OPINION: CFL without Sarnia like turkeyless Christmas – not right

Norm Perry was one of Canada’s best football players and went on to become Sarnia’s mayor. Submitted image

Phil Egan

My sister Mary-Jane describes her husband, Sweet Pete, as “the perfect man.”

In other words, one with no interest in sports.

My Dad was like that too. I can’t recall him ever watching sports of any kind on TV. I used to tell people that if my father had ever shown up at one of my hockey games I would have assumed someone died.

My mother was from Hamilton. She used to like watching, and cheering on, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats when they played in the Grey Cup. My nine brothers and sisters all cheered with her for “The Tabbies.”

I loved football.

I went to school in an era in which St. Patrick’s, Northern, Central, SCITS and St. Clair annually battled for high school supremacy. It was a time when the Waring Brothers, Dick and Brian, led the local Fighting Irish. Red Feather nights in the fall would pack the old grandstand at Norm Perry Park.

I follow the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and on Sundays the National Football League keeps me entertained with its 32 teams south of the border.

But I have no interest in the Canadian Football League, which, I believe, deserted true Canadian football back in the mid-1950s when the CFL was officially established.

First, the CFL made the disastrous decision to drop the Ontario Rugby Football Union (ORFU) from Grey Cup competition. This eliminated teams like the Sarnia Imperials, the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen and the London Lords from competing for Canadian football supremacy.

Instead, CFL leadership decided to make Canadian football a “big-city” game. They changed it to bring it closer to the brand of football played in the NFL. The CFL even dreamed of a North American championship game played annually between the CFL and NFL champs.

The CFL’s decision to go “big city” almost crushed Sarnia’s illustrious football spirit and was a slap to the city’s two Grey Cup victories.

I stopped watching when the CFL made its disastrous foray into U.S. expansion in the 1990s, and gradually became a home for NFL castoff players. Today, less than half of CFL players are Canadians.

But think for a moment how different it might have been. Wouldn’t the CFL be far more exciting today if we didn’t have to watch the same few teams competing for Governor General Earl Grey’s cup.

Imagine what the CFL might add to the national identity if it had teams like Sarnia, London, Halifax, St. John, Quebec City, and other interested Canadian cities involved.

Teams full of Canadian players recruited primarily from Canadian colleges.

Now that would make for a Grey Cup worth watching.

Phil Egan is editor-in-chief of the Sarnia Historical Society. Got an interesting tale? Contact him at philegan@cogeco.ca