Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Grey Cup 2013
Bob Stark

"Beauty, eh?"

Bob and Doug McKenzie

That being said it’s now known that rock star Bon Jovi is meddling with the idea of bringing an NFL team to Toronto. This idea has floated through the air before but has never hit a receiver for a touchdown. The Hogtown NFL wanna-bes have had to settle, for the moment at least, on bringing in a few NFL games to their city, featuring the cross-lake, cross-Country, financially-challenged, Buffalo Bills.

The jury is still out on how that idea has affected Toronto’s CFL team, the Argonauts.

Alas, the Argonauts find it difficult garnering much attention in their homeland, despite last year's Grey Cup victory.

The CFL itself seems always on the brink of starvation, such that Ottawa has come and gone over the years, and are about to come again, with Winnipeg fluctuating between being in the West and the East. While there is talk, and some hope, that expansion to Halifax or Moncton might make the league a truly national entity that scenario is likely still years away.

In that regard, Toronto, as the centre of the media universe, is critical to maintain as a CFL entrant, or the whole league could go south, or north in reverse. How long might it be until the BC Lions joined the NFL?

So what? Who cares? Tough Shite. Blow me.

Heck, you might say, c'mon man, it's only football and the CFL is already full of American-born players. The CFL hasn't had a legitimate Canadian quarterback since Russ Jackson!

Well in a world of global markets and the demise of not only small towns, but also small enterprises in big towns, the social and cultural character and cohesion of the country is under threat and close to declaring either a UN Heritage site, or an endangered species. Do we need another Walmart when the little guy and woman who run the corner stores of the land are being bankrupt on a daily basis?

Mulroney crushed our railway system, and Harper and the Cons are doing their best to ignore and/or subjugate the CBC into complete irrelevance. These are traditional symbols of what held, and still, in a reduced way, hold our country together. While perhaps less of a factor historically, the Grey Cup Game is now over 100 years old. It has truly evolved into a national treasure, for it is more than a football game. Never mind that it, in part, is also the national "let's get drunk and be somebody" day, it is East vs. West, representing the historical divide of the Great White North.

While the NFL is a national sport, the Super Bowl is not necessarily a West-East clash, or perhaps more importantly tot their history, a North-South Civil War. You could have New England Patriots meeting New York Giants in the big game. It has nothing, or less to do with a national day of celebration that helps define and restore the country. It’s advertising-money Mecca to which all must prostrate and pray, at least five times, on Super Bowl Sunday.

Yesterday's 101st Grey Cup Classic featured a team from Hamilton, who played most of the year in Guelph, Ontario. After practicing at Macmaster University in their hometown, the team bused, yes, busied, to Guelph for their home games. The Tiger Cats then knocked off the favoured Argos in the Eastern Final and thus made it to the Grey Cup Final.

This builds legends and myths, my friends! Could you possibly even entertain the thought of an NFL player taking a bus! The NFL star player dudes hire limousines. A less recognizable CFL star would have trouble flagging a cab.

The Grey Cup game played, at best, in a 40,000-seat stadium, on the prairies. It filled with every farmer's son and daughter from the whole province of Saskatchewan. As my friend, Ian opined this part of the country hasn't much to celebrate, on the national stage; well, maybe, Colin James and potash, Joni Mitchell or the Sheepdogs and a few gophers.

I give you "Rider Nation,” replete with carved out watermelons on their head, serving as toques. The streets, all week leading up to the big game, were crowded with green flag waving fans of all ages. Faces were painted not quite like war paint but more as 'come' on down and have a beer'. That's the Canadian way. Even Tolstoy couldn't imagine such charm emanating from his local and beloved peasants.

Folks, it is not about the game.

It's about the people in the stands, many of whom traveled from afar by train - if they could find one - or bus, or car pool or, likely still, even horse and buggy, to cheer on their heroes.

It has always been this way.

In our pre-adolescence, Stomper and I used to wander down to Lansdowne Park on our bikes to watch the Ottawa Roughriders practice. We'd hang out afterwards hoping to get an autograph from Bobby Simpson or Kaye Vaughan. It didn't matter to us if they were American or Canadian; they were our heroes who played for our hometown. They lived among us, at least during the season. Some even had jobs in town in the off-season. Some of them even took us for Cokes at one of the local confectionery stores on Bank Street in the Glebe, run by a fellow called Leo - who loved dunking my head in the ice-cold water of the soda machine whenever I told a dirty joke. Years later, turns out that Leo turned up at the local Teen Club in the West End when the bro and I were ready for something more interesting than men that wore tights; that's another story, but still part of the historical trail of my youth.

I don't know how David Suzuki feels about all this but what I'm saying is that an NFL team in Toronto is kind of like introducing the Pine Beetle. It will destroy our natural environment and threaten part of our economy. It will eat into our cultural history.

In one of my favourite baseball movies 'Field of Dreams', a God-like voice from the Iowa cornfields tells Ray "build it and they will come.”

Well, yesterday in Regina, the locals refused to pave paradise and put a parking lot. They built something, something deep into the fabric of Canadian folklore. As long as the CFL continues to build it, we will come.

The Saskatchewan Riders won the Cup but there were no losers, only a lot of hosers from coast-to-coast-to-coast hooked on happiness. It didn't matter that an American Kory Sheets won MVP. He surpassed a CFL Grey Cup record for yards rushing, held since 1956 by Edmonton Eskimo Johnny Bright, another Yank, but both played for Canadian teams, on the prairies, in the cold and snow. So, don't fuck with me Bon Jovi!

As for Hamilton, "Oskee wee wee, Oskee waa waa," almost a national hymn. There's always next year. Even Pigskin Pete can hold his Ti-Cat banner with pride. Yet, we need to put up a huge sign at every border crossing. "Keep Out! The CFL is NOT For Sale.” Maybe we could have a picture of Bob and Doug on it saying, "Take Off, eh.”

To Bon Jovi, well, let's just say Bon Voyage, anyway. Roar You Lions Roar.

Bob Stark is a musician, poet, philosopher and couch potato. He spends his days, as did Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus, pouring lattes and other adult beverages into a recycled mug, bearing a long and winding crack. He discusses, with much insight and passion, the existentialist and phenomenological ontology of the Vancouver 'Canucks,' a hockey team, "Archie" comic books and high school reunions. In other words, Bob Stark is a retired public servant living the good life on the wrong coast of Canada.

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