alouettes quarterback Troy Smith, the former Raven and 49er, who looked inaccurate, and that’s putting it mildly. More about Johnson later in the column.
  • Weirdness of the rouge. So the rouge is a one-point scoring play. If you miss a field goal or punt the ball into the end zone and the defensive team doesn’t advance it out of the end zone, you get a point. Fascinating strategy to me. Imagine the game’s 28-28 with 10 seconds left and you’re at the opponents’ 20-yard line and you trust your punter more than your field-goal kicker. A coach can send in the punter and tell him to boom one high into the 20-yard end zone. If the punt team surrounds the returner and prevents him from getting out or kicking the ball out (another quirky rule—the return man can punt the ball back from the end zone in this case), the punting team wins 29-28. And games have ended this way.
  • Advertising. Two ad patches (NAPA Auto Parts and Western Direct Insurance) are on the fronts of Calgary jerseys, and there are ads displayed on the turf throughout the league too. A little NASCARish for me.
  • Reasonable cost. I met some fans with season tickets at the goal line, three rows up from the field, at McMahon Stadium. Cost: $225 for nine home games, 25 bucks a game.

Now for Chad Johnson. I met him at midfield. We’ve had our moments. But I watched the 36-year-old receiver with 766 career catches, none since 2011, a lot during the game, and there was none of the gesturing at the quarterback, or anything but lining up (mostly wide right) and trying to beat 30-year-old cornerback Fred Bennett down the field.

That's Chad Johnson, underneath cornerback Seth WIlliams, in a moment that captures just how insignificant the former NFLer is in the CFL right now. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
That’s Chad Johnson, underneath cornerback Seth Williams, in a moment that captures just how incognito the former NFL receiver is in the CFL right now. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

“A joy,” he said at midfield, describing what it was like to play in football game for the first time in 33 months. “A joy. That feeling, as a kid, you wake up on Christmas, the excitement. I’m just thankful to have a chance to play again. I didn’t care about catches, I didn’t care about the ball. I mean, the feeling just being part of something again, being part of this organization … I mean, words really can’t describe how it felt, to lose something that I worked for all my life and have it snatched from me because of my irresponsibilities and my mistakes. A lesson was learned. Humbling experience. I don’t know what to say. It’s awesome.”

Lots of players come north and expect to dominate. Maybe Johnson does too, but he doesn’t know enough yet about the game. He just hasn’t been in enough competitive situations yet. But he’s in shape, and he’s different than he was when Joe Philbin whacked him on national TV in “Hard Knocks” two years ago. At least he seems different now.

“From what I’ve been able to assess … the speed of the game is equivalent to the NFL. The talent level, there’s more elite players in the NFL. But a lot of the players I’ve seen out here can play at the next level … I come down here with the utmost respect for the game, and to learn all the nuances I can so I can be the best Chad I can be for the Alouettes.”

He’s playing, he said, because he says he knew he still could. “It just feels good,” he said. “And I thank you.”

With that, he kissed me on the right cheek and ran off the field.

.
1 2 3 4 5NEXT VIEW AS A SINGLE PAGE
179 comments
maxhyde
maxhyde

Well done Mr. King!  Kudos to covering all these players and this league.

I am a Canadian living in the US and love the NFL but I do miss the CFL living down here.


Thanks for giving our great game a column!



RobertPeter
RobertPeter

.....IF you can get past the HYPE/B.S. of the NFL.....and watch a few C.F.L. games you will be greatly entertained simply because our game is BETTER.....

