As the CFL’s all-time winningest coach, Wally Buono is considered one of the greatest stewards of the Canadian, but he’s not balking at the prospect of alignment with the XFL.
“I was pleased that the CFL was looking at other ways — other opportunities — to grow the game. I’ve always believed that we have a great game maybe we’ve kept it a secret too long,” he told listeners on TSN 1200 in Ottawa.
Many fans are having an existential crisis over the prospect of a merger between the two leagues and a loss of the fundamentally Canadian rules, but Buono is much more balanced.
While he remains open minded to all options, Buono believes the maintenance of the CFL’s rules and traditions is very much on the table. After all, his former player with the Calgary Stampeders, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, is the man leading the charge for cooperation.
“I think with Dwayne involved in all this, he would have a respect for the CFL game in itself, which I think is a tremendous advantage. The fact that he’s had exposure to it, the fact that I think he sees the quality of player and the quality of the game. He knows the passion of the fans in Canada,” Buono insisted.
“At least we would not be dealing with the person that maybe didn’t have a certain degree of knowledge and respect.”
Buono famously cut Johnson from the Stampeders at the request of his agent, allowing the Miami Hurricanes product to jump to the WWE and eventually movie stardom. The two have kept in contact, with Johnson publicly crediting Buono for many life lessons.
The Rock, 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 uniting with Johnson’s old league might help achieve.
While most expect complete Americanization, Buono insists more people than just The Rock can appreciate three down football.
“My experience when we expanded to the United States is there was places we went to in Baltimore and San Antonio and Birmingham where the people there loved the game. It was an exciting night of football when we were there with Doug Flutie and Tracy Ham and Matt Dunnigan and these guys put on a tremendous show and it was a three down game,” he recalled.
Buono prefers the Canadian style of game and often fast forwards through the superfluous kicking game and unnecessary downs of the NFL. The late game excitement of the CFL cannot be rivaled and Americans can be converted with exciting games.
“I can remember playing in San Antonio in the dome and we were into overtime. I think it was 31-31 and Doug Flutie — god bless him — does his magic, throws a corner route to Allen Pitts in overtime and we win the game. That place was unbelievable how it was rocking,” he remembered.
“Does that mean that they would love [three down football] more than the NFL? No, but it is football and it is entertaining.”
Whatever style of game, there is a vacancy in the market that the CFL and XFL can fill and while they won’t rival the NFL behemoth, Americans can enjoy lesser leagues when exposed to them.
“The reason that league is playing is because it provides an entertainment value to the networks. whether it’s the NFL Network, cable TV or Fox. It fills a void during a time when a void needs to be filled,” Buono explained.
“Look at MLS soccer. Is it as good as the European soccer? No. Is it as good as the South American soccer? No, but it fills a void in the market that sustains it.”
He wants the CFL to listen to every opportunity, so long as they can ensure Canadians will still be able to play football.
“We need football in Canada. We need to make sure that young Canadian men and women have the opportunity to play community football, to play college football, to have an opportunity in the major league to be a pro,” Buono said.
“And, you know, if [a collaboration] keeps it alive, then let’s look at the best way to generate more revenues”