For the first time in what feels like forever, the CFL has been a topic of conversation. Interestingly enough, that hasn’t been just in Canada. Most of this conversation has come in a negative connotation, and CFL fans have been quick to defend their favourite league, but should we really care what any outsider has to say about the league?
Logic would point to the answer being a short and sweet no, but it’s hard to let people who know little to nothing about the sport make claims and put the league down. The CFL has a hard enough time as is with keeping their old fans while making new ones, and comments like this from people who have a platform as powerful as they do can seriously damage a league's reputation even if they don’t deserve it.
Things kicked off when Pat McAfee, ex punter in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts called the CFL “state fair football” on his live show, the Pat McAfee Show. He also mentioned that he enjoyed the CFL and wanted it to survive, but many focused on the state fair comment. It evoked many reactions.
"The younger generation of CFL fans are not dead,” said @BomberFanTed in a reply on Twitter. “I [don’t know] where you’re getting your facts from! We tailgate hard on gameday. We have the ‘Hendrick Hop’ similar to the Lambeau Leap. Can’t wait until we can safely attend games again!”
“[The] CFL is not dead by any means,” said Lobaholic on Twitter. “It is still a tough league to play in. Many players are NFL calibre, just not enough space. Much more community-minded players as well. No better league in any sport can claim a deep-rooted connection between players and fans. Amazing history.”
The story seemed to go away without much more noise, but the issue was far from over. In the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams game on Sunday, CFL fans tuned in to have a chance to watch former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler get some playing time in an all-important week 17 matchup for the Cardinals.
Streveler wasn’t great on the day, but he wasn’t the worst quarterback to take the field in the NFL this season. Streveler went into the game largely unknown to the average NFL fan, or even commentators for that matter, but for CFL fans, to expect a great passing performance never seemed realistic.
Towards the end of the second quarter, Streveler threw his first career interception in the NFL. CFL fans were upset, but not with the interception, but rather with what Boomer Esiason said after the fact.
“What a horrific mistake by Streveler,” said Esiason, announcer for CBS. “He throws it in between three Rams defenders as he is getting hit in the pocket. This isn’t the Grey Cup. This isn’t the CFL. You can’t just take chances and throw the ball down the middle of the field and expect somebody to not come down with it. There’s just no reason to throw the ball there.”
The comment is obviously ridiculous. You can’t throw the ball into triple coverage over the middle of the field in the CFL either. You can even do that in peewee football. The perception that the CFL isn’t good football is false, and it’s dangerous for the CFL to have people in the position that Esiason is in saying things like this.
The question of should you care is still dangling in the air. While you may want to dismiss everything that Esiason and McAfee said, it’s virtually impossible to do so. Much of the CFL is composed of American talent, and those American players are needed to be able to keep the level of play the CFL has been able to build up.
One of the issues is that young American players who watch these outlets might choose the XFL or other football leagues over the CFL if all they hear is negativity regarding the league. It’s something the CFL has dealt with for years. What is good to see is CFL fans and players come together and show everyone that the CFL isn’t bad football.
If the CFL wants to put these narratives to bed, they need to market the league better. That’s not something we have the time to get into here, and it’s a large task for the CFL. It’s something they haven’t ever really been able to get right. It’s really hard to do, but totally worth doing going forward.