A Season of History (2012 CFL Preview)

Canadian Football has reached a milestone as the CFL will celebrate the history of the game throughout the year. The reason for this celebration being that the CFL will officially hand out the Grey Cup for the 100th time at the end of the 2012 season. The celebration will be year-long as the CFL looks back into their past to move forward into the future. The history of Canadian football is a storied one as it has gone through many changes and many forms to get to where it is today. The CFL has some of the richest history of all sports in North America and has gone through plenty of changes. It started as Rugby Football and later became known as simply Football. The establishment of the forward pass and the three down system changed the sport forever. It is not just the history of the sport that makes the CFL great though as it is the history of the teams that creates a rabid fan base. The CFL began in 1958 with 9 teams in the league and has gone through many changes and adjustments to work to the 8 team league it is today. The first 9 teams represented Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. All but one of these teams is left in the league and the one left out will be returning next year. Although the current 8 teams resemble the original 8 teams there have been plenty of changes throughout the years that has created the unique history of the CFL. Montreal is a great example as football in Montreal has some of the longest and richest tradition. In 1868 the Montreal Football Club became the first ever non-university football club in Canada. Throughout the years clubs came and went but it wasn’t until 1948 when the Montreal Alouettes, named for a working song, were officially formed. Through years of up and down seasons and trades that seemed sketchy the Alouettes remained a staple in the CFL until 1982 when the team folded. Another team was created in the Montreal Concords but again folded in the late 1980s. It wasn’t until a brief CFL experiment of expansion into the USA ended that the Alouettes would return in 1996 when the Baltimore Stallions left the USA. They are now one of the most powerful and stable franchises in the CFL and are only a fraction of the history of the CFL. There is the storied history of the Toronto Argonauts who were created as an offseason activity for the Toronto Argonaut Rowing Club in 1873. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were founded in 1950 when the Hamilton Tigers and Hamilton Wildcats merged, hence the name Tiger-Cats. The Blue Bombers were formed out of a long history of Western Rugby Football and were the only team to survive out of an entire league. In the West the history does not stop as the Calgary Stampeders were forged from the same cloth as the Blue Bombers in a rapidly changing Rugby Football scene in the west. The Edmonton Eskimos were formed officially in 1949 but have a history that traces to 1895 when the first Eskimos team was formed. The Saskatchewan Roughriders were formed in 1910 as a Rugby Football Club and have become one of two publicly owned teams in North America, the other is the Green Bay Packers of the NFL. Finally the B.C. Lions who are the youngest teams but trace their history to the beginnings of Rugby Football on the West Coast. These teams make up the CFL and are the reason why the CFL is full of history. This year these 8 teams will continue to make history this year and this history will be highlighted throughout the year as the CFL looks to celebrate throughout the 2012 season. It will be a once in a lifetime season but all of the off field celebrations will mean little to these eight teams as they all hope to share in the Grey Cup Celebration but hope to do so as the champions. It all starts on Canada Day weekend when 8 teams begin their march towards the 100th Grey Cup all the way hoping to make their mark in the history books of the CFL.


100 Years, 100 Champions





It is a milestone that has only been seen by one other trophy in North American sport as the Grey Cup will turn 100 this year. The only trophy older than the Grey Cup is the Stanley Cup that was first handed out in 1892 as the Challenge Cup. It can still be said that the Grey Cup is the oldest consistent trophy in North America. It was first handed out in 1909 and has always been known as the Canadian Football championship and has always been named the Grey Cup. Other trophies like the Stanley Cup were handed out to different leagues and under different names throughout their history. Either way you consider it the Grey Cup remains one of the oldest trophies in North America. It all started in 1909 when the then Governor General of Canada, Earl Grey, commissioned a trophy to be given to the top amateur rugby football team in Canada.  This generally meant that school teams and sports clubs would be the teams competing for the trophy. In 1909 this was the case as the University of Toronto Varsity Blues took on the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club at Rosedale Field in Toronto. The Varsity Blues showed their experience in the game, they had created a football program in 1861, as they took the first ever Grey Cup with a score of 26-6. Since then every year, aside from 4 years they took off for World War I, the Grey Cup has been handed out. In 1958 it became the main award for the newly formed Canadian Football League. Since 1909 there have been many champions but none more than the Toronto Argonauts who have won 15 Grey Cups in their long history. It is also a unique award that has taken some queues from its close cousin the Stanley Cup as it is the same award handed out every year that simply is engraved with the names of the champions. Only it and the Stanley Cup do this making it one of the most unusual, and also most beautiful, awards in North America. This year 8 teams will look to become the 100th champion as all paths lead to the Rogers Centre in Toronto where the CFL will cap off a historic season. It is not just the Grey Cup at stake this year as it is a historic Grey Cup which makes this the story of the year as fans will get a healthy dose of CFL history throughout the year.


