The last time I watched a Canadian Football League game on television with Canadians was 1994. It was in a ballroom at the Imperial Palace. The Canadians were mostly from Edmonton.
They had purchased junkets to watch the Eskimos, their Canadian-style football team, play the Las Vegas Posse in the final game of the regular season at Sam Boyd Stadium. One small problem: The Posse had folded the week before.
The CFL commissioner, or Pierre Trudeau, or one of the McKenzie brothers, interceded. It was decided you can’t fold in the middle of the season, no matter how lousy attendance is. So the league paid for the Posse to travel to Commonwealth Stadium instead. There would be no forfeit.
But then Air Canada told the Canadians from Edmonton they could not cancel their junkets on short notice. So they came to Las Vegas anyway. Some apparently were even looking forward to seeing Wayne Newton at the Hilton.
Big-screen TV sets were rolled into the ballroom at the I.P., and then a few tubs of Molson Export were rolled in, and then the Canadians from Edmonton were a happy lot.
I knew my pal Lloyd from Saskatoon, a classmate of Joni Mitchell’s at Aden Bowman Collegiate High School up there (he remembers she was always writing poems), would get a kick out of that story. So I invited myself over to his place to watch Sunday’s Grey Cup, the Canadian football Super Bowl. Only they’ve been playing theirs a lot longer than we’ve been playing ours.
This was Grey Cup CI, the 101st Grey Cup. The first one (named for Earl Grey, the governor general who supplied the trophy) was played in 1909. This one was Saskatchewan vs. Hamilton, a rematch of the 1972 Grey Cup at Hamilton’s Ivor Wynne Stadium, a game my pal Lloyd witnessed in person.
The Tiger-Cats won 13-10. It wasn’t all that exciting, Lloyd said, despite multiple men in motion and 12 players on each side.
It was still more compelling, however, than watching the Roughriders tie the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 6-6 in 1965. At least his wife Sharon gave birth to their son Todd after that one, and that made the trip down worth it, Lloyd said.
I always have considered Saskatchewan the most quintessential of the Canadian provinces. It may not be as cosmopolitan as, say, Ontario or British Columbia. But it is situated north of Montana and North Dakota. They have prairie up there. Canadian prairie. The kind Gordon Lightfoot sings about, upon which they built those railroads.
Plus, Saskatchewan has Moose Jaw.
Moose Jaw is situated 48 miles west of Taylor Field in Regina, site of Sunday’s Grey Cup. Art Linkletter, the old radio and TV host, was born in Moose Jaw, and Al Capone used to run whiskey out of there to Chicago. The tunnels still are there.
I don’t know too much about Hamilton, only that it is sort of close to Toronto, and that it is sort of grimy, because they make steel there. I am partial to grimy towns that produce steel, mostly because I grew up in them.
Also, the Ticats have these cool striped jerseys, or at least they did, that made them look like Tigers.
However, I had made up my mind that I would cheer for the Roughriders.
For starters, the team from Ottawa has folded, so there is only one Roughriders in the CFL now, though Ottawa were Rough Riders, with a space in the middle. You know, to eliminate the confusion.
Heading into Sunday, the Roughriders without the space in the middle had won only three Grey Cups, which is only three more than the Posse won.
(A guy named Anthony Calvillo was the Posse quarterback for most of that 1994 season, and he still is chucking TD passes for the Alouettes of Montreal. Calvillo is a legend up there, like Rocket Richard and Rusty Staub.)
I also was pulling for Saskatchewan because in the run-up to the game, Lloyd had sent me this story that said a sex shop in Regina had dressed its lingerie mannequins in the Roughriders’ colors, for which it received a lot of publicity — only an employee at the sex shop said they dress the mannequins like that before every Riders game.
Lloyd emailed another story that showed three nuns wearing Roughriders gear, and a painting of Jesus wearing a Roughriders T-shirt. So that segment of Regina was behind the Riders, too, though perhaps not as literally behind them as the aforementioned other part of Regina.
That polar extremes can come together at a time like this is why you’ve gotta love the Grey Cup, and envy Gordon Lightfoot.
As for the game itself, well, I have to admit I was disappointed because it didn’t snow. After some of the Ticats suffered frostbite during the practice week, it was downright balmy by Saskatchewan standards by kickoff, like 1 or 2 Celsius.
The Riders won 45-23 mostly because Hamilton couldn’t contain a guy from Purdue (Kory Sheets, who rushed for 197 yards, shattering a 57-year-old Grey Cup record). And though my pal Lloyd was happy, you could tell he’s been making his winter home here since 1978, because he quietly confessed to have taken the Tiger-Cats and the points.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski