by Trevor Whenham - 06/01/2006
Now that Ricky Williams is headed to the CFL for the season, you Americans are finally paying a bit of attention to good old Canadian football. It's about time. I'm not saying that the CFL is as good as the NFL, or even in the same conversation. It's not at all. It is, however, a wildly-offensive, pass-happy league that's fun to watch. More importantly, CFL betting can be profitable because the better team usually wins. Bodog and other sportsbooks offer action on the league. Assuming you don't know much about the CFL, here are ten things you need to know to get started:
Yes, there really are just three downs - There are three downs instead of four, so there's no time to mess around. You still have to get 10 yards for the first down, so it's a more aggressive game. Williams' 4.4 yards per rush average last season in Miami was pretty impressive, but it would still force you to punt if you ran twice per possession up here. Obviously, then, passing is usually the first option, and running just keeps the defense honest. A running talent like Williams may be able to change that.
12 a side - You haven't had too many beers - there really are twelve players on the field for each side. Different teams use the players in different ways, but most often it's an extra receiver of some sort, and an extra defensive back to cover them. There's no tight end in Canadian football, either. The standard formation replaces the tight end with two slotbacks. The standard choice on defense is to remove a safety and replace him with two defensive halfbacks. You'd think it would get crowded out there with all those players, but the field is 10 yards longer and almost 12 yards wider. The endzones are much deeper, too, adding an extra headache for DBs.
The rouge - To a Canadian, a missed field goal shouldn't leave you empty handed. That's not hospitable. Therefore, any attempted kick that isn't successful and doesn't hit a goalpost is still a live ball. If the opposition doesn't run the ball out of the endzone, the kicking team gets a single point. It gets better, too - the receiving team can even run a missed field goal back for a touchdown.
A long season - Williams will have to play more football than he ever has before. There are 18 regular season games instead of the 16 in the NFL. Unlike the NFL, the CFL doesn't regularly play on one day of the week. Friday night is most common, but pretty much any day is fair game, so Ricky will have to get used to playing games close together, and having lots of time off other times. It takes a different routine.
Allen is the MVP - No, its not 1985 and I'm not talking about Marcus Allen. His little brother, Damon, is the reigning MVP of the league. The quarterback for the Toronto Argonauts is also the all-time leading passer in the league. He'll turn 43 this season, but he's still going strong.
Quarterback factory - the CFL is probably best known as the home of Doug Flutie for the middle of his career. He was the MVP of the league six times, won three Grey Cups, was the MVP of all three championship games, and passed for more than 41,000 yards and 270 touchdowns. He's far from the only great NFL QB to put his time in in Canada, though. Warren Moon won five Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos to start his Hall of Fame Career. Joe Theismann started his pro career in Toronto. Jeff Garcia was Flutie's backup in Calgary and won a Grey Cup of his own when he became starter. Several recent NCAA stars have come up north to try to follow in the same footprints, too, including Brad Banks of Iowa, Michael Bishop of Kansas State and Jason Gesser of Washington State.
A home for drug refugees - Ricky may have come to Canada to wait out a drug suspension, but he's not the first to try that out. Just this season alone Onterrio Smith and his fake appendage are trying out for Winnipeg, Quincy Carter tried to make a comeback in Montreal and R. Jay Soward will be back for his third season in Toronto. Even Lawrence Phillips has a Grey Cup. He also managed to get kicked off of two teams for his ridiculous behaviour.
The Grey Cup is like the Super Bowl, only Canadian - The Grey Cup, donated by an Earl back in 1909, is what everyone plays for. Six teams make the playoffs. The bottom two teams in each conference play and the winner plays the conference champion. Like the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup is played in a fixed site every year. Unlike the Super Bowl it's often played outside in the bitter cold. Thankfully, Canadian beer is much stronger, making the weather bearable.
Eastern conference - Williams and his Toronto Argonauts play in the Eastern Conference along with the Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Ottawa Renegades ceased operations for this season, but could be back next year. Toronto was the best team in the league last year and is well balanced. With the addition of Williams to a strong team they should be set to do well again. Montreal has been strong for several years, led by QB Anthony Calvillo. They had an off year last year, but will look to rebound. Hamilton has been the Arizona Cardinals of the league the last few years, but new ownership will help them turn the corner. Winnipeg really isn't very good, and even Onterrio Smith likely won't be able to change that.
Western conference - The Edmonton Eskimos are the defending Grey Cup champions. They are joined by the British Columbia Lions, the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Dave Dickenson was a backup in San Diego for several years before coming back to the CFL in B.C. He is perfectly suited to the league. If he can stay healthy (he's had knee injuries), he will lead the team to success. Calgary was a franchise in trouble early this decade after dominating in the 90s. The bad ownership has been replaced, and they are now arguably the deepest team in the league. Edmonton overachieved to win it all last year, and will have to similarly exceed expectations to repeat. Saskatchewan has almost always been the laughing stock of the league, never quite being competitive enough despite having fiercely loyal fans. They finally have a decent quarterback, but it could be another frustrating year for the faithful.