Late tomorrow afternoon at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will clash with the Saskatchewan Roughriders before a capacity crowd of some 50,000 ardent and indubitably intoxicated fans to decide the 2013 Canadian Football League Champion in the 101st Grey Cup.
For those readers living in Toronto, where people tend to think of Western Canada as Etobicoke, or maybe Mississauga, Regina is about 2,685 kilometres west of Rob Ford.
When it comes to the CFL, and its storied championship game, there are basically three types of people. First off, there are the vocal anti-fans who each year avoid the league and its big game -- and are sure to let everyone know it -- because they're biased and oftentimes ignorant snobs who believe the Canadian game is bush compared to the bigger, flashier, louder league down south.
Second, there are the rabid fanatics who love the Canadian game of football more than they love probably anything on Earth -- with the possible exception of a tailgate party. Or a hot Tim's coffee on a cold day. Or, a good Don Cherry rant on any given Saturday night.
Finally, there are those who don't give football on either side of the border much thought for 364 days each year. But on the morning of the Grey Cup they wake up and think, dang, I'd like to be a part of this nationwide shindig. And so they somehow find themselves a part of the astonishing six million viewers who tune in for the big game even though they'd be hard-pressed to name the teams competing for the Cup, or identify a single player on either side. Honestly, these people wouldn't know a rouge if it kicked them, and they're inclined to utter unintentionally hilarious things throughout Grey Cup Day, like: "Oh, I hope Beyonce is doing half-time again this year!" Or, "I wonder who's going to throw out the first pitch." Or, "What rhymes with guacamole?" Or, "This game reminds me, I need to change all my lightbulbs to CFL bulbs to save energy and money..."
It's been a wild week in Regina, where the locals don't need much of a reason to party. And the Grey Cup game is a huge reason to... party. Hey, you do the math.
Hell, everybody's gotten into the spirit(s). National Post scribe Sean Fitz-Gerald even found a lingerie shop that reflected "the mood of the entire city" with hometown-team-inspired naughty knickers on mannequins in the window of the downtown Love Plus store. Sex also reared its head early in the week when the always-asked question was fired in a press conference featuring the Cup's two coaches: "Hey, coach, should your players have sex before the big game?" Roughriders coach Corey Chamblin brought down the house with his response: "They win the championship, they'll have a lot of it. Trust me."
Another recurring theme during the week has been the weather in Regina. The kind of weather that makes people think that Al Gore is full of crap. Seriously, how low did temps go? So low that a Ticat playbook binder actually shattered in the cold. Oh, and a few Ticats suffered frostbite during practice. In NFL circles, they talk with reverence of "the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" (where the Green Bay Packers play their home games). Well, this week, Lambeau would have been Sun Life Stadium in Miami compared to Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
Did the cold freeze out any enthusiasm for The Big Game? No way. Consider: Since the city was experiencing a shortage of hotel rooms for the incoming hordes, fans just... camped out in the parking lot beside Mosaic Field. In RVs. And one big ole fishing tent, doubtlessly replete with a wood stove and a whole lotta booze. Overnight temps for the hardy campers apparently felt like -29 C. For our American readers, that's, well, that's unfathomably effin' cold.
Thankfully, so the game doesn't turn into a frozen fiasco, temperatures are supposed to rise tomorrow for kick-off. Ah, even if they stay c-c-cold, old-timers will just sit around fondly recalling Grey Cups that were way (take your pick) colder, windier, wetter, foggier. Cause this game's got game. And this game's got history -- now more than a century of it.
And unless you're one of those who just inherently hates the Canadian game while worshipping its American cousin, you're in for a treat tomorrow. Because unlike the Super Bore (er, Super Bowl), the Grey Cup is almost always a great game.
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<em><strong>11 ways the Grey Cup is better than the Super Bowl!</strong></em>
The Grey Cup turns 101 years young on Sunday. The Super Bowl is still a petulant child of 47.
Yes, there are much more comfortable and beautiful arenas than Maple Leaf Gardens and almost every stadium in the world is in better shape than Rome's Coliseum but nothing compares to the feeling of setting foot in one of those storied shrines to sport. It's the same with the Grey Cup trophy. There is so much history and human experienced carved into that cup that hoisting it is almost like hoisting the history of a nation. -Photo: 1956 Grey Cup victory
<strong><em>Yes, the Grey Cup has had its fair share of interesting half-time shows but the talk before, and after, the show is not about who will be performing, about the possible or confirmed nip slip or that really cool VW commercial. When it comes to the Grey Cup, talk centres around the game... or maybe the weather.</em></strong>
While the designers of the Super Bowl's Vince Lombardi Trophy didn't have to go past the image of a football for their , ahem, football trophy, the Grey Cup is truly a thing of beauty that holds its own, in terms of esthetic magnificence, against any other trophy in professional sports.
The Super Bowl really has taken on an air that the big game, and even the half-time acts, are all just vehicles to sell the most expensive on-air spots in the world. The Grey Cup, however, has really become a vehicle for a big a party, a week of lead-up shenanigans and some nail-biting action on the grid iron. Nothing is written in stone going into the Grey Cup. The Canadian game is too unpredictable to call, as are the off-field shenanigans before and during the game.
The Super Bowl, on the other hand, is normally held in <a href="http://thegatewayonline.ca/article/view/2861" target="_blank">warm climes or in cities with large capacity domed stadiums</a>. Seems like cuddling those who are supposed to be the toughest athletes in professional sports. In the end, the harshness of the weather lends as much a character to the contest as fans' willingness to endure it for the love of the game.
<blockquote>And one of the things (The CFL) was not, at least in its public actions, was overtly and institutionally racist. So black quarterbacks and “skilled position” players got a chance here long before they did in the U.S. pro leagues, where the unspoken, but very real, prejudice was that they didn’t have the required cultural background or, frankly, mental tool set.</blockquote> -<a href="http://www.thespec.com/sports-story/2262268-grey-cup-symbolizes-differences-between-canada-and-our-neighbour-to-th/" target="_blank">thespec.com</a>
They really do make for a faster, more unpredictable game.
Ever wondered why there's so many mentions of miracles in the Super Bowl? Every time a team overcomes a substantial deficit, they call it a miracle. And they are right. It's so hard to do, due to American rules, that it does almost require a miracle to push ahead again. Much less so in Canadian rules, where teams have to work hard to keep determined opponents from making up lost ground. Anything can and does happen, right to the last minute. And that brings us to...
Let's talk unpredictable and nail-biting to the bitter end.
This finish is now lore in the CFL, a marquis moment of the Grey Cup and has engrained itself in Canadian sports history, reaching iconic sports status. The 13th man has become as interwined with our sport as the <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijOjRTqPICk" target="_blank">Rumble in the Jungle </a>or the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentina_v_England_%281986_FIFA_World_Cup%29" target="_blank">Hand of God</a>, have become within their respective sports.
From their willingness to expose themselves to the kinds of cold that could literally kill lesser human beings, to their crazy antics (Rider Nations' watermelon hats, or the crazy horse antics of Stampeders fans) CFL fans will travel long distances, clear entire days off their calendars and wear the most ridiculous outfits while taking part in the most ridiculous acts because that is what a good Grey Cup festival demands.
...and then there's this guy.
...And this guy
And this ... guy?
...and these guys.
...and these guys...
Follow Andy Juniper on Twitter: www.twitter.com/theSportJesters