While most Americans will be tearing into their Thanksgiving leftovers this weekend or waking up at the crack of dawn to go stand outside in a parking lot for a couple hours, Canadian football fans will be celebrating a landmark moment in the championship of their native league. This Sunday marks the 100th Grey Cup, the trophy awarded to the playoff champ of the Canadian Football League. The game features the West Division champion Calgary Stampeders and for the second straight year the host city's team will be represented as the Toronto Argonauts from the East Division will get to play for the Cup at their Rogers Centre home. Before that though, the best in Canadian college football get to show off for a national audience as their championship game is now a part of Grey Cup weekend as the Laval Rouge et Or will face the defending champion McMaster Marauders on Friday night in a rematch of last year's final.
The 48th Vanier Cup. Friday, November 23, 2012 7:30pm ET/4:30pm PT
First awarded in 1965, the Vanier Cup is given to the playoff champion of Canadian Interuniversity Sport football. CIS is the governing body of university sports in Canada, the equivalent to the NCAA in the United States. Originally the teams were chosen by invitation, similar to the American bowl game system. After just two seasons, that was abandoned and a playoff was established in 1967. Yes, American college football fans, a college football playoff has been going on in Canada for 45 years.
Starting with last year's Grey Cup, held at BC Place in Vancouver, BC, the championship of Canadian college football will again be awarded on the Friday evening before the Grey Cup game. It seems to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, the CFL has another event to package and include in the weekends' festivities and for the CIS, the weekend provides increased media exposure, higher production values for the broadcast and so far, has resulted in higher ticket sales.
This week, organizers announced they had passed the 30,000 mark and are opening sales for Rogers Centre's upper deck with hopes they can set a new Vanier Cup attendance record. The current record was actually set at Rogers Centre (then called the SkyDome) back in 1989 with 32,847 spectators. In Canadian college football, these are huge numbers as most programs play at stadiums with capacities under 7,000.
This year's game features a rematch of last year, the #1 McMaster Marauders (Hamilton, ON) versus the #2 Laval Rouge et Or (Quebec City, QC). That game is already considered a classic as McMaster claimed its first Vanier Cup in a 41-38 victory in double overtime. This was just the second game in the series' history to ever go into OT. The rematch will hopefully be just as entertaining. Even though Universite Laval has only fielded a football team since 1996, Laval has quickly become a traditional power in CIS football. They have 6 Vanier Cups (with the last victory in the 2010 edition) and last year was the first Vanier loss for the program.
McMaster's football program, on the other hand, dates back to 1901 but didn't really find any traction in the postseason until around 2000 and captured their first Vanier Cup last year in the school's first appearance in the game since a loss in the 3rd Vanier Cup back in 1967. Now the Marauders are coming into Friday as the favorite, riding a 21-game win streak. The team who previously held the record for an unbeaten streak? Why that would be Laval (19 wins in '04-'05).
The 100th Grey Cup. Sunday, November 25, 2012 6:00pm ET/3:00pm PT
The Grey Cup came about in 1909. It was created by the 4th Earl of Grey, the Governor-General of Canada at the time. The cup was originally intended to go to the best amateur hockey team in the country, essentially to replace the Stanley Cup, which was now being competed for professional teams. However, that role was quickly filled by the creation of the Allan Cup so Grey awarded his trophy to Canada's amateur football competitors. By 1958, the newly-formed, professional, Canadian Football League took ownership of the Cup, awarding it to its playoff champion.
The Argonauts have actually won the most Grey Cups of all the current CFL franchises, 15 in 21 appearances, with 10 coming before the CFL was formed. The club's roots go back to 1873, making it one of the oldest professional teams in North America.
The Argos first appearance in the Cup game was the 3rd edition in 1911, a loss to then-rival The University of Toronto.
The Stampeders' history officially begins in 1935, when the club was known as the Bronks. The name was changed for the 1945 season. The Stamps first of 12 appearances in the Grey Cup (6-6) was in 1948, also held in Toronto. A legendary moment in Grey Cup history was created here when a Calgary alderman rode a horse into the lobby of Toronto's Royal York Hotel. Hotel staff this year are on alert in case any overzealous Stamps fan wants to recreate the event.
This year's edition of the game features more than just the East-West format. It's the perception of a devoted fanbase from one of Western Canada's small, hardworking cities heading into the belly of cosmopolitan Toronto, where the CFL tends to get lost in the shuffle. For those unaware, there's an animosity from Canadians outside of Toronto towards the country's cultural capital. There was even a comedic documentary released a few years about the hate directed toward Canada's largest city.
As for how the teams earned a shot at the Grey Cup, the 12-6 Stampeders fought through major injuries all season to get to Toronto. Calgary is led by CFL journeyman QB Kevin Glenn after starter Drew Tate was injured in the second game of the season against the Argos back in July before coming back after missing 14 starts and being re-injured in the West semifinal. The Stamps posted a 7-2 record at Calgary's aging McMahon Stadium, and are riding an overall six game winning streak. The last of which was the arduous task of defeating the BC Lions in the West Division Final in Vancouver, gutting out a 34-29 win.
Rogers Centre is of great significance for Glenn, back in the 2007 season, his shoulder was injured and season ended in the East semifinal and he had to watch his Winnipeg Blue Bombers team from the sidelines as they went on to lose the 95th Grey Cup to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. So now he's the backup and it's hard to believe that the '07 season isn't weighing on him as he attempts to win his first Grey Cup ring.
However, even with a 9-9 record, the Argos seemed to have Calgary figured out this season, winning both clashes. The Argos are led by Ricky Ray, who was brought in from the Edmonton Eskimos where he amassed franchise records for offense and won two Grey Cups in '03 and '05. Ray was specifically brought in to win Toronto a Grey Cup on its home turf, something the Argos haven't done since the game was held at Varsity Stadium back in 1952. While they haven't run through opponents this season, they have learned to battle through adversity. In both of their previous playoff games this season, the Argos had to come from behind to secure wins, falling behind early to Edmonton before roaring back to a 42-26 win at home and a having to pull out a second half comeback over the Alouettes before 50,000 fans in Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
Even with the better record, the Stamps are coming into Toronto as the underdog and hope to spoil the party for the hometown Argos fans.
So, my fellow Americans, in between tryptophan-induced napping, check out how our northern neighbors do football. There is great tradition behind the Canadian game that we rarely get exposure to. The 3 down structure of the game lends itself to a lot of high-flying offense and can be a nice change of pace from our take on the sport.
So rather than tackling a stranger because they grabbed the last $40 DVD player at a Black Friday sale, find the Vanier Cup game (which may take some work...Google is your friend) and dream about what a real college playoff would look like here in the States. Then on Sunday evening, cap off your normal NFL Sunday with the best that Canadian Football has to offer, and the best halftime show Canada has to offer (BIEBER! JEPSEN! Gordon Lightfoot?). If nothing else, do it for the Baltimore Stallions.
As of publishing, there are no U.S. broadcast options for the Vanier Cup. The 100th Grey Cup will be available live on NBC Sports Network & ESPN3.com
If you want to share memories of the CFL's U.S. invasion, you can contact Brandon Gee at firstname.lastname@example.org