As a proud Canadian I was ashamed and hurt with what I experienced while visiting the Canadian National Exhibition this summer, but only decided to come public with my feelings after hearing a story upon returning home this past holiday weekend.
My hatred of the CNE stems back for as long as I can remember and for years I have stayed away from the annual fair for fear of being traumatized by the long-haired, sweaty men in cut-off Harley Davidson shirts who run the mid-way games. However, it was not the cheap prizes and over-priced cotton candy that has sworn me off the Ex for eternity. Instead, the object of my loathing is one of last year's exhibition attractions.
When I first entered the huge room I could sense a buzz in the crowd. Hundreds of people with smiles on their faces running, passing and punting...NFL footballs? Flabbergasted, I quickly retraced my steps, wondering when I had crossed the 49th parallel but quickly realized that, although directionally illiterate, I was still in Canada. I glanced at the huge sign above all the action which read: NFL Experience. Anger began to boil inside of me. How, I wondered, could the exhibition which was so sacredly Canadian promote American football in such a blatant manner. The room was filled with NFL paraphernalia and I scanned it in search of some Canadian football artifacts TO douse the flames burning inside of me. I glanced at an adoring mob crowded around a large case that held the famed silver football that represents the pinnacle of American gridiron and then I spotted her, the historic Canadian Grey Cup, alone and ignored off to the side in a smaller case.
I watched for a while and decided to put my animosity aside for a second (5.12 to be exact) and test out the 40-yard dash. After a fairly impressive run barefoot and in jeans, I heard a man shout out sarcastically "With that speed you can probably make the CFL, kid." My girlfriend, noticing the smoke billowing from my head, pulled me to the next exhibit before this obvious CFL basher was going to get something quite Canadian between the chops. It was then I realized the problem was not with the Exhibition running a NFL Experience, but with the Canadian population that demands it.
This was made even more evident on Monday when my roommate told me about a radio station in Ottawa, 106.9 The Bear, which runs ads that promote what they call the Ottawa Chapter of the Chicago Bears fan club. Each week the disc jockeys supposedly meet at a bar with a number of their listeners to watch the Bears game. Their motto: Football's back in Ottawa.
I love to watch football, period regardless of the league. And although I find the talent of the players in the NFL at a much higher level than that of the CFL I still think the Canadian game is both more exciting as well as challenging.
Unfortunately, dwindling crowds, a lesser talent base and general managers whose budgets could probably make them eligible for welfare, are all signs of a dying league. The saddest thing about the CFL is the marketing, which unfortunately seemed to be non-existent as a whole generation of possible fans grew up in the '80s not even knowing about the tradition the CFL had at one time.
One day the NFL will come to Toronto but until this happens Canadians should try to have a little pride in what they already have instead of constantly ridiculing it. In a time when our southern neighbour seems to be stealing hockey from us, the CFL, although a little weaker due to a few American invasions, has remained the same Canadian. At the very least, our balls are bigger then theirs.