So you swarmed me with emails—more than 1,000 of them—and crammed me with Tweets about our coverage of the Canadian Football League. It’s been a revelation to read these messages, though I haven’t read all of them because I simply cannot. I am going to give you the floor in a moment. But first, a note about why we spent a week covering the CFL in the first place.
Over my 30 years covering the NFL, I’ve noticed (how could you not?) this burgeoning, exploding 24/7 media frenzy around the National Football League. That’s fine. It’s helped me feed my family and live in a nice place. But there’s a point when I say, Enough. From June 20 to July 20, no one in the NFL does anything. But still the coverage continues, nearly unabated. The paralysis by analysis, the polls, the lists, the opinions … It just never ends.
In my opinion, we should pause. We should get away for a while. We should cover other things. We should think of something else for a couple or three or four weeks. The NFL will be there when we get back, and we’ll have 48 weeks to bash it over the head and cover it bigger and better than we just did. So what I felt we should do is cover something else. And why should that not be with real football—the first week of the Canadian Football League season? In the CFL, there are about 210 players you cheered for in college football and who disappeared into the vapor of the great north, plying their trade and making a decent living, and maybe even becoming candidates to play in the NFL. It’s a better version of Triple-A baseball.
Is it so much to ask that for six days a year, or maybe a handful more, we pay attention to them, when the NFL players and coaches and executives are sunning themselves in Kennebunkport? I don’t think so. But that’s why I asked for your opinions, and why in the coming weeks we’ll tell you if we’re going to cover more CFL this year and in the future.
So, your thoughts follow. I’d say your email was something like 80 percent wanting more CFL coverage, 10 percent saying stick to the NFL, and 10 percent “I wouldn’t be caught dead reading about the CFL.”
EVEN MAYOCK STARTED IN THE CFL. I have to admit I love seeing coverage of the CFL by Americans. We have, like in the U.S., ESPN Classic but a Canadian version. I was watching a CFL game from the 1990’s on ESPN2. The announcing team? Gus Johnson and Mike Mayock. So even some announcers honed their craft in the CFL. I think my favourite part of the league is exactly what you and Jenny touched upon in the stories you did. The league is a lot more human. The players are so down to earth and, I guess, humble to a certain extent. There are some exceptions, as always, but there’s such a sense of community in this league. I know players are really happy about the league’s broadcasting deal with ESPN so that family and friends can watch them as well. I think it’s important for Americans to understand what the league is and who plays in it. I think a shift is already happening. Marc Trestman getting a job was a big boost to the league (even if it weakened the Alouettes). I don’t know any CFL fan who isn’t hoping he does well.
—Jared Book, Montreal
PLAYING FOR PASSION, NOT DOLLARS. Peter, I think you should abandon NFL coverage and go to Canada full time. Let me preach on it. When I read about your idea to highlight CFL coverage, I was nonplussed. Why? Who cares? Then after reading every article, your MMQB staff is great. I love that their salary cap is $5M. I love that their fans are real fans and not wine and cheese types looking for a place to be seen. I love that their players seem more vested in their cities and towns. Really, it boils down to I love that they play for passion and not dollars. Sign me up.
—Mike Yoder, Concord, N.C.
NO MORE CFL COLUMNS. I’m an avid reader of The MMQB and look forward to reading it every week. However, I couldn’t possible care any less about Canadian football. I’m completely disinterested in every article y’all have written about it. I would love if we never had another column about it.
—Jeremy C. Wilkins, The University of Texas School of Law 2014
FOOTBALL BUSINESS BOMBARDMENT. I want to see more of the CFL. I remember the energy of Baltimore’s CFL team for a period in the mid-nineties. Despite what seem some unusual or gimmicky rules, your account, and others such as that of Marc Trestman last week, depict a pure and exciting game. I’m an NFL fan, but feel bombarded by the ‘NFL is a business’ mantra and the constant need to grow bigger and take more of the media landscape. The CFL simply comes across as more of a game, and less of a business, with just as much passion by players and fans as we seen in NFL hotbeds.
—Tom Farkas, Fishersville, Va.
BRING CFL STATESIDE. Your CFL coverage over the last week has absolutely fascinated me. I’ll bet that the YouTube searches for “rouge” skyrocketed on Monday. I know I looked up several videos, which then led to watching the pre-snap wide receiver chaos, which then led to my saying “ah, screw it,” and watching major stretches of several games. But my interest in The MMQB’s coverage has not stemmed so much from the NFL being on hiatus as it has a genuine interest in something that is familiar enough to enjoy, new enough to pique, and frenetic enough to excite. That said, with the dearth of real football news in June and July, what if the CFL were to hold a few games in the U.S., like the NFL does in London? They could start off with one game at MetLife Stadium, close enough that plenty of Canadian fans could make the trip, but do it on a Saturday night and broadcast it nationwide.
