For most American football fans, the Grey Cup is that novelty trophy presented in Canada.
They know this because every year around Thanksgiving – between Dallas-Detroit games and Notre Dame vs. USC – they see odd-looking uniforms on TV.
ESPN’s Chris Berman always dedicates a few highlights during Monday Night Football, making us laugh when he throws in references to kicking a “rouge.”
However, the game is weaved into the very fabric of life for Canadians, and it celebrated 100 years on Nov. 25 in Toronto when the hometown Argonauts beat the Calgary Stampeders for the Canadian Football League title.
Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray threw for more than 230 yards as the Argos beat Calgary 35-22.
"It feels great. This is what you play for, to be able to be on a team that gets on a run and wins a championship," Ray said after the game. "It just makes you feel so good. It makes you feel like all the hard work and the obstacles that you've overcome just pay off."
So, if you, dear American football fanatic, decided to squeeze one more game into the long weekend – between the NFL’s afternoon schedule and Sunday Night Football — and you just have to ask, what the heck was going on? — here’s a cheat sheet.
All you need to know about the CFL and Grey Cup (but were afraid to ask):
1. Who was playing?
The Eastern champion Toronto Argonauts (9-9) had that rare opportunity to win the trophy for their home fans. The Calgary Stampeders (12-6) were the Western champions. A crowd of more than 53,000 attended live, and about 2 million watched on TV in Canada. The global TV audience was about 2.01 million.
Rogers Centre in Toronto hosted the event, the same stadium used by the Toronto Blue Jys. Every year, a new stadium hosts the game. There are eight to choose from. Seriously. Why are you laughing?
2. Are there still two teams called Roughriders?
No. The Ottawa Rough Riders folded in 1996, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders (the CFL’s version of the Green Bay Packers) is perhaps the league’s healthiest franchise. You’ll note that they spelled their names differently (two words vs. one word). That was an important distinction to Canadians.
Seriously, stop laughing.
3. Are there any American players?
Boy, howdy, are there ever. Rosters are divided almost equally between “imports” and “non-imports.” And we’re not just talking about unemployed coal miners looking to make a few extra bucks in the summer, either. Most of the CFL rosters are filled with graduates from major US schools like LSU, Tennessee or Texas A&M.
4. Who are the quarterbacks?
Calgary’s Kevin Glenn (Detroit; Illinois State) starts for the injured Drew Tate (Baytown, Texas; Iowa). Rick Ray (Happy Camp, Calif.; Sacramento State) will pivot the Argos. Glenn is the veteran here with 12 years of experience, but Ray the more accomplished passer. He threw for over 4,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season.
5. What’s a “rouge,” anyway?
It’s when you punt the ball through the end zone for a single point, or if you miss a field goal and the opposing team decides not to run it back.
6. Are CFL rules different from the NFL?
Largely, it’s the same game. Two teams try to score touchdowns or kick field goals. However, there are noticeable differences. First, there are 12 men per CFL team compared to 11 in the NFL. That extra player on offense is usually a receiver. On defense, it’s a defensive back.
The field is bigger, too. CFL fields are 10 yards longer and 12 yards wider; plus, the CFL end zone is 20 yards deep (double the NFL) and the uprights are near the goal line (yes, people can run into them).
CFL fans are also happy to tell anyone who will listen, and even some who don’t care, that their balls are bigger.
7. Is the Grey Cup bigger than hockey in Canada?
No, but since the NHL is on strike, this year’s Grey Cup will probably the most attention ever. Given that it’s the 100th game in Toronto, that should double (Toronto is the center of Canada’s universe, just ask Toronto).
8. Was there a halftime show?
You betcha. Get this, Canadian cuties Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen performed. No kidding! The fact most CFL fans have underwear older than the average “Belieber” made it an especially fascinating show to watch, although most Canadians panned Bieber.
Honestly, Bieber-Jepsen is the biggest (most expensive) halftime show ever in the CFL. Just to ensure the Mounties didn't write someone a ticket, though, Gordon Lightfoot also sang (no, that’s not a joke).
“People ask me if the decision on the halftime show was your 6 1/2-year-old daughter and I will say, ‘No,’” CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said. “But the decision was strategic to making sure we get young people to think about the next 100 years.” Yeah, good luck with that one.
9. Are there any American teams in the CFL?
Now that’s a dumb question … OK, not anymore there aren’t. Truth be told, the CFL expanded into the United States from 1993 to 1995 in a desperate attempt to revive sagging attendance and revenue.
You can still find vintage memorabilia from the Sacramento Gold Miners, Las Vegas Posse, Baltimore Stallions, Shreveport Pirates, San Antonio Texans, Birmingham Barracudas or Memphis Mad Dogs. Baltimore won the 1995 Grey Cup, the only US team to ever win it.
The whole operation crumbled just before the Miami Manatees could play a game in 1996.
No, that’s not a joke, either.
10. Is the Grey Cup really 100 years old? Is Canada even 100 years old?
It’s true. The first Grey Cup game was on December 4, 1909 (there were no games through the First World War). That game was a blowout, with the University of Toronto beating Toronto Parkdale 26-6. U of T never looked back once Hugh Gall opened the scoring with a 65-yard rouge.
No, seriously, that’s really not a joke.
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