It’s playoff time in the Canadian Football League and for some of you, that means absolutely nothing.
You might be completely unaware of which teams are even in the playoffs. Shoot, you might not even know what teams are in the league.
But I’m gonna let you in on a little secret; the CFL might just be my favorite brand of tackle football.
And come playoff time, it gets a lot more of my attention than the NFL.
(Granted, being a New York Jets fan in November means it’s a pretty easy to look elsewhere for gridiron entertainment, but still).
I’ve been following the CFL since the 1970s and I’ll continue to cheer for it as long as it lasts, which will likely be much longer than I last.
In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Canadian football isn’t just football played north of the border.
It has its own rules and, ultimately, its own personality.
Teams have just three downs to make 10 yards and a first down; they play on a ginormous field (110 yards from goal line to goal line, 65 yards wide, end zones that are 20 yards deep); there are 12 players to a side instead of 11; all backs are allowed in motion toward the line of scrimmage; and a team can score a single point if its kickoff, punt or missed extra point is downed in the end zone.
You can even make an onside punt, which is about the coolest damn thing in sports.
And maybe what I like about it most is that it isn’t stocked with players who make seven figures.
I don’t begrudge NFL guys for their multi-million dollar contracts; more power to ‘em. But I like watching a league comprised of guys who really want to play for the (cliche alert) love of the game.
Certainly, the NFL has far more talent, but I couldn’t care less. I watch sports for entertainment, and the CFL has been entertaining me since I was a kid.
In the early days of my fandom I adopted the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as my team. There was no compelling reason, I just liked the nickname and thought black and yellow made for a great color combination.
But when the league experimented with expansion into the United States and granted my hometown of Birmingham, Ala., a franchise, I was thrilled.
Even though the southeastern US expansion team had a stupid nickname (there aren’t a lot of Barracudas in central Alabama), I snatched up as much apparel as I could find and was firmly convinced that I’d be watching the ‘Cudas for years.
After all, the CFL was stable (it was officially established under that acronym in 1958, although it existed years earlier as the Canadian Rugby Union) and I just assumed its American clubs would be stable, too.
I was wrong because, ultimately, the “American experiment” failed.
In 1995, the CFL had franchises in Baltimore, Birmingham, Memphis, San Antonio and Shreveport (it had previous stops in Sacramento and Las Vegas).
By 1996 it was strictly Canadian again; only Baltimore had a decent fan base among the expansion teams but – as the odd team out – the Stallions relocated to Montreal.
I was disappointed, of course, but I didn’t hold it against the league.
I resumed rooting for the Ti-Cats and continued to follow the CFL closely.
And that’s what I’ll do this weekend, even though there are no teams in the postseason I have traditionally cheered for.
The Ti-Cats didn’t make it, and even if they had, I’ve put them in “timeout.”
The organization fell out of favor with me during its attempt to hire disgraced former Baylor coach Art Briles, an astonishingly tone-deaf move that, fortunately, received so much backlash the offer was rescinded.
Still, that Hamilton had to be shamed into not hiring Briles still pisses me off.
That caused me to change my allegiance to the Montreal Alouettes, who were so terrible this season I just figured they needed my support.
No, the playoffs that start Sunday will feature Saskatchewan vs. Ottawa, with the winner playing Toronto a week later, and Edmonton vs. Winnipeg, whose survivor faces Calgary on Nov. 19.
The finalists compete in the CFL title game, the Grey Cup, on Nov. 26.
I’ll watch for the enjoyment of the games themselves, not necessarily caring who wins any of them.
But come next June – when a new CFL season gets under way – I’ll again rejoice in the fact that a great league is off and running.
I’m not sure if it’ll be Hamilton or Montreal who’ll be the main object of my affection, but I’m certain my love affair with the Canadian Football League will be as strong as ever.