While many of you are dialed in on August 24 (the official start of the 2019 college football season) and/or September 5 (NFL opening night), my wait for a new gridiron campaign ends today.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Saskatchewan Roughriders at 7 p.m., marking the official kickoff of the 2019 Canadian Football League regular season.
That means from now through the Grey Cup on November 24, I’ll be spreading the CFL gospel on a street corner near you.
Many of you will ignore me, while some might hurl rotten fruit and vegetables in an effort to make me shut up. If you go that route, though, I’ll merely double down on the league that features three downs to make 10 yards, onside punts, and the chance to score a single point even if you miss a field goal.
But, I’m not necessarily seeking converts today; I’ve got five months to evangelize. However, for those of you who’ll tune into ESPN+ tonight and babble on about the CFL’s “unique” rules, I do feel the need to clear some things up.
While both Canadian and American football share a common ancestor in rugby and followed a similar evolution, it’s actually the game played north of the border that more closely follows the original gridiron game.
All you have to do is put a quarter in the ol’ Google Machine and you can learn all sorts of cool stuff.
For example, in its earliest stages the sport was a violent mess and barely recognizable as what we now think of as football. At one point in the 1880s a touchdown was worth two points, the point after kick was worth four points, and a field goal earned five points. There were, in fact, several scoring changes over the next couple of decades.
By 1906 though, the sport was altered dramatically when the American Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee was formed and charged with setting up a system of game play that promoted both safety and cleaner game play.
And guess what?
Teams had three downs to make 10 yards and the field was 110 yards long – two elements of the CFL that remain today.
Those 1906 rules also included five point touchdowns and four point field goals – as well as kickoffs from midfield – but the point is, CFL rules that are seen by some as off the wall are actually more traditional than you might’ve thought.
The 1906 regulations came three years after Canadians adopted the “Burnside Rules,” which championed the “three-to-make-10” cause. They also reduced a team’s number of players allowed on the field at one time from 15 to 12, and CFL games continue to feature 12 to a side.
American football finally went to the four downs to make a first down format in 1912, and also reduced the length of the field to 100 yards.
That was also the year touchdowns became worth six points and field goals were downgraded to three.
Not to humblebrag (OK, it is to humblebrag), but I already knew most of this stuff anyway.
Almost from the time I could read I was fascinated with football, and I remember combing through those old, red World Book encyclopedias and reading about players clad in leather helmets and canvas pants. The Robert Leckie classic “The Story of Football” is still proudly displayed in my bookcase.
By the time I discovered libraries I was able to soak in as much gridiron history as I could handle, and rule changes was one of my favorite topics.
Any time a new pro league comes along I get weirdly excited at the thought of how it might tweak the game.
To the CFL’s credit, it’s always had rules that I found different enough from the NFL and American college football to make watching a game a familiar yet special (and highly enjoyable) experience.
So whether you prefer one style over another – or if, like me, you can get behind both – football is upon us once again.
It really doesn’t matter how it started … I’m just glad it did.