Wide-open Grey Cup spurs interest

With apologies to those who are diehard followers of the league, I personally have never been a CFL fan.
My heart always has been with the wacky world of NCAA football. And while my interest in the NFL has been fleeting over the years, certain things—like the upcoming return of my all-time favourite quarterback (Houston Texans’ back-up and former USC Trojans’ star Matt Leinart) to a starting role—are certain to grab my attention, leaving the poor CFL to reside on the sidelines.
I’m not sure why exactly that is, as I originally thought I just hated the concept of three-down football. But after seeing it slowly be implemented in high school football leagues across the province, I’ve grown to enjoy it.
Jokingly, I tell my friends that I’m personally waiting for a team to return to Ottawa, or for Tim Tebow to arrive and start tearing up the league, until I become a fan. But I think part of the reason that I haven’t been able to get into the CFL is the fact that it seems like every season the Montreal Alouettes have run roughshod over the league.
Now granted, the Als only have won three Grey Cups since moving from Baltimore in 1996 (remember that great American expansion in the mid-1990s?) But they’ve been in the title game in seven of the last 10 years.
And when you only have an eight-team league such as the CFL, that tends to get a little bit boring sometimes.
So imagine my surprise when I saw on Sunday that the Alouettes not only had fallen to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a wild overtime affair, but that they also lost at always tough Olympic Stadium.
With the Alouettes out of the running, along with the fact the runners-up in the last two Grey Cups (the Saskatchewan Roughriders) didn’t even make the playoffs, the race to hoist the trophy has become wide-open.
And for a casual fan such as myself, my interest in the conference finals—and the Grey Cup game itself—has increased rapidly.
Consider the fact that in the West, both the Edmonton Eskimos and the B.C. Lions haven’t tasted championship glory since 2005 and 2006, respectively. In the East, the Ticats last won in 1999 while the Winnipeg Blue Bombers currently are going through the longest drought of any team in the CFL since last winning a Grey Cup in 1990.
While those stories are interesting, I still had almost no idea about the teams themselves, except for a couple of players whose names I recognized from a few highlight reels. So like any good reporter, I decided to check in with my sources and quickly got hold of the biggest CFL watcher that I knew.
While I can’t divulge much information on my “well-placed and reliable” source, I can tell you that prying anything out of him was like pulling teeth on this occasion as he was trying to get over the fact that his favourite football team of them all (the Boise State Broncos) had been knocked out of the NCAA title race.
But after much prodding, I began to find out a lot more about the four teams left in the race for the Grey Cup—and the storylines began to add up.
In the West, you have the Eskimos, who have become a much stronger team on both offence and defence in their first season under head coach Kavis Reed. And then you have the Lions, who are very strong in their passing game with elite wide-outs Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce III receiving passes from maturing pivot Travis Lulay.
Over in the East, the Ticats, who were a laughingstock for nearly a decade, have been getting better over the last couple of seasons, and also have arguably the most electrifying player in the league in special teams’ dynamo Marcus Thigpen.
And then there’s Winnipeg, likely the favourite of fans here, who captured their first division title in a decade and look to be in the driver’s seat to head to the Grey Cup. But there are many question marks surrounding quarterback Buck Pierce.
Now that I know a lot more about the teams, I’m really looking forward to see what happens over the next two weeks. But I wonder if those who don’t have a rooting interest will even pay attention or care about what is happening.
All I can say is just to simply give it a shot if you have a chance to watch. I personally will be looking on to see how the games shape up.
And who knows, after years of ignoring it, I just might become a fan of the CFL.

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