The ‘real football’ of the heart

And so another National Football League season is underway. It’s a moment big enough to scare television shows and rival football games (CFL) from going head-to-head on Sundays that aren’t super. It’s the revival of America’s greatest sport, which supplanted baseball decades ago. It’s the lighter that ignites the gambling season…in casinos, in homes of bookies (are there still bookies?) and wherever purveyors of fantasy football gather.

For people of my vintage, the whole thing can unleash two emotions. Ho. Hum.

This is not because we don’t like football. It’s partly because when we became football fans, it was of Canadian football, which for all its flaws is still the better game. We watched Canadian football because NFL games were rarely available north of the border, as if some enormous electronic screen shot into the sky above the 49th parallel to block the signal.

My earliest memories of the NFL was somebody I’d never heard of (Curly Morrison) on a broadcast of a game that I never watched on a Sunday, the only day games were played. Occasionally, I might catch a sports newsreel of NFL highlights, of Jimmy Brown running, Sam Huff tackling and Y.A. Tittle passing. I bequeathed this philosophy to my grandson, who says (about hockey): “I’m just a highlights kind of guy.”

Canadian football was the “real” game then, sometimes attracting NFL players with offers of more money and jobs from an employer who didn’t mind if their “side hustle” was intercepting passes or kicking field goals. And when the Grey Cup brought its customary dramatic conclusion to the season, perhaps it was withdrawal that drove our interests to the “other” pro football.

In thinking about it, maybe that’s why even today my interest in the NFL isn’t piqued until just before the playoffs, and through to the Super Bowl, but after the Grey Cup. There’s only so much space in our brains, and our days, for football.

There were exceptions.

When a CFL coach became an NFL coach, like Bud Grant and Marv Levy did, there was a reason to follow their teams. When a CFL player made an impact in the NFL, like Doug Flutie and Warren Moon did, it was time to see if they were as good there as they’d been here. And that’s true today. Will the one-year wonder that is Nathan Rourke, the all-Canadian kid, crack a starting roster in the NFL — he is currently on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ taxi squad?

For most of the time we lived in Montreal, every year there was speculation that the NFL was coming to town, to devour Canadian football. Friends in Toronto preached that the NFL was the only game, and that the CFL’s demise was only weeks, maybe hours, away. That was 50 years ago, and it still hasn’t happened.

If Americans can overcome their reluctance to have a team from their greatest sport call another country home, maybe it will change. Sdmittedly, there is decidedly more interest now. My grandson is such an NFL fan that he flew from Toronto so that he could — in person — join a “fantasy football” draft with his buddies in Dryden.

That’s a generation gap! It’s also…ho, hum.