Changes, Changes, Changes





As the league celebrates the 100th Grey Cup year there will be many looking to the future of their teams. Many of these futures were changed this year as the CFL saw a number of players leave their teams for new ones. This usually happens in any league in any season but the offseason this year saw a number of important players leave. It was not just that they were important either it was that many of them became the face of their franchises over the years and will now instantly become the face of a new franchise. Many of the changes have seen players move from west to east and could change the face of the league. One of these players was Ricky Ray who was traded by the Edmonton Eskimos to the Toronto Argonauts for Steven Jyles (QB), Grant Shaw (K), and a 2012 First Round draft pick. This shocked the CFL world as Ricky Ray had gone through plenty of controversy between him and the former starter Jason Maas in Edmonton but became a fan favorite and a leader of the Eskies. His trade was never expected but the Argonauts needed a QB desperately if they wanted to play the Grey Cup at home this year and they went out to get one. It also left Edmonton with Kerry Joesph and Stephen Jyles as their QB prospects when they look to move on from the Ricky Ray era. Meanwhile just down the QEW the Hamilton Tiger Cats were making their own run at playing the Grey Cup close to home. Their first move was signing longtime Saskatchewan Roughrider Andy Fantuz who returned last year from a stint in the NFL and did not play much on the Riders. This year he was a free agent and decided to go to Hamilton taking away one of the longest-serving faces in Saskatchewan. Then the Tiger Cats got someone to throw to Fantuz as they traded Kevin Glenn (QB), and Mark Dewit (OL) to the Calgary Stampeders for longtime quarterback Henry Burris. Burris was the Calgary Stampeders but last year he struggled and was replaced by Drew Tate and as the season closed it seemed Tate would be the QB of the future for Calgary. Burris did not want to play second fiddle and speculation swirled about who would get him. Along with these changes the mayor of Swaggerville in Winnipeg was traded to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. It will be a big story as these players look to make their impact on new teams and look to become what they used to be in their old cities.


Repeat for the Leos?





Last year the B.C. Lions were the only team left standing after a wild season that saw them finish as Grey Cup Champions in their hometown. The Lions looked far from good when the season started as they were only able to win twice before Labour Day. Then everything changed as they went on a massive run after their bye week. The Lions were able to put together an 9-1 record starting on Labour Day. This launched them into the top of the Western Division as they took the title and the bye. In the playoffs their winning streak continued as they beat the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western finals. After dominating the Eskies 40-23 the Lions moved on to the Grey Cup where they would take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their home stadium. They beat the Bombers and won the 99th Grey Cup in front of their home crowd ending a fantastic season that looked to be over before it started. This year much of the team is back including reigning MOP Travis Lulay and his pair of receivers in Arland Bruce and Geroy Simon. They will go at it again this year on a team that has had one full season together and knows each other. This may mean that the Lions are the team to beat this year as they will have all of the pieces of a champion. The big challenge will be repeating their performance among the changes in the league. There are so many questions with the defending champions like will Travis Lulay b e as good as he was last year? Can the defence stand out again in the West? Will a new coach hurt or help the team? Can Bruce stay on the Lions for the season or will he leave another team? All of these will be answered starting on Canada Day Weekend when the Lions open their season against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a rematch of the 99th Grey Cup. They have a shot of repeating as they look like a solid team again this year but it is never easy to become back-to-back champions especially when almost all the teams around them have made changes to get better. It really rides on the performance of Lulay who had a great season last year and will need to repeat the performance this year if the Lions hope to repeat. All season the conversation in BC will be if they can repeat as everyone looks to the defending champions as a measuring stick. This is what the Lions are in for this year as they look to become the next back-to-back champions of the CFL.


