Yesterday was the 100th Grey Cup—the championship of Canadian Football, pitting East against West. The Grey Cup, unlike recent political attempts to wedge Alberta versus Ottawa or Alberta verses the rest of Canada, celebrates rivalries in a positive and unifying way.
The Grey Cup is more than a game—it is a festival, a national celebration. One will see hundreds of jerseys of teams not playing in the game, as fans celebrate their respective teams and cities (some of which currently may not even be in the league)! Fans of different teams celebrate, dance and have the occasional cocktail together in a genuine celebration of Canadian unity.
I have watched every Grey Cup since 1970. I fondly remember as a child going to Grey Cup “Pot Luck” Parties with my parents, where each family would bring a dish or two and at half-time a veritable feast would take place. My favourite Grey Cup was 1989, which was my final year living in Saskatchewan—The Riders beat the Ti-Cats 43-40 on a last second Ridgeway Field Goal and for the first and last time of my life, I marched in the streets (peacefully but boisterously)!!
It was not until 1997 that I was able to attend a Grey Cup in person (the Riders lost that one in Edmonton). Since then, I have attended 6 more (2000 in Calgary, 2002 in Edmonton, when the Esks lost, 2005 in Vancouver, when the Esks won in Overtime, 2007 in Toronto when the Riders won and back to back Rider losses-2009 in Calgary and 2010 in Edmonton).
The three in Edmonton were by far the chilliest. There is something uniquely Canadian about enduring a football game with an extended half time show, outdoors in late November! But this only scratches the surface of the uniqueness of our three-down, twelve man game played on a 110 yard field with 25 yard end zones, and the goal posts at the front!! It is perhaps appropriately Canadian that a point is awarded for a missed field goal (provided the ball is not run back out of the end zone) as Canadians do value a good effort that is nonetheless unsuccessful.
In what other professional sporting league do 75% of the teams advance to the post-season?? This is certainly a testament to Canadian generosity! And the fact that each of the current (or recent) franchises has won the Grey Cup no less than three times each is symbolic of the Canadian sense of sharing.
And where else in a 9 team league would you find two franchises sharing the moniker “Roughriders” (although admittedly spelled differently). In fact it was the demise of the Ottawa Rough Riders (and later the Renegades) that led to the geographic oddity of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers playing in the Eastern Conference of the CFL. I know of few Winnipeggers who think of themselves as Easterners!
Yes Canadian Football and the CFL are full of quirks and idiosyncrasies. Fans of the NFL will argue that their players are better athletes with better coaches implementing near perfect execution. Conceded; but the Canadian game is ours—as exciting and unpredictable as the country in which it is played. East might be pitted against West to determine the victor but in the process the entire country is united in a uniquely Canadian celebration.
Happy 100th Birthday Grey Cup and Congratulations to the Toronto Argonauts!!