Last weekend I scored a ticket to an Ottawa Canadian Football League (CFL) game. The CFL left Ottawa for a while, but Canada’s capital recently got their team back, and they obviously were not going to get into a controversy over their team’s name. Washington can have its Redskins, but Ottawa calls their team the RedBlacks. Yes, their name is two colors run together. Their mascot is plaid.
Plaid anything. Plaid everywhere. No one but no one is going to be offended by their name or their mascot.
Understand that Canadian football is not really football. Football (i.e., NFL) is a game of inches, like the armies of WWI spending enormous effort to move the trenches a short distance at a time, with an occasional pincer attack downfield. CFL is a game of longer distances and larger territory. Kind of like Canada. The overall field is 30 yards longer, and the playing field is 10 yards longer and a dozen yards wider. Three downs not four. One full yard between the scrimmage line and the defenders. A guy who coaches a high school football team in Canada told me at length all of the other differences between the NFL and the CFL. I forgot most of the rest of them, but they added up to a lot more passing in the CFL.
Ottawa was playing the Hamilton Tiger Cats, and I was immediately struck by the intensity of the rivalry at the game. Like the US Civil War, it was North versus South, and the two clearly did not mix. The North in their part of the stadium, the South in theirs, and only a narrow bridge connecting them. No need for a big bridge; if you are in one area you generally don’t set foot in the other area.
Oh wait, you thought I was talking about the teams. Nope. There is a north side of the stadium and a south side, and it is like crossing the Mason-Dixon line to go from one to the other. The North’s pride is that they have a roof. The South’s pride is that they have Shoe Beer Man. What’s that you say? Well, a roof is a thing above your head that keeps the rain and snow away. Oh, the other thing? One day, a fan high up in the South seats came up with a unique way to urge the team on. He poured his beer into one of his shoes and, well, bottoms up. He is now legend, and revered to this day by South Siders.
North Sider Jesse Westwell put it this way: “The North is filled with passion, energy and emotion ready to burst out during every play…I also can’t help but point out how much we enjoy staying dry during those rainy games.” A sign on the South Side was less eloquent: “North Side Still Sucks.” I was seated in the South side, but the weather was perfect so it was all good.
There was also the usual good-natured rivalry between the two teams. I sat next to Steve and Chris, who drove 5 hours that afternoon from Hamilton to root for their team, and planned to drive back the next morning. Why the hard hats? Steve said “Hamilton is the Pittsburgh of Canada, a steel town, with a lot of blue collar, hard-working people. We’re proud of our heritage.” They were proud of their Ti-Cats too, who eked out only their second win of the season – against the defending Grey Cup Champions at that.
Just like it seems most hockey players in the NHL are from Canada, it seems that most football players in the CFL are from the US. However, the CFL’s Game Ratio rule provides that “Each team may have a maximum of 44 players, including 3 players who shall be identified as quarterbacks and 41 other players, of whom not more than 20 may be international players.” QB’s and key receivers are often Americans, and other positions – say, those requiring the build of a lumberjack – are filled by Canadians. This year, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had filled out the international (i.e., US) part of their roster, but wanted to sign a promising receiver from the Santa Clarita, Drew Wolitarsky. Drew’s mother was a Canadian, so he quickly filed his application for Canadian citizenship and he’s now a receiver on the Winnipeg team.
There are also Canadian content requirements for TV shows in Canada. A specified percentage of shows must be Canadian. SCTV (think John Candy, Martin Short, Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy, and others) got its start in Toronto. Mocking Canadian content requirements, cast members Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas ad libbed a satirical sketch called the Great White North. The premise was a TV talk show by Canadians Bob and Doug McKenzie about Canada and Canadians, eh? To their surprise it became the most popular segment of SCTV. Moranis recalled, “We went on the stage with no preparation, and did 15 [sketches]. Two of them were lousy, in three we cracked up and fell apart… maybe six were keepers.” Added Dave Thomas, “Rick and I used to sit in the studio, by ourselves – almost like happy hour – drink real beers, cook back bacon, literally make hot snack food for ourselves while we improvised and just talked. It was all very low key and stupid, and we thought, ‘Well, they get what they deserve. This is their Canadian content. I hope they like it.'” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_and_Doug_McKenzie]
We get DirecTv through an antenna on the motorhome and watch CNN and other US shows all the time, so I suppose we are in violation of some Canadian-content anti-bootlegging law. Here we go – on the lam again.