Today is May 17, the day that the CFL was originally supposed to open its training camps.
The league announced their postponement due to COVID-19 at the end of March and, sadly, there is still no official timeline for their reinstatement.
The opening of training camp is a wonderful time for Canadian football fans. It brings hope nationwide to millions who dream of seeing their favourite team hoist the Grey Cup at the end of November, capturing a championship that will be remembered for generations.
This is the time of year when we should be speculating about which fresh faces will make an immediate impact with their teams. Last season we saw players like Cody Fajardo, Quan Bray, Nate Holley, Bralon Addison, Janarion Grant and Vontae Diggs — all previously unknown entities — become household names across the country. Training camp is the first time we get to see young future stars take the field and earn the attention of coaches, fans, and media.
B.C. traded up on draft day to select East Carolina product Jordan Williams first overall, an athletic freak who projects as a starting linebacker. Watching him battle Isaiah Guzylak-Messam, Adam Konar, and Jordan Herdman-Reed for a first-string spot would have been a great story-line to follow.
The opening of training camps also prompts an annual flurry of roster moves — retirements, cuts, and signings. Remember when the Argonauts released Chris Van Zeyl on the eve of training camp last year to avoid paying his $40,000 report-and-pass bonus? It’s not often that a perennial all-star right tackle hits the open market, but that’s exactly what happened in 2019 (and Toronto’s loss was Hamilton’s gain).
The CFL season kicks off a little earlier now than it did during my childhood, but I always felt like the start of training camp signaled that the school year was about to end. It was a moment that meant summer was imminent, bringing with it warm weather, bike rides, video games, and the CFL regular season.
There haven’t been huge crowds for the start of training camp in Winnipeg in recent years, but I remember seeing well over 2,500 fans attend the first practice of the year at Canad Inns Stadium. Coming off a Grey Cup victory, I was hoping to see that trend return in 2020 — especially given that the prairies are experiencing gorgeous weather this long weekend.
The start of training camp is an exciting time for football fans across Canada. Virtually every player is healthy and all nine teams are undefeated, giving hope to fans across the country that this could be their year.
We’ve all been robbed of that experience in 2020 amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though it’s possible that training camps will open in a few months and a shortened season will be played, right now — for me, at least — it’s hard not to feel sad about missing out on one of the most exciting times of the year.