I’m sitting here on a Thursday night, bored. My wife is watching her DVR’d episode of The Bachelorette upstairs, and I have been banished to the basement. The Women’s World Cup is done for the day. My Minnesota Twins already played (and won—again) today.
That means it’s a trip into the weird world of ESPN’s secondary, tertiary, and quaternary channels...and beyond. Here you see the darkest of the dark things when it comes to sporting fandoms: Atlanta United is playing host to the Charleston Battery...at the home of the Kennesaw State Fighting Owls. Something called “Outlaws vs. Shock” in whatever an Overwatch League is (please do not explain it to me, I do not care). Dear God, there’s a re-run of an Indiana-Michigan State basketball game. Nightmares.
Then the clouds part, the heavens sing: Saskatchewan vs. Hamilton.
The Canadian Football League is back.
I composed and ultimately deleted some thoughts I had last summer on Johnny Manziel resurfacing in the CFL with...well, does it really matter? To many, the CFL can be a last-chance, a stop-over, a final resting place for those hopes and dreams of an NFL career. Its games have odd rules, are found in the bowels of the ESPN programming lineup, and featuring commentators shouting things like “And that’s another 2-and-out!” or “He’ll kick it out for a single!” in funny accents.
But it’s a heavenly reminder of what fun football looks like—and not just because it’s a model for Woke Football Types of what video review “should” look like.
But no, what you really should watch the CFL for is the football.
To be sure, there are differences in the football—players in motion, running toward the line of scrimmage before snaps, having just three chances to make 10 yards, the wider and longer fields, and scoring “singles” (when a non-PAT, kicked ball isn’t advanced out of the endzone, including if it goes out-of-bounds on anything other than a kickoff). Those requirements lead to oft-shared and never-not-hilarious situations like this classic:
In person, it’s a hoot to watch. I’d compare it—almost—to watching a poorly-dubbed foreign film, where you know generally what you’re watching, but sometimes things just happen too fast and you’re going to have to accept it. I had the pleasure in 2017 of watching MY Winnipeg Blue Bombers handle the previously-undefeated Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, and adding to the excessively-polite elderly Canadians next to me who wanted to tell me all about the history of Blue Bombers football—I at least knew Bud Grant—was their insistence on telling me every rule that I may have missed. (I knew them, but I was too polite to explain to them just how many CFL games I’d watched late at night.)
Failing the opportunity to watch it in person, it’s worth it for the chance to remember a few of those Big Ten guys who never quite made it in the NFL, but who are getting their chance—and more—north of the ol’ 49th parallel. I, for example, took in Ryan Lankford—formerly of Illinois—raking in the yards on receptions and returns for the Blue Bombers. Frankly, the idea that fans were clamoring for an Illini in the pros to get the ball still boggles my mind.
Using just the simple search under “Players” on the CFL website, here are some of those Big Ten guys you can see on ESPN2 and ESPN+ and weird times of the night:
Ryan Lankford (WR, Ottawa RedBlacks)
Marcus Thigpen (RB, Saskatchewan Roughriders)
Nolan MacMillan (OL, Ottawa)
Tevaun Smith (WR, Edmonton Eskimos)
William Campbell (OL, Toronto Argonauts)
Craig Roh (DL, Winnipeg Blue Bombers)
Arjen Colquhoun (DB, Edmonton)
B.J. Cunningham (WR, Montreal Alouettes)
Chris Frey, Jr. (LB, Hamilton TigerCats)
Simoni Lawrence (LB, Hamilton)
Drew Wolitarsky (WR, Winnipeg) — filling Canadian content rules!
Drew Brown (K, Toronto)
Ciante Evans (DB, Montreal)
Jermarcus Hardrick (OL, Winnipeg)
David Knevel (OL, British Columbia Lions)
Jonathan Rose (DB, Ottawa)
Tyrell Sutton (RB, Toronto)
(Yes, that Tyrell Sutton. He did graduate in 2008. You are that old, and so is he.)
Duron Carter (WR, BC)
DeVier Posey (WR, Montreal)
Josh Johnson (DB, Edmonton)
Frankie Williams (DB, Hamilton)
Eddy Wilson II (DT, Hamilton)
Anthony Cioffi (DB, Ottawa)
Janarion Grant (WR, Hamilton)
Jamaal Westerman (DE, Hamilton)
Do you enjoy the CFL?
This poll is closed
Hell yeah! Punting is literally winning!
It’s off-season football—sure.
No, but I’ll watch to see guys from my team play.
No, but I enjoyed remembering some guys!