RobertPeter
RobertPeter

Thanks For Coming To The C.F.L.....Peter

RobertPeter
RobertPeter

well i finally have a place to share some thoughts i have had for over 55 years.......the best football game played in America each year for the last 55 years is The Grey Cup.....when ever i watch a NFL game that everyone is amazed how great a game it was My Mind says to myself it kinda close to what we watch every week in the C.F.L......when the 49s were playing what they called west coast football seemed to me they had been watching the C.F.L......our players play for the love of the game not the money.....our game is bigger faster and more fun......P.S.....our BALLS are bigger......one last thing......if you need 4 downs to get 10 yards you can let the girls play......GO LIONS GO.....  

edgrbrown1
edgrbrown1

needless to say, but.... there will be corn and cow on BBQ.

edgrbrown1
edgrbrown1

bonjour pierre. the Thanksgiving day classics. ours is earlier than in USA. anyways it is when the push for playoffs really starts.

edgrbrown1
edgrbrown1

sorry pete. had to spell spell right. Alouettes.hmmm. still looks wrong. i am bilingual, i think.Go Habs Go.

edgrbrown1
edgrbrown1

hi peter. great idea covering cfl.the grey cup is in Vancouver this year i think? my mom is from Saskatchewan, so, green riders rule.hahaha, i have been to Regina and Moose Jaw.live in TO now. Argos suck. maybe Ticats? we still have the crossover playoff thing right?east to west? Peter please come up to Canada for the long weekend classics. esks vs stamps. sask vs bluebombers. TO vs Tcats.etc.it is good. i might have that wrong. what with red blacks in league now.my alouets are gonna suck now that Tresman is gone.

SteveRowFla
SteveRowFla

I wonder if PK would be okay with MLB  instituting a rule that x% of players have to be US citizens, or if the NFL implemented a policy requiring the racial distribution of the league to mirror the overall population?

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

World's a better place when neighbors share common interests, like grilling, lawn-darts (pre-'75), football (by Wilson®), beer or cerveza, hockey, baseball, fishing, b-ball and tougher rules on greenhouse-gas emissions (?).


A merger (NFL - CFL) is probably out of the question, huh? Just a thought, maybe better this way: brand. It's too bad it took Chad Johnson's northward move to get the editor's attention here, but I'll take it. CFL was plenty good for Bud Grant, "Eagle" Keys, Doug Flutie, Warren Moon and Joe Theismann, it's plenty good for the USofA.

gregatacd
gregatacd

Thx for the coverage, Mr. King!


The existence and success of the CFL proves that the Super Bowl champ should never ever be called the "World Champion"... unless they actually play and win a world championship game. Please stop already with the arrogance.

Would the NFL team win said game? 99% of the time, but that's irrelevant. 

Enjoy the CFL everyone... it the "Fun League" ... as opposed to the "No Fun League"

RickGallinger
RickGallinger

Nice series on the CFL. And I think it's awesome that you got to meet Connie. Very few fans I know that are more hard core than she is. 

blffan4
blffan4

HI Peter:


Looks like from the reviews that we'll be seeing some CFL coverage from time to time and I, along with the majority of your readers, am glad that will be the case. That said, I have a question about the CFL. The NFL moved it's draft back this year and there's talk it could be moved even further back. Does this impact the CFL? I had assumed they held a draft after the NFL draft (so they knew which players were available). Given the fact that their season starts in mid-summer, holding their draft after an even later NFL draft would seem to be troublesome.  Thanks for the coverage of the CFL and for your (largely) weekly job of covering the NFL. I wouldn't miss a week and look forward to your column each week!


FerdBerfel
FerdBerfel

I only now got to read this, but I appreciate the piece AND the CFL.  Growing up in Seattle before the Seahawks existed, I sort of "adopted" the BC Lions as a kid because they were the closest pro football team to us (even though the Seattle media dutifully ignored them).  Most people don't know that the CFL has the third-highest attendance average of any pro sports league in North America, behind only the NFL and MLB.  They have FUN up there because Canadian fans aren't generally a bunch of self-important navel-gazers like we have down here.


I'm not going to read all the comments, Peter, but I'm sure there are plenty of the same "Why are you covering this garbage?" whining like you see from the soccer-haters in America.  What the hell are you people threatened by?  Nobody's FORCING you to read this (or any World Cup coverage, for that matter).  Grow the hell up.

WilloughbyProds
WilloughbyProds

The CFL series was excellent. As the proud owner of a Baltimore Stallions baseball cap, I look forward to more. It is a fun game to watch and as Doug Flutie stated, was playing wide open football while NFL was grounding and pounding. 


