Friday, July 17, 2009

The Continental Football League

My fan has spoken. He asked for another installment of The (Old) Sports Guy; he's got it.

As a sports fan, my interests are rather basketball-centric. Even when I was paying attention to other sports, it was my favourite by a long shot. These days, I don't even pay attention to anything else.

Back when I wrote about sports, I had to follow the boring sports. At the time, I even semi-liked them. I don't know what I was thinking. Although I suppose if I were thrust back into sports writing, I'd be a pro and force myself to watch some other sports.

Recently, a friend came over to the big city, family in tow, to watch a BC Lions game. Can you imagine? I mean, sure, if you happen to be here already and you've got nothing else to do, why not take in a game? But to purposely go out of your way and pay good money to watch the CFL? I don't get it.

So this oldie but goodie goes out to him. (He also, coincidentally, happens to be the fan clamouring for more, or speedier, blog entries.) It's one of the very earliest Sports Guy columns, dating back to 1993 or 1994, back when it was in the West End Times.
The Sports Guy

by Guy MacPerson

Don’t get me wrong. I like the CFL as much as the next fella. The problem is, the next falla could take it or leave it.

You can’t give away tickets to CFL games these days, and yet the league is acting like it’s the most popular sport on the planet. Vancouver, Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto are all struggling to stay alive and the league believes it has such a valuable commodity on its hands, it decides to expand.

I can understand why the head honchos would want the CFL to grow. They’re trying to kickstart their faltering league. They know Canadians only truly appreciate something when it has been test marketed in the Excited States. What I can’t figure out is why on earth any tycoon who wants to remain a tycoon would want in. If the teams can’t draw well up here, where there’s a tradition of 3-down football, what makes them think they’ll do any better down there?

Last year, Sacramento joined in on the fun. This year new franchises will pop up in Baltimore, Shreveport and Las Vegas. There’s even talk San Antonio, Orlando and Nashville might join in. There has been no groundswell of support for Canadian football south of the border. In fact, when CFL games were shown on NBC during an NFL strike a few years back, they were practically laughed off the air.

Most Americans, and too many Canadians, feel that Canadian football is nothing but a pale comparison to the real thing. The players aren’t as big and strong as NFLers, and in their eyes might makes right. Of course they’re wrong. The CFL’s a totally different game – wide open, high scoring, exciting. Tex Cobb could beat Sugar Ray Leonard every time but that doesn’t make him a better boxer.

Is there enough talent out there to warrant such expansion? Chris Flynn and his family might say yes. But people who have seen Flynn throw would say no way. As long as there are rich guys, there will be expansion. Everyone’s doing it. The APSL will be adding cities to its league this summer. The APSL? Hands up those who’ve ever heard of it. Well, Vancouver already has a team. Now the American Professional Soccer League will be expanding to Seattle, Toronto and Houston. The National Basketball League will be growing, too. Not the NBA, but the NBL. The one situated in Canada. Maybe it’s the climate. The league’s Edmonton franchise obviously believes enough talented unemployed professional athletes are out walking the streets. They are advertising in newspapers for players.

The Western Hockey League has had inquiries from seven cities but have decided to hold off on expansion until they’re satisfied there’s enough talent to maintain the quality of play. Finally a group with sense. Mind you, this is the same bunch who hold best-of-9 playoff series.

I think more people should watch the CFL, and I think Americans could grow to respect it for what it is. But we haven’t given a lot of good Canadian cities a chance. What about Halifax? Easterners love their sports. And the Maritimes, to me, are Canada. When I think of Canada, I think of a small fishing village in Newfoundland. Halifax may or may not be in Newfoundland. That’s not for me to decide. I’m a sports columnist. But I do know this: they all talk the same and they deserve a team. There have got to be other possible cities, only I failed geography so I don’t know them.

Expansion to the States, though, is not a bad idea, per se. Americans worship football, from the high school level on up. Medium-sized American cities can’t afford an NFL team. They might very well rally around their very own CFL team. But how are we going to feel when the Grey Cup is held in Shreveport between Sacramento and Baltimore? No one in Canada is going to watch that. Nor is anyone from outside the cities involved. And the grand finale will be played in front of a stadium filled with people all related to each other.

As Yogi Berra might have said, nobody watches the CFL anymore – it’s too popular.

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