The CFL isn’t a lot of things. It isn’t Hollywood; it isn’t the Big Time; it isn’t the NFL. It’s an eight team league that plays a variety of football not played anywhere else on the planet (unless there’s some sort of Bring Back the Posse tribute league in Vegas about which I have been shockingly undereducated). The CFL is a league that is really only truly beloved in the hinterlands of a country that is itself more or less one giant hinterland. Thus do the Toronto Argonauts perenially play their home games before a mostly empty stadium, while Taylor Field in Regina (that’s in Saskatchewan for you ‘Mericans – oh, and um, Saskatchewan is a province of Canada) is crammed to the rafters with watermelon-headdress wearing, frighteningly pyrotechnic fans of the green Riders.
So yeah, the CFL is almost by definition parochial and, at least when compared to its counterpart to the south, the over-the-top, everything-would-be-better-if-we-just-had-more-Hank-Williams-Jr. musical introductory sequences (complete with dancing girls! exploding helmets! a jet-engine-loud soundtrack!) NFL – mercifully small-time.
That’s what the CFL is not. As for what the CFL is, it is excitement. Consider the final play of last night’s Argos/Alouettes game. I’m not saying every CFL game ends this way – it doesn’t – but CFL games are far more likely than NFL games to feature last minute heroics; whereas the NFL is prone to endings that feature twenty-two enormous men standing around and watching the final minute of the game clock count down, the CFL much more frequently ends with a bang. There is no better example of this than last night’s Argos/Alouettes game.
To set the stage, here’s what was on the line: the Argos needed a win last night to keep their hopes of hosting a playoff game alive; lose, and they would have to beat their fiercest rivals, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in Steeltown to advance to the Eastern Final.
Toronto erased a ten-point fourth quarter deficit, scoring the tying touchdown with 1:42 left in the game. Continuing the list of “things you don’t routinely see in an NFL game”, the Argos were still throwing the rock when they got the ball back. Unfortunately for them, that led to a guy named Etienne (go ahead, search the NFL rosters, see if you can find one of THOSE down south) making an interception that allowed Montreal to be in position to attempt a game-winning field forty yard field goal on what figured to be the game’s final play.
Now, because this is Canadian football and is therefore exciting, it isn’t as simple as “line up and see if the field goal kicker can split the uprights from that far out.” This is so because in Canadian football, teams can score a single point on a missed field goal, if the defending team is unable to advance the kicked ball back out of their end zone (or if the kicker is able to propel the ball all the way through the opposing end zone). The bottom line is that the Alouettes didn’t need to make the field goal to win, they only needed the single point. Meanwhile, the Argos had to hope like hell that the Als missed the field goal, and prepare to ensure that any missed attempt could be summarily ejected from their end zone. Thus did the Argos have their kicker Noel Prefontaine standing in the back of the end zone with receiver Mike Bradwell; together, these two were tasked with corralling the ball on a a missed attempt and propelling it back out of the end zone to preserve the tie via the “kick out” play, which is exactly what it sounds like. Prefontaine and Bradwell were to preserve the tie and keep the Argos’ hopes alive for a win in OT. That’s not exactly what happened.
Instead, the final play of the game featured the ball being kicked back and forth FOUR TIMES in total, then finally being recovered in the Argos’ end zone by Montreal’s Dahrran Diedrick – for a touchdown. To recapitulate: in just a few minutes, the apparent imminent outcome in regulation time veered from “easy Toronto win” to “tie game”, to “chip shot field goal for a Montreal win”, to “single point for Montreal win”, to “tie game”, to “single point for Montreal win”, to “tie game” and back to “touchdown, Montreal wins.” Keeping in mind the importance of the game to fans in Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal, I can’t help but imagine how that play unfolded last night, with groups of people across the country alternately popping up off the couch and celebrating an apparent victory, only to be racked in the next moment by paroxysms of fear as their heroes seemed to about to suffer defeat in a rapid and vicious turn of fate.
I’ve embedded a YouTube clip of the play below. Great stuff. Show me an NFL game with anything like the wild swings of fortune in this play.