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Previewing the 100th Grey Cup

November 21, 2012
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Toronto and Calgary meet for the CFL championship

This February, the Super Bowl will be contested at the Superdome in New Orleans. It will mark the 47th time the game has been played. Millions upon millions of people from all corners of the globe will watch. Hundreds of television hours and thousands of articles are devoted to coverage of the NFL every season; you'll even occasionally find some here in these pages. The NFL is the biggest business in American sports, and the Super Bowl is its culmination.

But what if I told you that there was another professional football championship being contested here in November? A championship that has been around for over twice as long as the Super Bowl?

The Canadian Football League's championship game called the Grey Cup will be played for the 100th time this month. It will be played at the Rogers Centre in Toronto and feature the Calgary Stampeders versus the Toronto Argonauts.

So who is going to take home the Grey Cup this year?

The Calgary Stampeders won the CFL's West Division this year, sporting a regular season record of 12-6. To make their way to the championship, Calgary defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the division semi-finals before triumphing over the BC Lions in the West Final. Calgary was the second highest scoring team in the CFL this season, finishing with 535 points scored, just three behind the league-leading Lions. They were also third in scoring defense, allowing a total of 430 points.

The Stampeders are led by quarterback Kevin Glenn, a 12-year veteran of the CFL. During the 2012 regular season, Glenn passed for 4,220 yards and 25 touchdowns (both good for fourth in the league). Glenn's primary target is slotback Nik Lewis, who caught an even 100 passes to lead the league. He was also fourth in yardage with 1,241 and third in TD receptions with 10.

In addition, the Stampeders feature the most prolific running back of the 2012 season in Jon Cornish, who rushed for 1,457 yards and 11 TDs, setting the single-season record for a native Canadian rusher; he also had 38 catches for 338 yards and two more scores.

On the defensive side, Calgary was fourth in the league in interceptions with 17 and third in sacks with 43. Defensive back Keon Raymond tied for second in the league with 5 interceptions apiece, while defensive lineman Charleston Hughes was second with 11 sacks.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Argonauts took the CFL East despite a regular season record of just 9-9. The team was sixth in both points scored (with 445) and points allowed (491). Despite being outscored by nearly 50 points over the course of the season, the Argos managed to put it together long enough to beat the Edmonton Eskimos and the Montreal Alouettes and make their way into the Grey Cup game.

The offensive star for the Argonauts is quarterback Ricky Ray. Ray sits sixth on the all-time CFL passing yardage list; in this, his first season with Toronto, Ray was fifth in the league with just over 4,000 yards passing and 20 touchdowns. Slotback Chad Owens who doubles as the team's primary kick returner caught 94 passes (six for TDs) and led the league in receiving yards with 1,328.

The running game is less impressive; running back Chad Kackert led the team with just 638 yards rushing while scoring five times and catching 23 passes. Backup Gerald Riggs added 220 yards and 14 receptions.

As the scoring numbers indicate, the Toronto defense wasn't particularly stout. However, there were bright sports. Cornerbacks Patrick Watkins and Jordan Younger each had five interceptions tied for second in the league. The team also led the league in turnover differential at +10. They were dead last in the league in sacks with only 27 for the season.

On paper, it looks like a no-brainer. By almost every measure, the Stampeders look to be the superior team. While the QBs are essentially a wash Glenn and Ray are both elite and each team has a first-rate receiving threat, the Calgary rushing attack is far superior. And while the Toronto defense is certainly opportunistic with regards to turnovers, the scoring numbers don't lie.

If the Argonauts can manage to force a couple of turnovers and can find some way to get some pressure on the quarterback, Toronto might have a shot at winning the Cup on their home field and adding to their record total of 15 championships. However, the Stampeder attack will likely prove too much, and the Cup will go to Calgary for the seventh time.

Final: Calgary 38 Toronto 23

CFL versus NFL: a Grey Cup primer

In 1909, Charles Grey, the fourth Earl Grey, commissioned a trophy to be awarded to Canada's amateur hockey champion. However, when another trophy was donated before his plans could be completed, he instead offered it up to serve as the award to the champion of Canadian football. With the exception of a few years during World War I, the Cup has been awarded every year.

The game is considered by many to be the most important single sporting event of the Canadian year, with the host city assembling a week-long festival in celebration. This party is affectionately known as Canada's 'Grand National Drunk.'

At first glance, there would seem to be little difference between Canadian football and the American game. Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that these two sports, while very similar in many respects, are not the same.

If you're looking to watch the Grey Cup, but are a Canadian football neophyte, here are a few of the bigger aspects that differentiate the CFL from the NFL.

-The field of play is significantly bigger in the CFL. While the standard NFL field is 100 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide, the CFL field is 110 yards long and 65 yards wide. In addition, CFL end zones are 20 yards deep, as opposed to 10 in the NFL. Also, the CFL's goal posts are placed on the goal line while the NFL's are located on the end line.

-NFL teams play with 11 men to a side. The CFL plays with 12. Since both games have the same number of players required at the line of scrimmage, the additional player plays in the backfield.

-CFL teams get three downs in which to advance the ball 10 yards for a first down instead of the four allotted NFL teams.

-Players line up at different distances from the line of scrimmage. In the NFL, offensive and defensive players are the length of the ball (11 inches) apart. In the CFL, there's a full yard between the offensive and defensive players.

-In the NFL, only one player may be in motion during a given play, and he can't be moving toward the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. In the CFL, any player in the offensive backfield other than the quarterback can be in motion at any time and in any direction.

-There is no such thing as a fair catch in the CFL. Also, the ball may be kicked at any time, including during a play. This is known as an open-field kick.

-A kicked ball that goes through the back of the end zone in the CFL (except on kickoffs and balls that hit the goal post) results in a single point, a play known as a rouge. This includes punts and missed field goals.

-The NFL play clock is 40 seconds, while the CFL clock is 20. NFL teams get three time-outs per half, while CFL teams get only one. The CFL features a three-minute warning as opposed to the NFL's two-minute warning. Additionally, after the three-minute warning, the clock stops after every play.

There are other differences as well, but these are most of the major ones. The CFL game is certainly recognizable as the sport of football, but decades of divergent evolution have resulted in something that is undeniably unique.

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