This past weekend was the zenith of the 2012 Canadian Football League season, a celebration of a century’s worth of football in this country.
Fans from every corner of this land converged on the city of Toronto prepared to eat, drink and represent their team and this game with pride.
I couldn’t be there for the entire week long celebration, but I was there for 4 fabulous days and got to experience not just some great football, but meet some great people as well.
We laughed, we partied and we all got to share in what makes the CFL experience truly special. Here now is my tale of a great long weekend:
Day 1: Toronto, I Am Inside You
Leaving Ottawa in the afternoon, I arrived in downtown Toronto to find the city buzzing. Partly due to construction downtown but mostly due to fans from all over milling about, clearly excited for the upcoming weekend and the Grey Cup game itself.
I picked up my media credentials, checked into my condo and watched some Thanksgiving NFL football despite this being the CFL’s marquee weekend. Probably the most rebellious thing I had done all evening.
But the main event was the CFL Players Association’s soiree, held at Wayne Gretzky’s Restaurant in Toronto. I was very excited to meet again with a lot of the CFL players who I went to Barbados with as well as many of the fans as well. Alcohol started flowing and good times were to be had.
I got to spend some quality time at this event with Montreal Alouette Shea Emry, which was a treat all by itself. Meeting his family was great as well; his mom is such a dear. Shea’s gotten a bad rep for some of his antics on the field, even being voted by his peers as the league’s nastiest player. But I found him to be very engaging and personable.
Could it be because he knows that I’m, in his own words, a massive Alouettes fan? Possibly. But I’ve known Shea since his rookie year in 2008 and he has always been a good guy to chat with. I think this year in particular just had some instances where his passion to play just spilled out in the wrong medium and as a result, fans have gotten the wrong impression of Emry.
I also got to meet with a lot of the media luminaries that I enjoy following on Twitter or watching on TV. Great football reporters such as TSN’s Dave Naylor & Sara Orlesky, Arash Madani from Sportsnet and Tim Micalef of Tim & Sid radio fame. All were excellent folks to sit a spell with and share football anecdotes.
In fact, Sara was quite amused when I had suggested that it seems like every time she works the sidelines at Alouettes games, they lose the game. I’m sorry, but it just seems uncanny. I’m aware this is not done on purpose, but one can’t help but notice these things. Personally, I think she is a distraction because she’s extremely easy on the eyes
Day 2: Vanier Cup Crazy
Friday morning saw me awaken with a slight headache but ready to tackle the day ahead. I met up with some folks that I met through Twitter and we proceeded to start the day off with some adult beverages. Hey, it IS Grey Cup weekend! We celebrate with style!
But before yours truly could partake in such activities, I was contacted by CBC Radio Montreal earlier in the day to do a phone interview, as they were looking to speak on the air with Alouettes fans who have been to multiple Grey Cups. Well, this being only my third Grey Cup I’m sure I am still a rookie by most people’s standards. But I still went on the air and spoke highly not only of the Alouettes and the upcoming weekend itself, but the buzz in the city of Toronto for this 100th Grey Cup.
After that bit of business was done, it was off to a fundraising event for a wonderful group. The CFL Fans Fight Cancer is a grassroots organization that helps raise funds and awareness at CFL games. We all know someone who has battled cancer in some way, shape or form, so this is an event that was important for me to be attending. It was also a great way to meet other Twitter folk as well.
But the main event for this evening was the Vanier Cup. It was a rematch from last year’s thrilling overtime game that featured Universite de Laval versus McMaster University. With McMaster being less than an hour’s drive from the Rogers Centre, a lot of students made the trek to attend the game. The final attendance was announced at 37 098, shattering the previous record for attendance at a Vanier Cup game.
And while these championship games normally have a neutral feel to them, this crowd was VERY pro-McMaster right away. But it was not their night as Laval came alive in the second half and trounced McMaster 37-14 to win their 7th Vanier Cup, setting a record for most CIS football championship wins.
After that great event, it was time to end the night with more good people and yes, more adult beverages. I have always considered myself a social drinker and it doesn’t get more social than at the Grey Cup
Day 3: All Alouettes All Day
Grey Cup Saturday is the day where the party really kicks into gear. By now, just about anyone who’s anyone has arrived and has been ready to get down and go crazy. As a member of the media, I had avoided looking too much like a fan in order to be taken seriously. But today for me was strictly a fan day and I wore my Alouettes colours with pride!
I started the day off by attending the Fan’s State of the League Address, hosted by CFL commissioner Mark Cohon. Essentially all fans were invited to meet with and ask questions to the league’s head honcho in a town hall meeting type of atmosphere. The turnout was fantastic and a lot of fans had good albeit long-winded questions. My guess was that the need to show how big a fan they were to the commish was vital.
And true to form, he answered each question with grace and as honestly as possible. The CFL itself is doing quite well financially which must baffle a number of the uneducated haters of the league. Cohon is also very excited about the return of football to Ottawa and has made it clear that this new team will be given every opportunity to succeed, unlike the previous fiasco.
Once that event ended, it was off to meet more friends and fans. I have never been to a Super Bowl, but I wonder if there is this same sort of camaraderie amongst NFL fans who make the trek year in and year out to the big game. In the CFL, it seems like it doesn’t matter which team you cheer for as long as you are supporting the league as a whole.
And as I look back now, it seems like I have made a lot of friends and acquaintances from every single team. What started in Barbados as a mutual respect thing has blossomed into a greater appreciation for the entire league. This truly is a Canadian league. For the fans, by the fans.
