Every Monday at 12 noon Eastern/9 am Pacific, Mick Kern and Brett Innis can be found on Canada Talks (Channel 167) talking football on Inside the CFL. And every Monday, the landscape changes considerably in the nine-team league.
With the exception of the Montreal Alouettes, the remaining eight teams are still involved in a pitched battle for playoff spots, and league dominance. As has been the trend for seemingly forever, the Western Conference is the dominant conference, with four of the five teams boasting point totals that would place them in first place over in the East. There is little doubt that the fourth place Western team will crossover to play the second place Eastern team in the first round of the playoffs come early November.
The grand tradition of the Grey Cup (the 108-year-old storied championship trophy of the CFL) mandates that East meets West to decide the best football team in the land. But for the longest time, the West have manhandled the East, thus the introduction of the crossover playoff spot. With the exception of a few times when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were in the Eastern Conference (don’t ask), and when the Baltimore Stallions won it all in 1995 (don’t ask), that East-West dynamic has held.
This could be the season that tradition comes to an end. In the East, the defending Grey Cup champion Ottawa Redblacks are trying to catch the Toronto Argonauts for first place in the division, but most football observers doubt either team can compete with the high octane attack of the Blue Bombers, or the Calgary Stampeders. Then again, those same Stampeders (15-2-and-1 record last year), everybody’s favourite to run away with the 2016 Grey Cup, stumbled when it mattered most, and the third year 8-9-and-1 Redblacks ended up winning it all.
Heading into the home stretch, the Stamps appear to be on a mission to reclaim the Cup that they insist should have been theirs. First place in the West looks to be a lock for Calgary, which means most likely they’ll play either the Blue Bombers or the resurgent Saskatchewan Roughriders. Football being a one-game winner-takes-all construct during the playoffs, go flip a few Canadian loonie coins in order to figure out who’ll actually be playing in this year’s Grey Cup Game on Sunday, November 26th.
The big game will be held in Ottawa, as part of the 150th birthday celebrations for Canada. The capital city are the defending Grey Cup champions, but a quick glance at the CFL Guide & Record Book reveals that the home team rarely wins the old shiny mug.
Most recently, the home team has been successful, as witnessed by the success of Saskatchewan (2013), Toronto (2012), and the B.C. Lions (2011). Before that, one has to travel back to 1994, when the Lions defended the honour of Canada by edging the invaders from Baltimore 26-23, in order to find such an occurrence.
Whichever teams are left standing on that final Sunday in November, the 2017 CFL season will be remembered as the “Season of the Catch”. Highlight reel catches by receivers that will be replayed over and over again on sports television. Most of the games have been entertaining, and with the notable exception of Toronto, people have been pushing through the turnstiles to take it all in. The sprint to the finish will be well worth your time.