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Wednesday, 01 September 2021 12:00

‘Year of the Rocket’ a blast from the CFL past

In the world of gridiron football, the NFL reigns supreme. The league has become an entertainment behemoth, a multibillion-dollar monolith that is the closest thing to monoculture that North America experiences anymore.

But to the north, there is another football league with a storied history of its own.

The Canadian Football League has been around for a long time too – decades longer than its more prominent neighbor to the south – though it has never developed the same sort of all-encompassing hold on the general population. As the NFL exploded in popularity in the 1970s and into the ‘80s, the CFL – once an entity on more-or-less equal footing with its counterpart – began losing ground.

But in the early ‘90s, thanks to a bizarre confluence of timing and circumstance and a handful of bold and ill-conceived choices, a celebrated college star headed north and the CFL briefly found itself the talk of the sports world.

“Year of the Rocket: When John Candy, Wayne Gretzky, and a Crooked Tycoon Pulled Off the Craziest Season in Football History” (Sutherland House, $19.95) by Paul Woods is the story of that moment, where a trio of celebrated owners took control of one of the CFL’s most storied franchises and used their combined clout and cash to convince Notre Dame’s Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, one of college football’s biggest stars, to sign with them.

Woods goes deep into the situation, documenting the struggles that came from dealing with the sky-high expectations across the board; on the field and off, behind the scenes and in front of the world, these were circumstances unlike any ever experienced by the CFL. It was a whole new world – some of it good, some of it bad, all of it compelling.

Published in Sports

Oh, yeah – it’s back, baby! Our neighbors to the north are getting geared up for another season of CFL football!

It’s great to have the league back this year; the CFL lost last season to the pandemic, making 2020 the first year in over a century not to feature a Grey Cup championship contest. Seriously – it’s the only time other than the stretch from 1916-1919 that there was no Grey Cup game. Never forget that there’s a ton of history behind the Canadian game – just as much (if not more) than our own NFL.

Now, this season is going to be a little different. Pandemic circumstances have led to a bit of a truncated schedule; ordinarily, the league would have kicked off a couple of months ago. Instead, the season’s first game will be on August 5 and feature the reigning champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the squad they defeated in that 2019 Grey Cup matchup.

We’re looking at 14 games played over 16 weeks, with the regular season coming to an end on November 20. The playoffs will begin on November 28, culminating in the 108th Grey Cup, scheduled to be played on December 12 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario.

The Canadian game is definitely different than what we’re accustomed to seeing in our own NFL, but it’s those differences that make it fun to watch. It’s a fast-paced and wide-open game, one that offers its own energy and excitement. If you want to see for yourself, there will be plenty of opportunity thanks to ESPN’s broadcast partnership with the league; it might be ESPN+ or a broadcast arm, but keep an eye out and you’ll get your chance – just as an example, that Winnipeg/Hamilton tilt will be on ESPN2.

Are you ready for some (Canadian) football? Let’s look ahead at the 2021 CFL season.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 04 September 2019 11:57

Checking in with the CFL: Midseason 2019

The NFL season is poised to kick off soon – in fact, the first games may well have been played by the time you read this – but our neighbors to the north have already seen their league’s season pass the halfway mark.

The CFL’s regular season runs 21 weeks to allow each team three bye weeks; this past weekend marked 12 of those weeks in the books; we’re a little over halfway home. Initially, this piece was going to run last week, following Week 11, but considering how much football we already had – the NFL preview, Rich Kimball’s UMaine Black Bears preview – we thought it worthwhile to wait a week before checking in on the CFL.

Even with that extra week in play, this still gives us an opportunity to take a look at how the CFL season is progressing before the NFL and college football settle in to dominate the rest of the 2019 pigskin conversation.

Here’s a check on the progress of the nine CFL squads; please note that due to the schedule’s placement of bye weeks, different teams have played different numbers of games thus far.

(x = playoff team as of Week 12’s completion)

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 11 June 2019 16:32

Three-down renown: A 2019 CFL preview

It’s June. The sports landscape is in flux. Baseball is in full flower, but both the NBA and NHL have just crowned their champions, bringing their respective seasons to a conclusion. And while the NFL is a year-round sport in many ways, we’re definitely in the league’s largest lull right now.

But all is not lost! There’s football being played! And not just Women’s World Cup football … although it is an international game.

The CFL’s season kicks off on June 13, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats playing host to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. All told, each team plays 18 games in 21 weeks; the whole thing wraps up with the 107th Grey Cup, to be played in November at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

The Canadian game has its quirks and differences from what we see on Sundays in this country, but it’s those quirks and differences that make it fun to watch. It’s a fast-paced, wide-open game that offers plenty of action and excitement.

And if you’ve ever considered that you’d like to give the CFL a try, but can’t seem to find the games to watch, fear not: a new broadcast agreement means that ESPN and ESPN+ will be making every single league game of the season available on one platform or another. No more barriers to entry – just settle in and get your football fix.

Here’s a quick look ahead to the 2019 CFL season.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 07 November 2018 13:27

Road to the Grey Cup 2018

We’re basically halfway through an NFL season that has had some great moments and more than a few not-so-great ones. While it has been fun, we’re still weeks away from games that have any sort of real implications with regards to the postseason.

However, in the league’s neighbor to the north, the playoffs are upon us.

The CFL postseason is set to begin, with six teams vying for the right to hoist aloft the Grey Cup. This year’s championship game – the 105th in the league’s history – is set to take place on Nov. 25 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

So who’s going to win?

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 08 November 2017 13:11

Road to the Grey Cup 2017

We’re basically halfway through an NFL season that has been weird and unpredictable (in a not-great way) and ultimately not all that interesting. We’re still weeks away from games that have any sort of real implications with regards to the postseason.

However, in the league’s neighbor to the north, the playoffs are upon us.

The CFL postseason is set to begin, with six teams vying for the right to hoist aloft the Grey Cup. This year’s championship game – the 105th in the league’s history – is set to take place on Nov. 26 at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa.

So who’s going to win?

Published in Sports

While the NFL season is poised to kick off soon – keep an eye out for The Maine Edge’s annual NFL preview from yours truly next week – the gridiron of the Great White North actually just passed the halfway point of its season.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 21 June 2017 10:09

Three-down renown - A CFL preview

Looking ahead to the Canadian Football League season.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 10 May 2017 11:45

UMaine player selected in CFL draft

Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga picked by Edmonton Eskimos

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 23 November 2016 14:28

Previewing the 104th Grey Cup

Calgary, Ottawa face off for CFL championship

Published in Sports
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