Russ Jackson’s heart sank when he heard that the CFL was discussing a potential partnership with the XFL.
“I think if there was an amalgamation of the American and Canadian side, it would lead towards playing the American game,” said the legendary CFL quarterback. “I have no interest in that. I have four season tickets here in Hamilton. I’m not sure I would keep those season seats if we turned into an American-type football game.”
It’s not that Jackson doesn’t appreciate four-down football — he is simply a strong believer in the quality and uniqueness of the Canadian game.
“I want the CFL to play three-down football. The Canadian game is better. I can already see the American game played at the highest level by watching the National Football League if I want to.”
Jackson recently received a phone call from a person with ties to the Ottawa Redblacks. The individual explained that this “wasn’t the same situation” as the CFL’s failed American expansion initiative of the mid-1990s, but the 84-year-old remains skeptical.
“I’ve been having trouble ever since I got that call figuring out how it’s going to be different and why the American people would want to get involved with the Canadians if it wasn’t to play football.”
Jackson is widely regarded as the best Canadian player in CFL history. The Hamilton native was a member of the Ottawa Rough Riders from 1958 to 1969 and is one of just four individuals ever to be named the league’s Most Outstanding Player three or more times.
He is concerned about a potential partnership with the XFL limiting or eliminating the CFL’s ratio, which ensures the opportunity for Canadian players to dress and start for games.
“I think it’s important to keep the ratio,” said Jackson. “I’m all for the Canadians getting a chance to play the Canadian game.”
Jackson and his wife, Lois, have done well during the pandemic considering the circumstances. They received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in late March and are awaiting their second shot from their home in Burlington.
The three-time Grey Cup champion is one of five football players to win the prestigious Lou Marsh Trophy and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1970. He was a first-ballot inductee into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1973 and entered Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame two years later.
Jackson called the cancellation of the 2020 CFL season “disastrous,” though he understands why it happened. He appreciates that owners have lost a lot of money and that playing games without fans in the stands is challenging for a gate-driven league.
“I know that the people who own the CFL franchises have suffered. It’s unfortunate that the government’s not prepared to step in, but I can also understand their situation,” said Jackson.
“I just hope that we can somehow get some CFL football played this year because I have an awful feeling that if we don’t, it could mean the demise of the entire league forever.”