The Canadian Football League (CFL) might be thankful for the contract stalemate between National Hockey League (NHL) commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL Players’ Association.
Starved for the action that comes when blades, ice and puck are in play, sports fans are turning with greater enthusiasm to this year’s Grey Cup game between the Western Division champion Calgary Stampeders and hometown favourites and Eastern Division champion Toronto Argonauts. The game set for Sunday at Rogers Centre will be more than just two underdogs going for the title. It also marks the 100th Grey Cup and there would hardly be a Torontonian who doesn’t want to see the hometown team win.
There is the game and then there is the excitement about the game. Americans have their Super Bowl, but the National Football League has only been on the scene for 50 years. They may put on a bigger show, but there’s no arguing that Canadian football fans have as much heart, perhaps more. The CFL doesn’t have the big money and high profile as its American counterpart, but its fans are very faithful.
They will need that faith as the teams meet on Sunday. At this point it’s a tossup who will win although some give the edge to the Argos playing before a home crowd. The Argos beat the Stampeders twice during the regular season but Calgary has the confidence of coming into the Grey Cup match with seven straight wins.
Even for people who aren’t football fans, the excitement the game brings to Toronto has to be appreciated. Hotel rooms will be filled with out-of-town fans and that means business for those in the hotel and restaurant sectors over the weekend.
Just as important, we here in Toronto want to have at least one of our home teams come out ahead. As the largest city in the country – both admired and scorned depending on where in Canada you live – we have had a dismal record of sports team. Toronto hockey fans bemoan each closing season, as they have to contend with yet another year without the Maple Leafs hoisting the Stanley Cup. The second most winning team in the NHL after the Montreal Canadiens has not seen a championship since 1967. Toronto Raptors fans enjoy the games, there is no doubt, but any hope of them reaching the National Basketball Association finals is but a distant dream for now.
The closest we can come to bragging rights and pride goes to the back-to-back baseball championships of the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993 when Cito Gaston was coaching the team.
So we want the win. Some might say we need the win.
And let’s not forget that our team is competing against a team from what has become to some extent Toronto’s rival city. We’ve already heard the Prime Minister, who was born in Etobicoke but transplanted to Calgary, say that he is rooting for the Stampeders. That may not win him any votes here and confirms what we already understand about current favoritism towards the West on the part of the powerbrokers in Ottawa. But Harper might be forgiven for rooting for his adopted city. We’re doing the same.
Making the contest that much more interesting, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has put Mayor Rob Ford up to a two-part bet. The mayor of the city whose team doesn’t win has to deliver his weight in food to food banks in the winning city and additionally has to wear the opposing team’s jersey to council chambers. Nenshi is no beanpole, but Calgary will certainly receive the greater benefit in the 300 or so pounds of food – the equivalent in Ford’s weight – that would come their way should Toronto not take the Cup.
We would like to know that those in Calgary who are in need of food receive it, and it’s a tough call, but no one in this city wants to see the Argos lose so that Calgarians in need can have the extra 300 pounds of food.
For Sunday’s game, tickets are sold out. There is also a much-anticipated half-time show, a 100-year anniversary of Canadian football to celebrate and all eyes will be on Argos quarterback, Ricky Ray.
May the best team win. And, by that, we mean the Argos.