Sunday’s Grey Cup Championship signals more than just the end of another football season, this year more than any in recent memory it signals the return of the CFL to the national psyche.
Throughout the year the signs had been there of a return of the game to its roots, the rebuilding of a national brand that had suffered a few lean years, but now seems poised to once again capture our imaginations, hearts and if we may be so crass even our wallets.
With steady growth in three key cities, Hamilton, Toronto and Vancouver the death watch can be suspended if not outright dismissed. For as the 2004 season closes its books Sunday the excitement over Canadian football seems to have come back to a level once remembered by the loyalist of CFL fans.
With no real fires to put out this year Commissioner Tom Wright could address a few football issues for a change, something novel and most welcome for the CFL. Last year at this time the rejuvenation began anew in Toronto and Hamilton as new owners were introduced with new plans, new ideas and new hope. But unlike past years where the sizzle never matched the steak, this year has been different. Toronto and Hamilton, both fielded entertaining squads giving fans there a hope of much better to come. The Ti-Cats the most remarkable of turn around stories in years, providing winning football and packed stadiums, Hamilton has shown that if there is a reason to attend the fans will come back
The Argos as well have slowly found the faithful returning to the Skydome in numbers large, fully entertained by an energetic squad that seems to find ways to win. This season the team was finally able to overtake the Alouettes to represent the East in this years Grey Cup, a wonderful thank you present for owners who seem to finally have a handle on how to make the CFL sell in Toronto.
Their counterparts in this years Grey Cup the BC Lions are merely the most entertaining team in the CFL this year, the culmination of a master plan from Bob Ackles and Wally Buono, finally giving owner David Braley some reward for his early days in Vancouver, days when saner minds may have questioned his commitment. Braley watched as Ackles quietly put some key players on the roster, brought the business community back on side and began to restore a Roar long silenced in Vancouver. Wally Buono who must be considered one of the most successful coaches ever in Canadian football, once again has sold his brand of Wallyball to a new and eager group of disciples. Featuring a wily veteran who has done it all in the CFL and the rising star that has had just an amazing debut in the CFL, the Lions never say die when things look their bleakest. Whether it’s Dickenson or Printers this team is going make a game of it wherever the ball lands.
On the other side of the sidelines Sunday is an ageless wonder, who battles on bringing a sense of calm to a youthful squad, some young enough to be his own kids. Damon Allen has been around so many CFL teams that he’s managed to last longer than a few of the teams he has toiled for. Sunday’s game brings him back to the Grey Cup against a team that effectively told him he was no longer wanted. What better finish could a player hope for; if this indeed is the year that Allen decides to hang up his cleats then there is no greater way to exit than in the biggest game of the year. Win or Lose Sunday, Allen will be given his due, his impact on the CFL has been immense, and his talent frequently on display and the results speak for themselves.
The field bosses in this much anticipated match up seem like candidates for the nicest guys in the world award. Their players speak highly of their preparation, their motivation and the ability to get the best out of each and every player. They rarely have a negative word to speak and both seem to be a template for how a coach should approach the game. Both Pinball Clemons and Wally Buono have taken over their respective teams at a vital crossing in the clubs history, both have taken their teams to safer shores, stronger for the journey and bringing many bystanders back onboard for the ride.
As the Game approaches the stadium is sold out, as fans from across Canada have made the trek to view the 92nd edition of Lord Grey’s contest for football supremacy. The country seems awash in Grey Cup interest again, house parties have been planned, the bars ready to welcome the fan of the three down game back for the show. The expected television audience may be a CFL record by 9 pm Sunday night. With ad availability long since sold out, the CBC can look at Grey Cup Sunday as one of its biggest telecasts of the year. This one day celebration of Canadianna features none of the political overtones of other events. It’s the ultimate celebration for the people, of the people and by the people!
Sit back and enjoy the show, and raise your beer in a salute to the little game that keeps on rolling along. For those that are just joining the long lasting faithful, welcome aboard glad you found us. You’ll find the entertainment supreme and the atmosphere infective. For those that are returning after an absence, glad your back, you’ve been missed, but we kept a seat warm for you!
But for us old timers, it’s a chance to revel in the attention our game is finally getting again. Many have hollered into the wilderness for years about the entertainment of the game, the accessibility of the players and pride of something that is just plain our own. To see the CFL find all its stars aligned this year has been a welcome development. Now that it’s back on the radar again, its time to build on the momentum. The game has always had the strength to survive the tough times; now that its most definitely turned its corner the time is here to entrench the brand across the land. The once again brave talk of Canadian expansion, a sign that better days are on the horizon.
But we’ll leave that job to the suits in the various team offices for Sunday, we’ll just sit back and enjoy the football which Features two most deserving teams. Each brings their strengths and players that can change their destiny. In the end it’s about the game and as any long time CFL fan will tell you, the game never, ever lets us down!