—George T. Ligon II
MORE CANADA, LESS JOHNNY. Superb coverage from you and Ms. Vrentas this week. Amazing how you both captured so much of the charm of the CFL during your brief visits. It is a credit to your respective skills as observers and writers. The guest writers were also excellent. I do hope The MMQB continues to cover the CFL because it is a league worth covering, even if that fact doesn’t cause the “click count” to rise. It is a league worth covering because it presents professional football in a context the NFL cannot: professional football played primarily for the love of the game, rather than the highly refined product at the center of a billion dollar industry. The MMQB readers who have never followed CFL football should give it a try. At worst, you’ll waste a few minutes watching a fast-paced, exciting and highly entertaining brand of football before clicking over to the latest account of what Johnny Football did in Vegas and at best you may someday find yourself in a packed stadium under a beautiful prairie summer sky wearing a watermelon on your head and cheering along with a giant gopher.
TRY TO BUILD A CFL AUDIENCE. You asked for input on the CFL week so here goes. Aside from the one NFL story you posted, I didn’t read a single article on your site this week. I have zero interest in the CFL. Believe me, I understand this is a slow period for current NFL news or transactions. Still, this is a great opportunity to provide some in depth NFL analysis, player profiles, great moments in NFL history, or some oddball stories. This isn’t to say the CFL should be ignored. By all means cover it. In fact, had there been more NFL stories sprinkled in, I’m sure I would have read several of them. But since there was almost zero NFL coverage I had little reason to stick around. I only read this column because Peter was the author. My advice: rather than bombard us with one week of blitz coverage, try and build an audience by providing regular CFL coverage.
THANKS FOR THE REMINDER. As a native resident of Medicine Hat, I hope you enjoyed your time in our city, and enjoyed the CFL games this weekend as much as I did. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to help remind us of what we love so much about something that has been a part of our lives for so long. Reading your articles all week got me thinking about why I love the CFL game, and what about it do I understand that my NFL-only loving friends don’t. I love the CFL because my dad did, and because I hopefully get to pass that same love on to my son. Your articles all week long “got” this, and it helped me to realize it too. Thank you for your outstanding look into our game. Regardless of whether you offer more CFL coverage throughout the year, you’ve earned a new fan.
—Keith, Medicine Hat
NEW TV CONTRACT WILL HELP CFL. The columns this week were well-written, sincere and offered incredible insight into the way the game is played in Canada, and how much it means to Canadians. I’m a CFL fan (Riders), NFL fan (Packers) and NCAA fan (LSU) and I believe that this experiment in expanding coverage will show that there is a lot of synergy between those three levels of football. There are more and more examples of guys who don’t fit the NFL mold choosing the CFL as a viable option to keep their career going. The new TV contract with ESPN will also help more players to realize there is a good option for them north of the border.
SIX REASONS TO LOVE CFL. I enjoy the CFL coverage for the following reasons:
1. The Curiosity Factor: It’s cool how a sport which shares many of the basic rules with the NFL can be so different. If the NFL is looking for ways to improve offenses, north of the border seems like a good place to start.
2. The See-‘em Again factor: Those Buckeye fans who wanted Troy Smith to have the chance to strut his stuff in the new mobile-QB NFL got an eyeful of why he never did. Yeah, the wind was blowing, but it was for the other QB too. Plus, Chad Johnson, because!
3. The See-‘em First Factor: With your coverage, maybe we’ll see the next Joe Kapp, or Doug Flutie, or the first Duron Carter. My ‘Skins will never sign Carter since he‘s not an already-expensive name, but maybe the 49ers would.
4. The Nostalgia Factor: I remember watching CFL games in the ‘70’s on the local UHF channel, trying to twist that round antenna just so to make some sense out of things. It tided me over until the NFL started.
5. The Humility Factor: Like players in the WNBA, CFLers seem to bask in the chance to get paid for playing the game they love, and to do it against guys who aren’t the size of Mack Trucks. Maybe those guys get a second look “down south” as a result of your coverage.
6. The Not-The-NFL Factor: Hey, it’s professional football two months before the season starts! What’s not to like?
—Chris Atwell, Adamstown, Md.
A MONTREAL CONVERT. As a long time MMQB reader and current Montreal resident, I must say that I truly enjoyed your series of articles regarding the CFL. Ironically, even though I am a huge football fan (yearly trips to Buffalo to see the Bills), I did not care much for the CFL until I started reading your series of articles. It made me see it through you and your teams’ eyes, and I must admit that I read your articles with the same level of interest as if I was reading a typical MMQB/NFL-centred column. I don’t know if it’s a testimonial of you and your team’s work, or the CFL, but anyway, keep it coming!As we say in Quebec : Merci beaucoup.
