If You’re in it for the Football You’re Doing it Wrong

My Grey Cup experiences didn’t really start until 1985.  That year my dad and I went to the Hide-a-way Inn in Coaldale to watch the game together in the lounge.  I was just barely 13 years old and it was my introduction to a key part of Canadian culture.  At the time, it was more about sharing the experience with my dad.  I don’t recall either of us being really big football fans but that didn’t matter.  We were there, experiencing the conclusion to another CFL season.

We would repeat the experience each of the next two years.  I remember the 1987 Grey Cup quite vividly – “Gizmo” Williams returning a missed field goal attempt the entire length of the field, the Eskimos eventually winning the game in the waning seconds on a field goal of their own. 

My dad would only have two more Grey Cups after that, before finally passing away in 1990.  I doubt he had any idea how much those simple afternoons at the Hide-a-way in Coaldale would eventually impact me.

It took time to take hold.  When the Grey Cup game came to Calgary in 2000 I went to the game but didn’t participate in any of the festivities in the week leading up to the game.  The seed that was planted all those years before was starting to germinate.

I missed the Grey Cup in Calgary in 2009.  There were financial considerations, there were time considerations.  It just didn’t happen for me, but I started the initial plans to make it to the game in Edmonton for 2010.  That was how, 25 years after my dad and I first sat down to watch the game, I found myself finally partaking in the quintessential Canadian event this past weekend.

I met a couple of friends who were staying at West Edmonton Mall and we set out for downtown Edmonton where the Grey Cup events were taking place.  Until that time I had remained incognito – not revealing any allegiance to any team, or to football in general.  As we were walking to the bus stop I donned my Stampeders cap, the red a stark contrast to the Roughrider green which dominated the landscape.  Almost immediately I was initiated into the madness that is Grey Cup.

As we crossed the street, a van – adorned with Roughrider flags and filled with green people – stopped.  The windows rolled down and the taunts began:  “Hen-rrrrry!  Hen-rrrry!”  The reference, of course, was to current Stampeder (and former Roughrider) quarterback Henry Burris who had failed to lead his team past Saskatchewan and into the big game.  I smiled and waved back with a “Yeah, yeah, I know, I know.” 

This is the essence of the Grey Cup week.  It’s all about your team, whether they are in the game or not.  It’s about having fun with everyone, poking fun, giving people the gears.

We managed to catch part of the Grey Cup parade and checked out the exhibits all around Churchill Square.  You could feel the energy in the city.  There were positive vibes all around.  Regardless of who you were cheering for, you felt excited just to be there, to be in the moment.

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The Edmonton Eskimos cheer team perform for the crowd.

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Churchill Square, Edmonton, Alberta
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TSN prepares to go on the air with a live broadcast.
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The street festival atmosphere was everywhere.

The next day was the big game itself.  I rode the Edmonton LRT to the game.  There was a father sitting across from me with his two sons, all decked out in Edmonton Eskimo gear.  Immediately he struck up a conversation with me, asking who I was rooting for.  I said “Well, I think it’s a shame they both can’t lose.”  He laughed, with an understanding smile.  Seeing my Calgary Stampeder colours he knew I would have a hard team cheering for the team which had knocked us out of the playoffs just a week before but as a western Canadian I would have a hard time cheering for a team from the east.  One of the recurring themes of Grey Cup is, as much as it brings people together for a party, you have to divide your allegiance along east/west lines. 

As our conversation continued, I learned he had attended both the 2002 Grey Cup in Edmonton as well as the 2009 game in Calgary.  He was taking his boys to their first Grey Cup but “if they got good grades” he was thinking of doing a family trip to see the game next year in Vancouver.  As we talked, a couple of guys from Winnipeg, adorned in Blue Bomber gear, joined in as well.  We talked about what activities we had done over the weekend, the things we had seen.  The train continued to fill with fans heading to the game, mostly Roughrider fans, as evidenced by the chants of “Let’s go Riders!” which broke out continually. 

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Throngs of fans heading to Commonwealth Stadium
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The party atmosphere outside the stadium.
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TSN’s Sara Orlesky broadcasts live from the sidelines
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The view from my seat in Section W, Row 21.

After getting a fairly major pat-down by stadium security I reached my seat.  There were people from Calgary in front of me, people from Montreal behind me and Edmontonians on either side.  Wherever we came from across the country, whoever we were cheering for, we were there for a shared experience.  Even the weather was Canadian in every sense, holding around –10C for most of the game.

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The opening ceremonies for the 98th Grey Cup
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The Snowbirds do a fly-over of the stadium
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The half-time show featuring Bachman and Turner.
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The Montreal Allouettes are awarded the 2010 Grey Cup.

 

The only disappointing thing of the entire weekend was how, after the game was over, the majority of Roughrider fans left the stadium right away, without waiting to hear the player awards or to see the presentation of the Grey Cup itself.  The stadium was mainly empty by the time the presentations started, which seemed very contrary to the spirit of camaraderie and sportsmanship which had been evident all weekend.  

After the game, when I met up with Shirley again, I started talking about my plans for attending the 99th Grey Cup in Vancouver next year.  I commented how next time she should come to the game with me.  When she said “I don’t really know much about football.” I summed up my weekend in Edmonton with a simple statement: 

“The Grey Cup – if you’re in it for the football you’re doing it wrong.”

Thank you Edmonton – you hosted an amazing party!

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