There is room for all, there is room for more. 

stevenyitrai
stevenyitrai

One more time ... thank you for coming up to Canada. Too bad you went to Regina and Calgary (from an Edmonton Eskimo Fan!)

daveg2011
daveg2011

Welcome Mookie????? please don't tell me this is ANOTHER deal about those poor, poor red sox? Peter, you are such a homer or at least like most red sox "fans" who came out of the dark closet when they finally won something

alexincalgary
alexincalgary

Thanks MMQB for the coverage of the CFL.  I hope the response is positive enough to keep updates happening, and informing the football fans in the USA of our little league to the north. :-)


Thanks again.

Painstorm77
Painstorm77

I crawled (literally crawled) up a muddy hill and under the Albert Street underpass in Regina where the sidewalks were completely flooded and three cars were under water. I sat through that torrential rain and wind for over 3 hours. If the Riders could play in it, I could sit in it. Fortunately we are of the few who didn't have a flooded basement to worry about so we could go and cheer our Riders on. I wasn't going to miss honouring our Grey Cup champions past and present for anything and I would do it all again tomorrow because that is what we do in Ridernation. There have been times of utter and pure agony being a fan of this team but crying those tears of joy watching my team win the Grey Cup at home on a cold November day in 2013 was worth all of the heartache. It was one of the best days of my life.

I thought the series captured beautifully what we, the fans as well as the coaches and players, all know and understand what is means to love our version of football. I love that you get what is so great about it and that every single play and every single minute matters and can't be wasted.  It may not be for everyone but that's okay. We're happy just to share our game if you're interested. Thank you Peter!  And as always GO RIDERS!!! #bleedgreen

//=S=//

joeandwillie604
joeandwillie604

Thank you Peter King for exceptional coverage of one of my greatest passions in life - the CFL. I hope your perception wasn't tainted by the execution in Week One. With only 2 preseason games, teams are (naturally) not at their best on Opening Day. Hopefully you can come back around Labor Day when the standard of play is elevated, the stakes get higher, and the weather is better and, as a consequence, many stadiums are full.


Go Lions! (British Columbia Lions, that is).

JackReacher32
JackReacher32

It is a neat, and considerably different, game; The truth is the talents that are playing in the CFL are the collegiate talents that could not make it in the NFL.

The game would be great with NFL stars, and I think at points, for fans of prolific offense and zero defense, it might be better than the NFL.

I like defense, the existence, and importance, of a running game, and the parody that exists in the NFL with the number of teams that we have.

I watched whenever games were played on the cable channels I used to get, but without cable now it is unlikely I will be watching anytime soon.

All and all it is a great game, for the time of year, and it beats "America's pastime" hands down.

mynameisasherlev
mynameisasherlev

CFL coverage that doesn't belittle it, by a major American news outlet, makes me happy to be a Canadian. Thanks peter king.

Thatguy1985
Thatguy1985

So Peter... there is a Starbucks in Moose Jaw... just saying.  I really enjoyed the coverage of the CFL that you and the rest of the MMQB staff provided.  Keep up the good work!

Dyldebeest
Dyldebeest

Wish Peter would have talked through a few more of the differences in rules. One that I don't think he mentioned (though I may have missed it) is the absence of a fair catch rule. I love that the CFL returners have to make a play on every kick.

EdEllis
EdEllis

Try Sleeman's next time... better beer. I'm a U.S. citizen living here and a Bombers fan - not always an easy thing to be. But then, I'm also a Panthers fan. For the NFL naysayers - there's room to enjoy both, and not so many differences that it's confusing to learn. I love both leagues. But I can actually afford my Bomber season tickets, and it's worth every cent. Give 'er a go!

PeteBroccolo
PeteBroccolo

Great article.  Hopefully some non-Canadian NFL fans will watch some of the American-broadcasts of the CFL games and get hooked.  I think there are still a few die-hard CFL fans in Baltimore.

SteveRowFla
SteveRowFla

Really PK? Michael Sam and Tim Tebow again? Please bring back the "guest" columnists on a permanent basis.

