The Super Bowl is a spectacle enjoyed the world over, but for those of us located outside the United States, especially those who only passively follow the NFL, it comes with a loaded question: who should I cheer for?
Unless you are a diehard Bengals or Rams fan, the answer to that question may not be easy. There are any number of ways to reach a decision, from star power to who has the funnier mascot, but many Canadians will be looking to support the team with the most connections to their homeland and the CFL teams close to their hearts.
Pro football is a small world. Many player, coaches and executives across the NFL have ties to the CFL or Canada more generally. Ahead of Super Bowl LVI, I’ve gone digging to find the most notable reasons for Canadians to cheer for each of the teams vying for the championship.
Proximity and Cities
When it comes to cheering for sports teams, its all about location, location, location. Most of us simply grow up cheering for the closest professional team to us or the closest to where our families are from.
When it comes to proximity among the Super Bowl contenders, Cincinnati takes the cake. While Ohio only borders Canada by water on beautiful Lake Erie, it will take you just under four hours to drive the 419 kilometres from the Bengals’ home in Paul Brown Stadium to the Ambassador Bridge border crossing in Windsor, Ontario — when it’s not closed due to protests, of course.
Los Angeles is a different story, with SoFi Stadium located a whopping 2,013 kilometres and two states away from the Peace Arch border crossing in Surrey, B.C. It may have a more prominent Canadian flavour however, as the great white north has long sent our best and brightest to Hollywood to become stars. Many of the Canadian celebrities on the Super Bowl red carpet will have Rams allegiances and it helps that L.A. is sister cities with Vancouver.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine many resident Canadians are natural Rams fans and as someone who once made that 18 hour drive from Surrey to California in an unventilated bus filled with unwashed teenagers (don’t ask), it is simply an insurmountable deficit.
You’ll have to look long and hard to find a noticeable Canadian connection in the Rams front office. Those with encyclopedic CFL knowledge will recognize Southwest area scout Steve Kazor as offensive line of the now-defunct Ottawa Renegades in 2006. He’s still listed as a team employee on the website, but was reportedly let go by the Rams last offseason and is currently employed by the Senior Bowl.
The real connection is in the team’s video department, where video director Dan Dmytrisin hails from Calgary and was assistant video coordinator with the Stampeders from 2004 to 2006.
Though notorious for their small personnel department, the Bengals do boast some CFL bloodlines in the form of director of player personnel and de facto general manager Duke Tobin. The architect of this Cincinnati Super Bowl team is the son of running back Bill Tobin, who posted 858 yards from scrimmage and 7 total touchdowns in two seasons with the Edmonton Football Team. He is also the nephew of former B.C. Lions defensive coordinator Vince Tobin, who served from 1977 to 1982 under then head coach Vic Rapp.
Normally this would be considered a tenuous connection, but Duke hired his father as a personnel executive, cementing the CFL connection.
When it comes to coaches, by now most know the story of Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. The former Big 12 Player of the Year with the Nebraska Cornhuskers spent most of the 2007 season on the practice roster of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before being asked to suit up in one game: the 95th Grey Cup.
That was Taylor’s only CFL action, as third stringer behind current Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie and Arizona Cardinals bench boss Kliff Kingsbury, but he also happens to be the son-in-law of former Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman.
Rams head coach Sean McVay has no such CFL experience, but he very nearly had a different connection to Canada. The offensive wunderkind’s famous grandfather John McVay was head coach and general manager of the Memphis Southmen in the ill-fated World Football League. Owned by John F. Bassett, son of the Argos’ owner of the same name, the team was supposed to be the Toronto Northmen until the Canadian government stepped in to protect the CFL’s dominance on home soil.
On the Rams staff, only assistant defensive line coach Marcus Dixon can claim to have played in Canada. He suited up for one game in 2014 with the B.C. Lions before retiring.
The Bengals have a much more meaningful connection on their sideline in the form of strength & conditioning coach Joey Boese. The former Wisconsin standout spent parts of four seasons with the Calgary Stampeders from 2003 to 2006 and was named a West All-Star at defensive back in 2004. In total, Boese made 160 defensive tackles, 31 special teams tackles, and seven interceptions in 43 games in Cowtown.
This is the true money-making category, but all the Bengals have to show for it is Joe Burrow’s CFL bloodlines. The star quarterback will be trying to get himself a professional championship ring much like his father Jim Burrow did with the Montreal Alouettes in 1977.
The elder Burrow spent five seasons as a defensive back in the CFL after graduating from Nebraska, playing with Montreal (1977-80), Calgary (1980) and Ottawa (1981). He was a two-time East All-Star, finishing with 15 career interceptions.
Beyond that, the Bengals boast no Canadian players or other major CFL connections, while the Rams have two contributors from north of the 49th on their roster.
The most likely to make an impact of Sunday is defensive lineman Michael Hoecht, who was born in Oakville and played some high school football in Stittsville while moving back and forth between Ontario and Ohio as a child.
The Brown University product was a second round pick of the Ottawa Redblacks in 2020 but signed with the Rams, making the 53-man roster this season. In 17 games this season he has chipped in with five tackles in a rotation that includes the likes of Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
Joining him is Windsor-born left tackle Alaric ‘A.J.’ Jackson, who played his high school football across the river in Detroit before going on to a stellar career at Iowa. The 15th overall selection by the B.C. Lions in the 2021 CFL Draft went somewhat surprisingly undrafted by the NFL before the Rams scooped him up.
Jackson dressed in five games as a rookie, including the NFC Championship, and played the majority of snaps protecting Matthew Stafford’s blindside in a Week 16 win over Minnesota. He will likely backup at the left tackle spot after Joseph Noteboom was placed on injured reserve.
Hoecht and Jackson could make it three straight years that a Canadian has hoisted the Lombardi, joining Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Antony Auclair in the Super Bowl-winning club, but they aren’t the only Rams with ties north of the line. Starting safety Taylor Rapp, who is recovering from a concussion, is the son of a Canadian father, entitling him to citizenship via jus soli if he ever wanted it.
Running back Sony Michel is also the brother of former Stamps’ receiver Marken Michel, making L.A. the team with the most Canadian connections.
Final Verdict: Los Angeles Rams
The Bengals may have stronger links elsewhere, but you simply cannot argue against cheering for homegrown talent. Canada, strap on your horns, this is Rams country.