STRATEGY IS WHAT MAKES THE CFL. Thanks Peter for coming up here and covering the CFL and, yes please, do give us more in the future. I’m an American—a Bostonian and still a Patriots season ticket holder—but I’ve been living here in Toronto for four years and plan to make this home. You were smart to go to Regina—Canada’s best football city—but unfortunately you missed the best game of the weekend, Edmonton at BC. Unlike the other three games, it was a close, competitive one, with Edmonton coming back from behind to win on the road. The best thing about the game, though, was the little creative touches you rarely see in the NFL. There was a fake field goal, with a perfectly executed shovel pass to the running back for a first down. And a surprise onside kick, with a brilliant toe-tapping sideline catch, that allowed Edmonton to keep the ball for two straight drives.
The reason I love watching the CFL is really the same reason I love watching the Patriots –under Bill Belichick—the strategy. The NFL is a great game, but most of the coaching tends to be conservative. I love watching both the American and Canadian versions of the same game. They are similar in many respects, but the variations in the rules create strategic diversity which leads to different styles of play that require players with a different set of skills. It’s football in two flavours (tell your editor that’s the proper Canadian spelling)—still the same great game, but richer because of the differences and the resulting variety in strategy and playing style. It’s like having two official languages, French and English: vive la différence!
—Rob Lewis, Toronto
GOOD IDEA. There are CFL rules that I think the NFL should consider. Such as, the game must end on a play. None of this getting down to 35 seconds and letting the clock run down.
THANK YOU. I loved the coverage of the CFL. Your team did an excellent job. I’m now interested in it more and will follow it on my own. I don’t expect MMQB to cover it like the NFL, but I think checking in on it and covering the playoffs would be good call. Great job exposing us all to this game with our wonderful neighbors to the North.
MIX UP THE COVERAGE. It was nice learning about the CFL, but Canada week’s coverage was too one-sided—all the good stuff, but none of the bad. A league hasn’t had this much praise since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Why didn’t you have anyone criticize the league and explain why they feel the NFL offers a superior product?
ONE WEEK HELPS. As an American who grew up in Wisconsin and Winnipeg, and then decided to go to university in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, I’ve had a fair bit more exposure to the CFL than most. I’ve spent far too many nights drunkenly debating my friends from Regina about which league was better, NFL or CFL. They would win with history, I with the Packers. They would argue for the speed of the game, I would point to the Packers. They would complain about all the glitz and glamour without substance of the NFL, I would complain about the damnedable rouge. It’s good to see the CFL get its fair shake though. It’s a good game and I know few fans more rabid than the Roughriders’ lot. I liked the coverage and think one week a year can only help.
AMERICAN APPRECIATION. Wow, you weren’t kidding about Canadian appreciation. I thought maybe the first page to start, but the whole column? Yeesh. Too much detail on a sport I only wonder about when my team picks up a player from the CFL. Here is my feedback: I’m an NFL junkie and have no desire at all to become a fan of a different league. Just doesn’t interest me. I’ll look forward to American Appreciation Mondays when the MMQB returns from its trip north.
NEVER AGAIN, THANK YOU. I love the column and read it every week. Canada Week was a good experiment but please never again. BORING. There are too many interesting stories in the NFL. Keep up the good work but stay south of the border.
HOPE THE NFL WAS READING. Loved it. You guys are at your best when our covering things I can’t read on the bottom line. I thought Canada Week was awesome. They obviously play legit football up there, and I think the NFL could probably learn a few things about innovation both from a rules standpoint and a game strategy standpoint. Mostly just great to hear stories I haven’t heard before.
MMQB CANADA? HMMMM. I can best describe the CFL coverage as ‘cute.’ The rules differences were interesting to read about, as well as some of the coverage of the various personalities, but going into things like players of the week regarding people we’ve never heard of is a bit much. I just scrolled right through. Why not just start a MMQB Canada version if it’s so popular? No need to dilute your outstanding NFL coverage with it. And that’s not at all anything against the level of play or the people of Canada!
THANK YOU AGAIN. I have been a longtime reader of the MMQB, and I would like to say thank you for your coverage on the CFL last week. The articles from your staff were top notch, and really captured everything a new fan should know about the game. There was no better coach in the league in the five years Coach Trestman was in Montreal for (that is painful to admit, as the Argos are my hometown team), and I learned a ton from his article last week. I also really enjoyed Emily Kaplan’s article on Jon Cornish, and how CFL players hold second jobs to support them in addition to a CFL salary.
—Stacey Wilson, Toronto