And speaking of fans, the next event was one that I was greatly anticipating; the Grey Cup Tweetup! Hosted by CFL.ca and its incredible digital media staff, it was a great place to meet fellow CFL Twitter folk. This was THE event for me as I take great pride in my live-tweeting games and using my pulpit to be a positive voice for the Alouettes and its fans.
And once again, this allowed me the opportunity to meet with some awesome fans and people that I have only ever spoken with via Twitter. Again, we may not all cheer for the same team, but our love for football cannot be denied.
The Commissioner also made an appearance, along with other CFL stars and the Grey Cup. Along with other fans, I spoke briefly with Mr. Cohon regarding a couple of issues that weren’t addressed at the State of The League event earlier. He answered each question patiently and was good enough to address my questions regarding pre-season TV coverage.
At the risk of pumping his tires, it is awesome to see a league’s head of state interact with the fans like this. I don’t know if any other league’s commissioner attends events like these and is willing to listen to what the fans have to say to their face. I know I truly appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak my mind to one of the league’s higher-ups about any and all concerns.
This event truly put the social in social media. In fact, I was too busy connecting with people to notice all the prizes being given out for different contests and challenges. So yours truly didn’t win any prizes. But I won something much better; the opportunity to meet with some really awesome people.
And just in case we weren’t finished partying enough, it was time for the main event as an Alouettes fan: The MontreALS Huddle!
Every year at the Grey Cup each team has their own designated party. But instead of taking over space in a convention centre with makeshift bars, the Alouettes host their own party in an actual nightclub. This year Maison Mercer had the honour of hosting us Alouettes fans.
The Alouettes cheerleaders lead this great event every year and even invite their fellow cheerleaders from other teams to come and perform for the fans. I find that having the event in an actual nightclub adds to the Montreal experience. While it would be neat to have a nightly party like the other teams do, this does give the Alouettes a certain cachet as well.
In speaking with other Alouettes fans who attended previous parties, they felt this event has come a long way but still has a few more tweaks to make. Nevertheless, Alouettes fans owe it to themselves to come out and support this great event if they go to Grey Cup. It’s all about team pride.
The rest of the night was spent connecting with the rest of the CFL’s wonderful fans and closing down the bars, as was the custom at the time.
Day4: Toronto’s Day To Shine
Today is the day that all CFL fans greatly anticipate. What all players who report to camp in June aspire to be a part of. The playing of the 100th Grey Cup. Even if you weren’t a fan of the Stampeders or Argonauts, you still had some sort of interest in this game if you were in the city.
I personally had no dog in the fight, as there were plenty of former Alouettes on both teams that I hoped would play great and if they had won I’d be quite happy for them. I was granted access to the press box to cover the game for this blog and its readers and was prepared to be objective and fair to both squads.
Before the game itself was another remarkable first in sports. Traditionally, a Grey Cup parade is held on the weekend and this year no parade was announced, much to many fans’ dismay. But in an effort to truly innovate, the CFL did promise an alternative; The Grey Cup Fan March!
Starting at Varsity Stadium and making its way through downtown Toronto, the Fan March features all kinds of fans carrying the Grey Cup trophy along the parade route all the way to Rogers Centre. The Canadian Football League has long stated that it is a fan-driven league and this idea certainly cemented their long-time slogan: This Is OUR League.
Afterwards, the Grey Cup festival was in full swing, offering all sorts of events and concerts for fans to take in before taking refuge in the Rogers Centre from the cold November air. As I made my way to the press box, I met more media folks and enjoyed some more football talk about the weekend’s events and everything else leading up to kickoff.
What will be a lasting memory for me was during the singing of the national anthem. Despite Burton Cummings being the announced singer of it, over 53,000 people decided that they were going to handle the duties. It was the loudest rendition of O Canada I have ever heard sung at a sporting event and it gave me goosebumps. Say what you will about the CFL, but national pride has never been a question amongst the fans.
I’m not a particular fan of the performers of the halftime show but if it meant the CFL gained a few fans as a result, then bully for them. I must say that it was unusual to look out at the crowd during the performance and see the vast majority of them essentially sitting on their hands. But that is the risk you run in trying to please everyone with these halftime acts.
When the final gun sounded, the Toronto Argonauts fulfilled their destiny and won their 16th Grey Cup championship in front of their hometown fans. This marks the second time in as many years that the host city’s team plays for and wins the Grey Cup. So if this trend continues, this bodes quite well for Saskatchewan Roughriders fans as the 101st Grey Cup will be played in Regina.
And in an almost poetic moment to truly signify the end of the CFL season, I walked out of Rogers Centre to join the mad throngs of people and the skies started snowing. The summer league is put to rest for another year. But while June seems far away, it will sneak up on you before you know it. And we will start this madness all over again.
I want to thank the Canadian Football League and its various people for allowing me the access to cover as much of this weekend as possible. This was a great event for fans and media alike and being able to bridge the two was a privilege like no other. I think every fan should be able to experience the Grey Cup weekend like I just did.
I also want to thank the fans, players & employees from all eight teams that I met for allowing me to spend quality time with them and not only learning more about what makes this league thrive, but what the CFL personally means to them. This is their league as well as it is yours and mine.
By now, everyone who attended this event from out of town is home and taking a much needed vacation from this vacation. But this off-season looks to be an interesting one.
I’ll pop in on this blog with some off-season thoughts here and there and offer up my thoughts on everything Alouettes. Make sure you follow along on Twitter for updates along the way.
So for the last time this 2012 season, GO ALS GO!!!
About the Author
Written by Clifford Pine
Montreal born & bred, lover of sports. Passionate about the Montreal Alouettes. Also a great cook & not too bad a dancer.