The grisly cup
If press reports are to be believed, the Toronto Argonauts have defeated the Calgary Stampeders in the 100th meeting for Lord Grey’s Cup, 35 points to 22. Notwithstanding our opposition to professional sport, our freedom from nationalism, & our regret that Canadian football deteriorated from something resembling rugby in the mid-19th century, to something not resembling by the early 20th, we get kind of giddy over such things.
Our Yanqui readers would be able to follow the game, once it were explained there are only three downs. Too, the field is 10 yards longer, & more than 10 yards wider. Canadian end zones are also much deeper, & when a field goal is missed, the ball may remain quite delightfully in play. We also allow open-field kicking, adding aerial drama to the conclusion of a close game. Our goal posts anchor on the goal line, too, so that the need to avoid hitting them becomes an issue in long touchdown passes. Each team has one more player on the field, behind the line of scrimmage; there are no restrictions on backfield movements, & our clock stays running, adding to the general sense of urgency. Until quite recently: none of these cissy innovations such as the “fair catch” rule. The Canadian arrangements force a more daring offence, some wild turnovers, & a big kicking game. The American version is more like an extremely violent form of chess.
It should be further explained to our southern friends that the Canadian game is not descended from the American. The degeneration from rugby happened contemporaneously on both sides of the border; & the differences are almost all the result of later U.S. innovations that were not copied here. The original Harvard v. McGill matches were played to rules that would now appear Canadian.
As to the earliness of the Canadian fixture, one may look to the weather at these latitudes which, even at this time of year, may border on inclement. (We start earlier to compensate, in June.) Among the more memorable Grey Cup matches was the “Mud Bowl” of 1950, in which one player nearly drowned, the pea-soup “Fog Bowl” of 1962, played largely by ear when passing became impossible, & the “Ice Bowl” of 1977, which explains itself. It was, as we used to say, a man’s game, before covered stadiums were invented, & other forms of girlishness prevailed in the culture at large.
Our ancient mama, then a young nurse removed by marriage from Halifax to Toronto, recalls an earlier visit of the Stampeders to Toronto, to win the 36th Grey Cup in 1948 (against the Ottawa Rough Riders). She was impressed by the tallness of the visiting Albertans, their magnificent hats, by the amount of meat they were able to consume, & by their propensity to eschew cars & instead ride horses. Indeed, we believe that was the year in which a classic Canadian question of etiquette was first raised: to wit, Should one ask permission before riding one’s horse into the lobby of the Royal York Hotel? The answer is of course, No, forgiveness is always easier to obtain than permission.