You might be wondering what the CFL stands for. It is the Canadian Football League, our low budget version of the NFL. I am definitely a sports guy but sports won’t be the topic of my choice too often. I do think though that the CFL is underrated in terms of talent and quality. Here are some of the need to knows:

Teams: There are currently 8 teams, 4 in the west division and 4 in the east division. In the west, you have the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton Eskimos, and Saskatchewan Roughriders. In the east, the teams are the Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tigercats, Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The league has twice ventured into Ottawa, but has had limited success maintaining a successful franchise there for some reason. A new ownership group has been given the rights to a new team, but they won’t be rejoining the league likely for a couple more years anyways.

The CFL actually ventured into the States back in the 90s, but attendance and interest were major issues, and the foray lasted only a few years. The CFL tried out cities such as Birmingham, Shreveport, Memphis, Sacramento and even Las Vegas (where the team lasted only a year, attracting a pathetic 3,000 fan average a game) but could only find success in Baltimore (pre NFL days) where the team was pretty popular and even captured the league championship one year. Perhaps the most interesting failure came in San Antonio. The team lasted only one year, despite having some pretty well known NFL names running the show. Jason Garrett was the starting quarterback, Mike Riley the head coach, and Tom Landry the GM!

Rules: The biggest difference is that the CFL plays with only 3 downs. This increases the pressure to have solid yardage on first down. This is why a lot of Canadians find the NFL pretty slow paced. The extra down allows NFL teams to run more tedious, 2 yard rushing plays. The CFL field is 110 yards long, and end zones are 20 yards long. One of the more controversial rules allows for teams to score one point from missed field goals which sail through the end zone. Everyone up here is just waiting for the championship game, tied at 27, to come down to a last second field goal and have the kicker miss but still win the game by one point thanks to this ridiculous rule. Otherwise, there are more similarities than differences between the two leagues.

Attendance: You’ll never see the pure numbers of fans at games like you do in the NFL. For instance, maximum capacity of the stadium in Winnipeg and Regina (Saskatchewan) is right around the 30,000 mark. Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium is the biggest in the league, with a capacity of 60,081. One of the oddest attendance issues comes every season in Toronto. Despite the fact Toronto is by far the biggest market in the league, the team is always in the bottom half of league attendance. This even occurred when the team was a perennial contender, with Doug Flutie quarterbacking the team to championships in the late 90s.

State of the League: After the disastrous 90s, where the league needed a loan from the NFL to stay afloat, the league is in pretty strong health right now. Attendance league wide is fairly decent (minus Hamilton, where the team has been brutal for about 6 years in a row now) and almost every team turned a profit last year. Here in Winnipeg the team has erased a debt of over 5 million dollars over the last 5 years. The quality of play is very strong too, and the league has several marketable stars. It has been interesting to note how some ex NFL stars have struggled up here. Players such as Onterrio Smith, Andre Rison, and even Ricky Williams were not nearly as successful as they were in the NFL. Canadian fans always cheer for ex-CFLers to make it big in the NFL. One of the biggest success stories was QB Jeff Garcia, but of course there have been many others. The biggest salaries you’ll see up here are about 400,000-500,000 (Canadian) for starting quarterbacks; hence there financially there is plenty of motivation to try and catch on with an NFL team.

I still am a big fan of the NFL, but the CFL game will always be my favourite. I suggest giving it a chance if you ever have the opportunity. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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Tyson Turner writes a weekly column for the Casual Observer, focusing on Canadian issues. His articles can be found North of the Border.

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