Diary of a Grey Cup virgin

There were a lot of possible titles for this piece that would have been probably more headline grabbing.

“How I watched Zack Evans lose a pierogi-eating challenge to a CFL podcaster” was one.

“How I watched Zack Evans win a beer-chugging contest with a CFL podcaster” was another.

(Zack Evans was heavily involved in some of my Grey Cup shenanigans; and no, the CFL podcaster in question was not me, but my friend and co-host of the 2 and Out CFL Podcast, Travis Currah.)

But the title that was ultimately decided on was the one you see because, yes, despite being a CFL fan for three decades, Edmonton 2018 was the first time I had ever experienced all that Grey Cup week had to offer.

I have been to a Grey Cup game before, the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto in 2012, but I had never taken in all the wild and wacky Grey Cup events that take places during the week.

It began, for me, on Wednesday, when I attended a sort of pre-festivities event that I was told was the unofficial kickoff to Grey Cup week for fans who arrive in the host city early. It was a great way to ease into what would be a crazy, long, but ultimately fun, weekend

Thursday brought a trip to the Alberta legislature, but you didn’t come here to read me nerd out about politics, so I’ll keep this brief. It was awesome and I have now knocked off five provincial legislatures, and the federal parliament, and will hope to be able to get all 10 done before I shuffle off this mortal coil. And that ends the non-CFL portion of this column.

As for CFL stuff, my first event was attending the live 2 and Out podcast where the aforementioned Zack Evans was destroyed in a pierogi-eating challenge.

It was an intimate gathering of about 50 people, but it was a highlight of the week for me. I hope that live podcasts are going to become a part of Grey Cup festivities because it was the right mix of CFL talk with goofy antics that I think make this league what it is. This may come off a little self-serving because I host my own CFL podcast, but the league would be wise to think about reaching out to the many fan podcasts out there and maybe finding a way to make live shows an official part of the festival. What better promotional tool for a week-long fanfest than the fans themselves?

I found myself at Spirit of Edmonton on Thursday night and this was probably the low point of the week. I know this party is considered the place to be, especially on Thursday, but a long line and a holding room because there wasn’t enough room in the main room for everyone made this a bit of a downer.

Spirit of Edmonton also introduced me to maybe my only real complaint about the whole weekend: that they try to have so much going on at one time that it makes it impossible to be able to talk to people. My throat was hoarse by Saturday morning because I was forced to yell every conversation I had. I get it, these are parties and parties are loud, but at the same time it is nice to not have sensory overload sometimes. Every party was like this, so it wasn’t exclusive to just Spirit of Edmonton.

The main event of Friday was the Atlantic Schooner party and the official announcement that the 10th team in the CFL will be called… the Atlantic Schooners. Shocking, I know. It was cool to be a part of history and this may have been the best venue of any party I attended. The room was huge, they had tables set up and the drink prices were reasonable. I bounced around a few other team parties that night — Stamps House and Riderville most notably — and while they had their own special flair, nothing stood out like the Schooner party did. Maybe it was the lobster rolls, maybe it was the major announcement, maybe it was the venue, but this was my favourite team party that I attended.

Saturday was a packed day, as it started with an unofficial fan breakfast for those of us that didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg to go to the Spirit of Edmonton breakfast. This was just a group of people eating breakfast food and talking CFL. It was a blast.

Next up came a brief, and I mean brief, stop at one of the Tigertown pub crawl spots. This was during their Vanier Cup viewing party on Saturday afternoon, and while the place was very lively, there was just nowhere to sit so after standing around for a bit and mingling some, I headed to the first of the two events I knew I had to attend Saturday: the CFL Fans Fight Cancer fundraiser. This is where the Grey Cup fun really picked up for me.

Fans are what make this league the league that it is, and to see a group of fans, many of whom do not know one another except for online circles like Twitter, come together for a great cause and raise over $5,000 really warms your heart. A few players even stopped by, namely Saskatchewan Roughrider Jovon Johnson and former Calgary Stampeder and Montreal Alouette Nik Lewis, as well as Calgary Stampeders defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks. Johnson, as chance would have it, won the event’s 50/50 draw… and proceeded to use his winnings to buy a round of drinks for everyone in the bar. Oh, and the kicker, he grabbed a serving tray and served the drinks himself! Show me another sports league where future hall of famers and all-time greats will come to a fan-run event just to interact with their adoring public and help raise money for a good cause. I don’t think you can. If you go to Grey Cup you have to attend this event.

Saturday night came with it the annual Grey Cup Meet Up (formerly Grey Cup Tweet Up) which is an invite-only event that brings CFL tweeters from across the league to hang out and, well, tweet stuff. In an odd twist of fate, for a guy like me who was really looking forward to being at a party where I didn’t have to talk to people, was allowed to just stare at my phone and tweet stuff out, I sent out just one tweet the entire night and spent the rest talking to people.

This was also the event where I watched Zack Evans exact revenge on Travis Currah and absolutely crush him in a beer-chugging contest.

I have never seen a human being shotgun a beer that quickly. While Jon Gott’s on-field beer chug might be the best for everyone else, Zach Evans’ will be the one I reference for the rest of time. It may not have been seen by as many people, but it was just as epic.

I also had a chance to just stand around and chat about the CFL with Evans, which is an experience I otherwise would never have had if not for me being in Edmonton this past week. In a league where players are always highly accessible, to just stand by a bar at chat football with a two-time Grey Cup champ is still something I will never get over. It also helps that Evans is a cool dude and while I am not a Riders fan by any stretch of the imagination, I am now a Zack Evans fan. The magic of Grey Cup, right?

Sunday was low-key and was pretty much all about the game, and that was maybe my least-favourite part of the entire weekend (save for maybe Spirit of Edmonton). If you had told me a week ago that the thing I would like least about Grey Cup week was the actual Grey Cup game, I would have called you crazy. Yet here I sit, telling you that the best part of Grey Cup week is meeting strangers.

But that’s what makes the CFL the CFL, right? The wonderful, weird people who make up this fandom are some of the nicest you will ever meet. Fans from around the league come to celebrate it, and whether your team is in the came or not, you can still enjoy everything that a Grey Cup week has to offer.

I met so many wonderful people, including *GASP* Redblacks fans, and memories I will cherish until my brain fires off its last synapse.

My hope when I arrived in Edmonton was to have a good time, but the time I had wasn’t just good, but exceeded even my wildest possible expectations.

In years past I didn’t understand why everyone liked Grey Cup week so much, how hanging out and rabble rousing could be so much fun that people talked about it for days afterwards, and couldn’t wait until they got a chance to do it all over again in a year.

But I get it now.

Edmonton 2018 may have been my first foray into the craziness that is Grey Cup week, but it won’t be my last.

Let the countdown to Calgary 2019 begin.

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