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For years, Iâ€™ve written columns and op-eds declaring my preference for the National Football League over the Canadian Football League. The former was described as a superior organization in terms of teams, players, skills and quality of game, while the latter was depicted as either a weak sister or mediocre by comparison.
In March, I even proposed that Toronto should take another stab at getting an NFL franchise.
But a funny thing started happening late last year: I began to make peace with the CFL.
It occurred just after the 104th Grey Cup between the Ottawa Redblacks and Calgary Stampeders. It was a superb, back-and-forth contest that the former won 39-33 in overtime at Torontoâ€™s BMO Field. Henry Burris was named the gameâ€™s MVP, and it was an impressive performance in what turned out to be the final game of his stellar career.
Irrespective of my feelings about the CFL, Iâ€™ve religiously watched the Grey Cup. I still regard the Saskatchewan Roughridersâ€™s 43-40 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 77th annual match-up as one of the great games of pro football, in any league.
Yet, something about the Redblacks-Stampeders game made me think, â€œHave I been too hard on the CFL all these years?â€
So, I privately decided to try an experiment. I would watch the occasional CFL game on TSN with an open mind. Moreover, I would stop comparing the CFL to the NFL â€“ and consider the formerâ€™s good and bad qualities as a separate, unique entity.
Thatâ€™s something Iâ€™ve never done with the CFL. To be perfectly frank, most Canadian-based NFL fans donâ€™t do it, either.
My thoughts? As much as I hate to admit it, Iâ€™ve been dead wrong about the CFL.
Iâ€™ve caught at least one game involving all nine franchises this season. Some match-ups have been better than others, truth be told. But what Iâ€™ve detected is the three-down game has a uniquely strategic component Iâ€™ve never given it enough credit for. The games have been high energy, high scoring and highly competitive.
While there are parts about the CFL that Iâ€™ll never like â€“ in particular, the rouge â€“ this game is more than just pass-pass-kick, pass-run-kick, run-pass-kick and run-run-kick. Even with a missing down from the NFL model, which adds a different element to the ebbs and flows of a game, the CFL model is far more exciting than I originally perceived.
What about the players? Thereâ€™s no question in my mind the NFL pool is bigger and more talented. However, the CFL has many top-flight players, from the Toronto Argonautsâ€™s Ricky Ray to the Winnipeg Blue Bombersâ€™s Andrew Harris. Theyâ€™ve adapted to this different style of game (in some cases), have solid skills and play their hearts out. These are competitors, and not a cabal of inferior football talent and/or NFL rejects.
As well, itâ€™s impressive what the CFL has created with fewer financial resources and smaller fan bases. The NFL is a machine, complete with huge player salaries, enormous merchandising profits and multi-billion dollar TV/radio contracts via revenue sharing. The CFL canâ€™t compete on this level, and never will, but theyâ€™ve create a strong, entertaining product that loyal fans want to see live, watch and listen to.
This is entirely to the CFLâ€™s credit. Itâ€™s a shame that it took me so long to figure this out.
I still prefer the NFL to the CFL. Everyone has their own personal tastes, and thatâ€™s mine. Nothing is going to change to this effect.
But, by looking at the CFL as a stand-alone entity, and removing any sort of unnecessary side-by-side comparison to the NFL, Iâ€™ve gained a brand-new appreciation for the Canadian game.
I guess you can teach an old football dog new tricks after all!
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube is also a Washington Times contributor, Canadian Jewish News columnist, and radio and TV pundit. He was also a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
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