New King of the CFL?





As the Lions look for their repeat one player sits in the middle of their hopes for this season as Travis Lulay will be the linchpin to that team. Lulay is the reigning Most Outstanding Player in the CFL as he was great for the Lions last year. You could see it coming in 2010 when Lulay took over the starting job for the Lions. He struggled at the beginning of the year but thanks to his leadership in the second half of the season the Lions were able to win the Stanley Cup. His great season earned him the top individual award in the CFL where he beat out a legend in Anthony Calvillo. The Montreal Alouettes QB has been the top QB in the league for years and every season he seems to overcome everything to continue to lead his team. Calvillo is near the end of his career though as he will only play a few more years until he hangs them up as the best QB to ever play in the CFL. Lulay on the other hand is just beginning his CFL career and will enter only his second season as the opening day starter. With both QBs at different parts of their careers this year could be the beginning of the passing of the torch. As Calvillo winds down Lulay may just be that QB who can overtake him as the best QB in the CFL. Winning the MOP last year and beating Calvillo for the award could be that first step of Lulay becoming the next great QB in the CFL. Of course it is not that simple as Calvillo is still the best QB in the league and has not slowed down. He is always a threat to guide his team to the Grey Cup and will make his case for the MOP this year. For Lulay he is far away from the level of Calvillo and that is only because he has not done it for long enough to be considered the best QB in the league. If Lulay can be consistent and keep the Lions at the top of the Western Division this year the conversation can start to gain some speed. In the same light if Calvillo begins to slow down the talk of retirement will heat up and so will the discussion about who will be the next great QB. There are a lot of variables in this discussion but if Lulay can take over as a top-level QB many people may look at the 2012 season as the season where Anthony Calvillo passed the baton to Travis Lulay.


Last Year of a Legend





In a season based in history the CFL will see another historical event this year as a legendary stadium will close. Ivor Wynn Stadium is the oldest stadium in the CFL as many teams have moved on to new fields but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have stayed strong. First opened in 1930 Ivor Wynn Stadium, then known as Civic Stadium, was built specifically to host the British Empire Games. Since 1950 the Ti-Cats took over as permanent residents and have never moved playing in the stadium for 62 years. It has gone through changes as it went from a 2,000 seat stadium to a 29,000 seat stadium and has even increased when it hosted the Grey Cup which it did four times. This year though will mark the last year that the Ti-Cats will play in the old stadium as plans for the Pan-Am Games have forced the stadium to be remodeled in order to hold more fans. When Toronto won the rights to host the 2015 Pan-American Games their bid included plans to host events in St. Catharines and in Hamilton. The plans included hosting many of the Track and Field events in Hamilton at a brand new stadium yet to be built. This stadium would then act as the home for the Ti-Cats therefore giving it a purpose after the games. Then the debate started as the City of Hamilton presented plans to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for new locations but the Tiger-Cats said no to every one of them. In the end the debate ended when the city and the team agreed on the last day to build a brand new stadium in the same location as Ivor Wynn Stadium. After the long debate Hamilton lost much of their events instead getting the soccer events for the games. The end of this year will mark the beginning of construction where Ivor Wynn will be knocked down to make room for a new stadium. The Ti-Cats will celebrate their stadium throughout the year and will then move to a new site, that has yet to be decided, for the near future as the stadium is being built. In a season of history the Ti-Cats say goodbye to a big part of theirs as Hamilton fans say goodbye to the old Ivor Wynn and await the new one with some uncertainty to follow. It is yet another big story that will be talked about all season especially as the Ti-Cats look to make the last year a good one and go out with a Grey Cup victory.

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