Tbone5150
Tbone5150

Peter , can you explain why games are played on Thurs,Fri, Saturday instead of Sunday? I can't see the CFL gaining traction in the US competing against high school and college whereas they could be a viable option for football junkies on Sundays that NFL isn't in session.

edgrbrown1
edgrbrown1

@KeysSteven and yes you are right.ultumatly a merger will happen between NFL/CFL.dollars

edgrbrown1
edgrbrown1

@KeysSteven sorry dude. i actually know who bud grant and doug flutie and moon and thiesmen are.

edgrbrown1
edgrbrown1

@KeysSteven hi. really cerveza? hockey rules. you are right about ocho. he will suck. IMO.Molson Export.

DanDrew
DanDrew

@gregatacd  I tried to get into the CFL, many times, and it bored me to tears.  Too much offense for me.  I love that the fans are so into it and there is another style of football out there.  Maybe if I had a rooting interest, but my closest team would be in Montreal.  And, I'm sorry, as a Bruins fan, that ain't happening.
They are called Super Bowl Champs, not world chance.  Saying Grey Cups champs could compete is like saying Arena League teams could compete.  I'm sorry, but that isn't happening.  I'm glad the CFL is getting some exposure, though.


RonDavies
RonDavies

@blffan4 I think this was the first year that the CFL draft was held after the NFL draft.  The CFL draft is only for Canadian players so the only real concern to the CFL would be which Canadian players in US colleges and Canadian universities would be taken (and where) in the NFL draft.


The strategy being if it looked likely that a player would stick in the NFL (ie number one CFL rated OL Laurent Duvernay Tardif at KC) then their value would fall in the CFL draft.  So instead of going number one in the CFL draft LDT was taken in the third round, 19th overall by the Calgary Stampeders.

stewartjk1
stewartjk1

@FerdBerfel The comments on the CFL are almost universally positive, you self-important dipsh*t. 

Rick57
Rick57

@FerdBerfel Nobody is forcing you to be around the self-important, navel-gazing, soccer-hating Americans. If you don't like it, leave. Until then, why don't you grow the hell up. Stupid loser.

drobinson
drobinson

@JackReacher32 Your comment is somewhat inaccurate. It's well known that a decent number of CFL players have the talent to make it in the NFL but not the size. The CFL focuses on smaller, faster players, who compliment the speed of the game and the size of the field. Additionally, the run game is just as important in the CFL (just ask players like Andrew Harris or Jon Cornish). A team that can't run the ball is equally as one-dimensional in the CFL as the NFL. The fast pace and increased throwing of the CFL means that the games are generally higher scoring, but a good defence, again, is very important.

It's nice to see some new respect for the CFL game, I just wish it wasn't constantly followed by a caveat about the time of year, quality of players, etc. Try enjoying it for its own sake.

briananthony
briananthony

@Thatguy1985 Ha! Yes there is. :) But an irish coffee at Bobby's (local pub) would have been better :) 

briananthony
briananthony

@Dyldebeest We have the 5 yard rule though. It means that opposing players (except for the kicker) can be within 5 yards of the ball before it is touched. 


Gs1
Gs1

@Dyldebeest The CFL doesn't have as many 275 pound monsters that run a 4.5 40 or 255 pound TEs running 4.35, bearing down on puny receivers. Someone would get killed at some point.

F Harris
F Harris

@Dyldebeest Last Mondays article by Marc Trestman covered the rule differences.


ZombiePatriot
ZombiePatriot

@Tbone5150  The Rider game was played on a Sunday night.  So, they can occur anytime during the week although it is generally more often on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  With Friday Night Football being the marquee, weekly game broadcast by TSN (ESPN North).  In Saskatchewan the home games usually fall on a day where there is time for fans to travel since they are being pulled from all parts of the province (people who drive 2.5 + hours per game).

briananthony
briananthony

@Tbone5150 I'm not sure why that is. However, later in the season the games do get played on Sundays. 

localidiot
localidiot

@Tbone5150 In summer people want to spend their Sundays at the lake or in the mountains. After Labour Day the schedule is mostly weekends, including Sunday. The CFL still needs people in the stands, although TV revenues have shot up recently.  

Newsletter