Tim Micallef has one simple question for his viewers on Thursday.
“What is the CFL if it’s not Canadian?”
The popular Sportsnet host of Tim and Friends (formerly Tim and Sid) took a full ten minutes out of his usual broadcast spot, sharing his passion for Canadian football, his rising fear of its disappearance in the face of the league’s talks with the XFL, and how he is coming to terms with that reality.
The rant was prompted by an appearance by respected journalist Stephen Brunt on the show this week and should be considered much watch material for any CFL fan. Micallef began by dismissing a common myth about himself and his network.
“Please don’t get this twisted, I’m Canadian. I love football. So yes, I love the NFL. And yes — even here at Rogers — I love the CFL,” he said.
“I’ve covered the game on both sides of the border. Multiple Super Bowls, multiple Grey Cups. If you don’t know, now you know, and I firmly believe that the Canadian game is better than the American game. In fact, I don’t even think it’s debatable. No fair catches, the motion, the one yard off the ball, how even the rouge forces actual game play, and most folks who study this thing for a living agree.”
That distinct style of game with its unique quirks and offensive innovation has helped create seismic changes at the highest level of the sport.
“RPO run pass options taking over the NFL? Decades old in the CFL. Short athletic quarterbacks? CFL. Attacking the edges? CFL. Short high percentage passes? Bill Walsh… and the CFL. Undersized slot receivers? The Pats… and the CFL. Little burners on the edges? CFL,” Micallef rattled off.
“What does this all mean? Well, that all helped the evolution of, I don’t know, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown. Hell, 20 years ago Lamar Jackson was just a CFL quarterback. But if I can’t convince you of this, how the hell are we going to convince Americans to change the game they think they own?”
With the CFL and XFL openly talking about collaboration, many believe a full merger is in the works.
The CFL has been awarding the Grey Cup for over 100 years. Meanwhile, the original XFL lasted one full season in 2001 and five games in 2020. Despite that discrepancy, it’s commonly accepted that the Canadian league would have to adopt much of the XFL style game, including smaller fields, a fourth down and dropping the Canadian content protection of the ratio.
Some fan have drawn parallels to the CFL’s failed American expansion in the 1990s, an abject failure that disappeared in three seasons. Micallef believes that era — from Oh Canada being played in an empty Las Vegas stadium to the tune of Oh Christmas Tree to Lui Passaglia’s Grey Cup winning kick — should be a cultural touchstone, but it hasn’t been recalled.
“Many of us who knew this league was worth having — worth keeping Canadian — only came when it was threatened by the Posse or the Pirates of Shreveport, but a generation later, there are many who have forgotten that,” he said.
“Sure, there are parts of this country where the game is thriving. I once stood out in front of Taylor Field with Ron Lancaster on game day. It was like standing with the Pope in front of the Vatican — one of the highlights of my career — but it’s time that Saskatchewan and parts of Western Canada and all of the little pockets that love the CFL get a look at the forest from the trees. The game is dying in Toronto and Vancouver and Montreal has hit the skids. Those are the three biggest markets in Canada. The league needs to find a sustainable future and not an every five-year bailout. Add a pandemic on top of that and what the hell did you think we were going to do?”
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Dany Garcia, and RedBird Capital were selected as the winning bidder last August for all of the assets of Alpha Entertainment LLC, the parent company of the XFL. It cost $15 million and the goal is to make the XFL a stable league in the future, something that spending on the CFL could help achieve.
That may stabilize those ailing markets and underwrite pandemic losses but it comes at a cost. With that support, the CFL as we know it could be erased. Without it, it might disappear entirely.
“If you’re forced to choose between the XFL/CFL or no football at all in Canada, what do you choose? If we have to choose between the history of the Ticats, Roughriders and the Bombers playing four down football or nothing at all, what will you choose?,” Micallef asked viewers.
“Listen, it’s all well and good that there are people out there yelling and screaming about what the Canadian Football League means to them and how we need the ratio to ensure there are Canadians on the field, that we need the 55 yard line, or that we need three downs. What I’m telling you is it might be too late.”
The CFL is one of the only things that can be called uniquely Canadian and Micallef believes fans have waited too long to share their passion, while the pandemic has killed yet another thing we love.
It’s part of a growing trend of Americanization that those north of the border have become numb to and mounting evidence suggests some might simply accept the inevitable.
“We see things that make us distinctly Canadian dying by the minute, from radio and TV to Mom and Pop shops in the middle of town getting washed away by powerful American brands, and given all that you have to wonder is the Canadian football league next,” Micallef ended.
“You also have to wonder if we’ll learn to regret it or embrace it.”
Even if the rest of the country moves on, there are some who will never forget.