For the first time in my life, there is no Grey Cup game. Canada’s national football championship, scheduled for today, has been canceled.
The Canadian Football League is a gate-driven enterprise. Unlike the league to the south, television revenues are not enough to allow the teams to break even, or even operate at a small loss.
With the COVID-19 pandemic dragging on, and no fans allowed in the stadiums, the league canceled not just today’s championship game but the entire season. No games were played.
As a fan, I am disappointed. On my summer vacation in Canada I try and get to a couple of Ottawa RedBlacks games. Of course this year there was no summer vacation.
The past few years in Germany I have gone to bed early on the last Sunday of November, getting up around midnight my time to watch the game. It is a uniquely Canadian event, one that millions will miss this year.
Every Canadian football fan has a list of favorite Grey Cup games. For me 1989 stands out because I watched it late.
I was living in Africa in those pre-internet days. I asked my parents to videotape the game, and ship the tape to me. I held a Grey cup party for Canadian expatriates on January 1.
Then there was 1977, the Ice Bowl. Field conditions were atrocious, players couldn’t stand without sliding, and the Montreal Alouettes were easy winners when their trainer used a staple gun on the players’ shoes to allow them some traction. Their opponents never figured it out, as the 41-6 score reflected.
If you were watching on television (or live) the 1962 game was especially memorable – it took two days to play. Heavy fog caused the game to be suspended during the fourth quarter . The players couldn’t see each other, let alone the ball.
And I have fond memories of the 2004 game, the only one I’ve attended in person. (I’ve had other opportunities but turned them down for various reasons.) It was snowy and cold that evening, but it was the Grey Cup and I got to attend it with my son. What could be more Canadian?
I’m sure deciding not to play the football season with no revenue wasn’t an easy decision for the owners of the league’s nine teams. There’s still the question of whether there will be fans in stadiums in 2021.
And how many players will return after having lost a year’s wages? Many I am sure will have found alternative employment. CFL players don’t make anywhere near the salaries of NFL players in the US; losing a year’s wages would be a real hardship.
It’s been 100 years since the Grey Cup game was last canceled. That too was during a pandemic – the Spanish Flu of 1919. It wasn’t the pandemic that was the issue though – there was a rules dispute that led to the cancelation. Mind you, the trophy hadn’t been awarded during the four years of the First World War either.
I guess like all Canadian football fans I’ll have to live in hope that next summer the pandemic situation will have reached the point where fans are allowed to attend games. I plan to attend as many as I can.
And on November 21, 2021, I hope to be watching the Grey Cup on television. At this point I don’t care who’s playing, I just want to see the game.