Since leaders from both the XFL and CFL announced an agreement to work together to identify opportunities to innovate and grow the game of football early last month, speculation has run rampant that a merged league would do away with the Canadian game in favour of a four-down hybrid.
According to some experts, Americanization could be a positive for the CFL as it attempts to win back a ‘lost generation’ of football fans, but an all-time great American passer is pushing back against that narrative.
In an appearance on Sportsnet 590 in Toronto, Canadian Football Hall of Famer Damon Allen was emphatic in his belief that the sport in Canada must always reflect the Canadian game.
“I’ve always believed that the CFL should be the governing body on how the game is played here, teaching the new, up-and-coming generation that CFL football is alive and well. That’s the game they should be learning how to play,” Allen told hosts Eric Smith and Paul Jones.
The dual-threat passer from San Diego, California spent 23 seasons in the CFL, throwing for 72,381 yards and 394 touchdowns, while rushing for 11,920 more and 51 scores. He retired in 2007 as pro football’s all-time leading passer and currently sits fourth behind Drew Brees, Anthony Calvillo and Tom Brady.
Now a passionate fan of the Canadian game, Allen is troubled by the lack of unified play structure across the country.
“So often you go to these different provinces and they’re playing four-down football and they’re playing three and you have these small little empires in all these different cities and they’re all playing different styles of football, four-down or three-down,” he said.
Jurisdictions like B.C. and the Greater Toronto Area play American rules at the high school level and other regional variances exist. The end result is a lost generation of fans in key areas.
“You start to raise kids that want to play American ball. But to me, this is Canada’s game. It should be three-down football. That’s how we should be teaching every young child that comes up,” Allen insisted.
“If they have the desire to play football, that’s the route, that’s the path that they have to learn how to play no different than when I was playing in America and I was playing four-down football from Pop Warner to high school to university.”
The most recent incarnation of the XFL lasted just five games before the COVID-19 pandemic put their season on hold, which led to Vince McMahon filing for bankruptcy and selling. RedBird Capital, Dwayne Johnson, and Dany Garcia were selected as the winning bidders. It cost $15 million and the goal is to make the XFL a stable league in the future, which could include an agreement with the CFL.
According to reports, the CFL collectively lost between $60 and $80 million not playing last season. Without an infusion of cash, either from the government, RedBird Capital, or the passing of single-game sports betting in Canada, the league would take another large financial hit regardless of what happens in 2021.
Allen isn’t anti-merger talks, as he believes these business conversations are necessary to get a much improved TV deal for the CFL. Altering the fabric of the distinct Canadian game would simply be a step too far.
While that type of decision may not occur for months, three-down football will return much sooner with the 2021 schedule slated to begin August 5 and Allen couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I’m glad that football is back. I’m glad that the Grey Cup is being played in December. I’m glad I’m not playing in it because it’s going to be freezing cold there, but at the end of the day, I’m glad that CFL is back,” Allen laughed.
“We missed it last year and it’s a huge part of the fabric of the country of Canada. It’s their game. And it’s a unique game.”