It would be great to think that there are plenty of NFL fans who would be willing to give the CFL more than just a perfunctory glance. Not only would it be great for the league to garner some extra attention, but it would also be fun for those new fans to see the fast paced action on offer.
One of the key steps when starting to follow a new sport or a new league is deciding who to support. There can be little doubt that becoming part of a fan group and having a community to call your own adds to the whole experience of following that new sport.
Sometimes selecting a team is sheer serendipity – I can recall a friend of mine literally sticking a pin in the map of the USA many years ago to get his team, (as an aside he got the Bears so I’ll leave the question of whether serendipity was a positive or negative for him entirely to your own judgement). Others prefer to pick an un-glamorous, unsuccessful team and hope to ride them to glory out of that abyss. Yet others are ‘glory hunter’ who pick the best team of the era.
Perhaps the best way to find the team for you though, is to find a team you can identify with in some way. So with that in mind, here is a run down of the nine CFL teams to help you choose which is the one for you:
BC Lions: Based in Vancouver, British Columbia the Leos play in the CFL West Division. Founded in 1954 they have played every season since then in an uninterrupted sequence. They currently have the longest active playoff streak and the CFL second longest of all time at 20 seasons. They are currently coached by CFL living legend Wally Buono. According to fan forums the most popular NFL team in Vancouver is the Seahawks by some margin, but that doesn’t mean they don’t support BC too. They last appeared in, and won The Grey Cup in 2011.
Calgary Stampeders: Based in Calgary, Alberta the Stamps play in the CFL West Division. Founded in 1945 they are part of a football tradition in the city that dates back to 1909. Last year Calgary went a CFL best 15-2-1, had the coach of the year (first year coach Dave Dickenson) and player of the year (QB Bo Levi Mitchell), only to be upset in The Grey Cup final by Ottawa. Formerly community owned, following financial difficulties they were put into private hands in 1991 and have been privately owned since. Former NFL stars who have played for the Stamps include QB’s Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia. They were last year’s Grey Cup runners up and last won The Grey Cup in 2014.
Edmonton Eskimos: Based in Edmonton, Alberta the Eskimos play in the CFL West Division. Founded in 1949, the Eskimos colour and uniform choice was decided for them as they started out with hand me down uniforms form the University of Alberta Golden Bears. They are one of the three community owned teams in the CFL. The Esks hold the distinction for the longest run of making the playoffs for any North American sports team – an incredible 34 years between 1972 and 2005. NFL fans will probably recognise the name Warren Moon, who helped lead them to 5 straight championships between 1978-82 They last appeared in, and won The Grey Cup in 2015.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Based in Hamilton, Ontario the Ti-Cats play in the CFL East Division. Founded in 1950 they were created by a merger of the Hamilton Tigers and Hamilton Cats – hence the name. In 2003 they had the dubious distinction of the CFL’s most ever losses in a season with 17. Hamilton and Toronto have been playing each other in one form or another since 1873, although those early games bore little to no relation to what we see now! Hamilton is a steel town and with the ti-cats in their black and gold uniforms some liken them to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They last appeared in The Grey Cup in 2014, but last won The Grey Cup in 1999.
Montreal Alouettes: Based in Montreal, Quebec the Alouettes were founded in 1946 and they play in the CFL East Division. They have actually folded twice only to be re-formed. The league considers all the iterations of the Alouettes as one club dating back to their founding. The first known written account of a football game in North America comes from Montreal when a team of English troops played civilians from Mcgill University in 1868. The Als have been owned by Bob Wetenhall, an American investment banker since 1997. This is the only non-Canadian team ownership. The Alouettes had been pretty successful through the 2000’s and have had on their roster, Mike Pringle the CFL career rushing yardage leader and Antony Calvillo pro footballs all time passing yardage leader (79,816 for those who are counting). For anyone wondering just what an Alouette is – it is french for Lark! They last appeared in, and won The Grey Cup in 2010.
Ottawa Redblacks: Based in Ottawa, Ontario, the RedBlacks play in the CFL East Division. Founded as recently as 2014 the RedBlacks are a little misleading for new fans as there has been a team in Ottawa, on and off since 1876. The Ottawa Rough Riders were a founder member of the CFL and played up until 1996. An Ottawa Renegades team lasted only from 2002-2005. Many Ottawans see this team as the continuation of their former representatives but the CFL does not list them as continuous or connected in that way. Ottawa may well have liked to reinstate the Rough Riders name but Saskatchewan lobbied against this. The RedBlacks name came from a fan competition and is copyrighted in both English and French (Rouge et Noir). They are the defending Grey Cup champions.
Saskatchewan Roughriders : Based in Regina, Saskatchewan and playing in the CFL West Division. The most obvious comparison here is that they are sometimes referred to as the Packers of the North. Founded in 1910, the green and white are the 3rd oldest pro football team in existence behind the Arizona Cardinals and the CFL’s own Argonauts. They are a community owned team with a pretty rabid fan base. They sell close on as much merchandise as the rest of the CFL combined. In fact they sell more merchandise than any other sports team in Canada with the exceptions of the Toronto Maple Leafs & Montreal Canadiens, and not unlike the Packers fans and their cheeseheads, Riders fans have a tradition all of their own – the carved out watermelon worn on their heads! They last appeared in, and won The Grey Cup in 2013.
Toronto Argonauts: Based in Toronto, Ontario, the double blues are North America’s oldest professional football team and play in the CFL East Division. The Argos were founded in 1873, initially as a rugby club and for the first 83 years of their existence were owned by the Argonaut Rowing Club. They have won a record 16 Grey Cups. Toronto perennially struggle with growing their fan base, which is a shame for such a big city. Some point to a TV blackout in the 70’s and 80’s that meant many potential fans became more engaged with the NFL. Also arguable is that Toronto is ‘not a football town’. A lot of potential support goes to the NBA’s Raptors and MLB’s Blue Jays as well as a growing number of MLS Toronto FC fans. Argo fans can hope that newly hired ex- Bears coach Marc Trestman and more aggressive marketing will help – time will tell. They last appeared in, and won The Grey Cup in 2012.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba the Blue Bombers play in the CFL West Division. Founded in 1930, Winnipeg have appeared in The Grey Cup 25 times, which is more than any other CFL team. They are a community owned team and ‘Big Blue’ have a very loyal fan base. Perhaps the most recognisable name form their coaching history for NFL fans would be that of Bud Grant who won 4 Grey Cups before famously going on to lose 4 Superbowl’s coaching the Vikings. Very few CFL all time records are dominated by Blue Bombers players, but Milt Stegall, who played briefly for the Bengals from 92-94 does hold a host of receiving records. They last appeared in The Grey Cup in 2011, but last won The Grey Cup in 1990.
So there you have it, a by no means definitive guide to each CFL team – the big question now is – which is the one for you?