The Canadian Football League (or CFL) may not have the fanbase or the outrageous money of its American counterpart, the NFL, but for fans of Canadian gridiron-style football, there is no better league!
The CFL currently has nine teams divided into two divisions, the Eastern Division and the Western Division, with a new eastern team, Ottawa, due to start playing in the 2014 season. The season begins in June and runs for 20 weeks, culminating in a 3-week playoff run and a Grey Cup championship, the oldest sports cup in North America!
Although the CFL is the second-most watched sport franchise in Canada after NHL hockey, the Grey Cup championship game is the biggest sporting event in the Canadian calendar, drawing more than twenty million viewers each year in November for the big final showdown game between the top team from the east and the top team from the west!
Rugby has been played professionally in Canada since the Canadian Rugby Football Union was established in 1884. Six years later, in 1890, Governor General Earl Grey donated the Grey Cup to the CRFU to serve as its championship trophy. By the turn of the twentieth Century the sport of rugby had changed so drastically in Canada that it closer resembled its American counterpart than the British one, although the league kept its “rugby” name until 1954! In 1956 the Canadian Football League was officially born, although the teams hadn’t changed and the Grey Cup was still the championship players (and fans) strived for.
In 1993, in one of the most anticipated moments in Canadian sports, the CFL attempted expansion into the United States and went head-to-head with the NFL for fan support. The CFL recognized markets with no NFL team and opened up shop there. Sacramento, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Shreveport all joined the CFL, and in 1996 Birmingham and Memphis added teams. In 1995 the Baltimore Stallions became the first, and only, non-Canadian team to win the Grey Cup.
The NFL responded by establishing teams in Baltimore and Memphis and swallowed up the CFL competition. The CFL found itself dumping millions of dollars into financially-underperforming US markets, and in 1997 the CFL closed up its American teams (keeping the Baltimore Stallions and relocating them to Montreal) and concentrated instead on its core Canadian markets.
The CFL’s financial woes didn’t stop there, however. By the late 90’s a weakening Canadian dollar and large Canadian fan support for big NFL franchises saw the Ottawa Rough Riders pack up, and the Toronto Argonauts, one of the oldest of the CFL teams, on the verge of bankruptcy as football fans turned the highly successful Buffalo Bills team. The NFL injected $3-million into the CFL in exchange for draft rights for CFL players. The new money helped the CFL rebuild some core teams and renovate some outdated stadiums, and in 2005 the CFL recorded its highest ever attendance record, with more than 2 million fans visiting CFL games that season!
CFL football differs from American NFL football in several ways. First, unlike US-style football with four downs, there are only 3 downs in the CFL. Also, CFL fields are 110 yards long. For better or worse, the extra length and the 3-downs rule makes for more long receiving and less rushing than in the NFL.
Many of the CFL players are former NFL players, although recently many UFC fighters have been inducted into Canadian football. Also, many of the young CFL talent end up moving on to the NFL. This constant back and forth of talent between the two leagues has helped tie gridiron football into one sport in North America. With recent talk of the NFL opening a franchise in Toronto, it is impossible to say what the future holds in store for Canada’s second-favourite sport, but if history is anything to go by, then the CFL will be with us for a long time to come!
The Hamilton Tiger Cats – Hamilton, Ontario
Based in Hamilton, Ontario, the Ti-Cats were founded in 1950 and have won eight Grey Cups, the last being in 1999. The Ti-Cats have been facing financial difficulty recently as Hamilton fans have been travelling to Buffalo, a mere half-hour away, to watch the Bills play. In 2013 the Ti-Cats had to play in nearby Guelph, Ontario as their stadium was torn down and a new one being built. This means that the Ti-Cats were the only team in the CFL to play every game away!
The Montreal Alouettes
Based in Montreal, Quebec, the Alouettes were originally founded in 1946 but went bankrupt in 1994. In 1997 the champion Baltimore Stallions were moved to Montreal and renamed the Alouettes, and the team was back! The Alouettes have won 7 Grey Cups, the most recent being in 2009 and 2010!
The Toronto Argonauts
Founded in 1873, the Argos are one of the original CFL teams. Winners of 16 Grey Cups (the most recent in 2012), the Argos are one of the most popular teams in Canadian football. This hasn’t stopped fans from trickling away to the Buffalo Bills, especially as the NFL has begun looking at Toronto as the site of its next expansion. In 2010, to revitalize lagging support, the Argos drafted NFL star Chad Owens onto its lineup. Fans were thrilled and Owens helped lead the Argos to a Grey Cup victory in 2012. Owens has professed his love for Toronto and has moved his family to the city and bought property, indicating that he’s here for the long-haul!
Nobody knows much about the newest CFL team, the Ottawa RedBlacks, which will start its season in June 2014. The logo is all we have to go with here! Ottawa used to have a team, the Ottawa Rough Riders, which collapsed amid bankruptcy in 1996 and its players drafted off to other CFL and NFL teams in a lottery.
The BC Lions
The BC Lions are the second-youngest CFL franchise (after the fledgling Ottawa RedBlacks who premier next season), having been formed in 1954. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Lions have won six Grey Cups; the most recent being in 2011. The Lions are named after two mountain peaks that overlook Vancouver, giving the team a real hometown feel. Vancouver sports fans are crazy for the BC Lions and during the autumn the city is a sea of orange!
The Calgary Stampeders
Founded in 1935 as the Calgary Broncs, the Stamps are the third oldest team in the CFL and have won six Grey Cups (but have appeared in the championships 13 times). The Stampeders, like their hockey counterparts the Flames, have an inter-provincial rivalry with the Edmonton Eskimos CFL team. In 1948 the Stampeders became the only team in professional Canadian sports history to have a perfect season without a loss!
The Edmonton Eskimos
The Eskimos were founded in 1949 and are the arch-enemies of their sister-city Calgary Stampeders. The Eskimos have a claim to fame over the Stamps, however; they are the winningest team in the CFL! The Eskimos have brought home the Grey Cup thirteen times in their history, the most recent being in 2005. With a solid fan base and no financial troubles, the Eskimos are the most successful CFL franchise today!
The 2013 Grey Cup champions are based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Founded in 1910 they are the second-oldest CFL team after the Toronto Argonauts, but have won only 4 Grey Cups. The RoughRiders have the honour of being the most popular major-league sports franchise in the province, and the 2013 Grey Cup game between the Hamilton Tiger Cats and the RoughRiders drew more than 100,000 fans to Regina, both inside the stadium and out!
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
The Blue Bombers, based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, have won 10 Grey Cups since they were founded in 1930 (the most recent being in 1990). They are currently the team with the longest Grey Cup drought! The team got their name during a 1936 exhibition game with North Dakota, when a local radio announcer called them the “Blue Bombers of the West” after then-boxing star Joe “Brown Bomber” Louis. The name stuck and they’ve been the Blue Bombers forever more!
The Grey Cup