WARREN: Embracing the return of the little league that keeps finding a way to bounce back

"When the Redblacks kick off the season against Edmonton on Aug. 7, it will end a 21-month absence from action."

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Welcome back, CFL.


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Nice to see you again.

After the chill of the pandemic, all the organizations bleeding red ink and the failed bid for a federal government bailout, the everyman athletes forced to take on second (and third?) jobs and the pay cuts to stars, the end of the Eskimos and the arrival of the Elks, along with the rumblings of some kind of future affiliation with Dwayne Johnson and a new-look XFL, you’ve survived.


The CFL might not entice enough of a young audience and may not be big-league enough to steal attention away from the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors in Toronto, but it’s still part of the Canadian experience for a certain generation or two. (Full disclosure here: there was an “EE” pennant on my wall, long before it was replaced by Montreal Expos souvenirs.)

So, good on the league and its players for picking up the pieces and making peace earlier this week.

The result is a somewhat goofy, makeshift 14-game schedule.

In a strange twist, the Ottawa Redblacks play the Montreal Alouettes four times, but don’t have a date with the 2019 Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers, former home to current Redblacks coach Paul LaPolice and starting quarterback Matt Nichols.

“That was just disappointing,” Blue Bombers offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld told 3Down Nation. “I was really hoping we could get a chance to face off against them. Ottawa is always a great team and a great organization to play against, so that one sucks, but who the hell knows what happened? Maybe we’ll see them in the playoffs.”


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Perhaps the wildly imbalanced schedule just adds more charm to the three-down league with its Canadian content requirements and the quirky rules that often confuse incoming American players.

As for Neufeld’s mention of the post-season, the re-jigged season is all due to wrap up with the Grey Cup on Dec. 12, the latest date for the championship game in history.

Here’s hoping for one rocking blizzard of an Oskee Wee Wee-Oskee Wah Wah Grey Cup week in Hamilton.

Watching athletes try to tip toe their way through snow and ice is part of the league’s colourful history. It was all about the snow in Hamilton in 1996, when Doug Flutie and the Toronto Argonauts knocked off Darren Flutie and the Eski, er the Edmonton football team.

If you buy into the Farmer’s Almanac, the long-range forecast is calling for cooler than normal temperatures in southern Ontario in November and December.

From now until then, of course, there’s plenty of homework to be done for the casual fan in rediscovering which players have gone where within the league and who has disappeared altogether.

After all, when the Redblacks kick off the season against Edmonton on Aug. 7, it will end a 21-month absence from action.

Last time they took the field, Rick Campbell was the coach for the 3-15 Redblacks, a position since been filled by LaPolice.

Meanwhile, the tenure of would-be Redblacks No. 1 quarterback Nick Arbuckle effectively ended before it started. In late January, Arbuckle was released and signed by the Toronto Argonauts before throwing a single pass here.


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Nichols went the other way, coming to the Redblacks from the Argonauts.

The most pressing remaining question for owners, of course, is when spectators will be allowed back to the field to check it all out and bring in some badly needed revenue.

In the search for silver linings on that front, the sun has been shining for those on the restaurant patios outside TD Place since the reopening last Friday.

Financially, there’s something appealing about a long-standing league in which fans and players can relate to each other.

With the exception of a few skilled players on each team, it’s not a rich man’s league. The league minimum salary is $65,000 — that’s low-end American Hockey League territory — which will be prorated down in 2021 with the schedule reduced to 14 from 18 games.

The CFL has also found a way to rebound from so much trouble and crazy adventures before, including losing and regaining franchises in Montreal and Ottawa.

In the hunt for TV money, it went down the expansion road into the United States in the 1990s, an ultimately doomed experiment to Baltimore, Sacramento, Vegas, Shreveport and Memphis.

Eventually, the league may again find itself caught between The Rock and a hard place in its negotiations with the XFL to find a better financial footing.

For the time being, though, the return of the CFL for 2021 is another welcome sign that we’re slowly turning the corner and going back to a place that makes us feel comfortable again.

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