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We're Not Quite Sure How This Happened - Part 2

We figure enough time has passed that we can publish our National Post article without getting into too much trouble.  Once again thanks to the Post for publishing our ramblings.


CFL fans are part of the experience

Derek Russell,  National Post  Published: Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm in my 20s, was born, raised and currently live in downtown Toronto, and I love the Canadian Football League. Based on some of the columns published in these pages recently, you'd think I was a rarity. But there are actually many more young, urban Toronto CFL fans like me.

Part of the reason is CFL football itself -- it's fast, well-played and available to watch live and up close at very reasonable prices. But the appeal lies even more in the CFL culture.

Ours is a league where fans care more about the game being played on the field than about gambling on it. It's a league where players spot fans wearing their jersey and insist on buying them a beverage after the game; or joining their table at the post-game party to discuss the finer points of what just happened on the field. It's the conduit for The Great Canadian Party, where for the better part of a week people from across the country (plus some incredibly loyal Baltimorians still lamenting the demise of the CFL's U. S. expansion) gather to swap stories about their team and their city. It's a league where the games themselves become communal experiences as much as sporting events -- and yes, that applies even in Toronto.

I've had season tickets for the Toronto Blue Jays for the past six seasons, getting to roughly 40 games per year. But it's rare to see any of the other ticket-holders more than a few times over that year. It's rarer still that any of us strike up a conversation. To suggest going for a beer after the game would draw blank stares and possibly a restraining order.

By contrast, in the nine or 10 home games the Argonauts play each year, I've forged genuine friendships with the cast of characters in my section -- young and old, male and female, and for the most part unlikely candidates for me to encounter in my day-to-day life. That we've gotten to know each other may have something to do with my astonishing lung capacity and ability to lead random chants. But it's also because the CFL seems like part of a past era when fans were part of the experience, rather than just consumers.

The players understand this as well. So one is hardly surprised when Jonathan Brown engages in elaborate six step handshakes with fans before the games. Or when Sandy Annunziata shows up at 4 a. m. at a deli, hours after having won the Grey Cup and lets fans hoist the trophy, letting them know that they too played a role in the big win.

To celebrate the CFL is not necessarily to turn one's back on the glitzier product south of the border. At this stage, there's little point debating which brand of football is better, even if the fair catch rule is a little silly. Not only is it a boring debate, but neither side has come up with any new arguments in the last 15 years.

For the relatively small number of fans able to afford tickets, bringing the NFL to Toronto would be a boon. But for their benefit, one of the few institutions that brings this whole country together -- that gives Torontonians something in common with Winnipeggers and Hamiltonians and Saskatchewanians -- would be jeopardized. I don't want to see that happen. And not just because it would be a waste of my chanting abilities.

Derek Russell is a lifelong CFL fan and is the co-founder of boatmenblog.com. He can be reached at boatmenblog@gmail.com.

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2008 at 11:00AM by Registered CommenterRusty in | CommentsPost a Comment

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