The Grey Cup celebrated its 100th outing by taking to the streets.
In an attempt to create a new tradition for the centenarian trophy, the league invited fans to join a parade and take turns carrying the cup from the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium to the game site at the Rogers Centre, a distance of four kilometres.
The rules were simple. First, don’t drop it. Second, in the words of Russ Jackson, a three-time Grey Cup winner with the Ottawa Rough Riders: “You can’t hold the cup over your head. You can only hold it over your head if you have won it.”
Canadian Football League commissioner Mark Cohon started the relay by passing the cup to 14-year-old Matthew Mammoliti. Then, with the National Band of the Naval Reserve pumping out marching-band renditions of The Final Countdown, Thriller and Bad Romance, several hundred football fans were off to the big game.
Each participant carried the cup 10 to 15 metres, and following the no-cup-over-the-head rule proved difficult.
“It seems so natural to want to hold it over your head,” said Donna Scott, a Roughriders fan from Saskatchewan, moments after carrying the silver trophy. “Look at me. I’m shaking. I’m so excited.”
Ms. Scott, her daughter Kimberly Scott, 27, and her sister Sherry Carr all got to carry the cup. All three of them have been to several Grey Cup games.
“The girls in our family are crazy about football,” said Ms. Scott.
The three said they look forward to next year, when the Grey Cup will be decided in Regina and temperatures may be less welcoming.
In Toronto on Sunday, the temperature stayed well above freezing and the Grey Cup parade wound through downtown, picking up hundreds more to arrive near the stadium in a crowd estimated at 3,000.
Carley Smith, a CFL spokeswoman, said about 300 people were able to hoist the trophy. And despite the excitement, and some signs of inebriation, the cup made it to the Rogers Centre without hitting the ground once.
The last two fans to touch it were Ken Browne, 60, a Canada Post worker from Burlington, Ont., and Ryan Tratner, 12, a student at the German Mills Public School in Thornhill, Ont.
“It was a humbling experience. It’s an honour,” said Mr. Browne, who has been cheering for the Calgary Stampeders ever since an attractive girl from Calgary joined his grade six class in the 1960s.
The girl is long gone, but Mr. Browne has watched every Grey Cup game, mostly on television, ever since.
Ryan Tratner’s parents have been taking him to Grey Cup games ever since he was a month old.
Ryan, who was dressed in blue and white, jumped up and down in excitement when asked if he would like to carry the cup into the stadium.
“I thought I would drop it, but it’s only 10 pounds,” he said. “It was really cool.”
CFL organizers are hoping the fan march will carry on as a tradition before every Grey Cup game – even in the face of the weather challenge in Regina, where Sunday’s high temperature was -17 C.
“Regina fans, and CFL fans in general, are incredibly adaptable to weather,” said Ms. Smith.
The pre-game parade capped a 10-day festival that drew entertainers from across Canada and offered everything from children’s football lessons to ziplines, autograph sessions and the traditional free pancake breakfasts put on by the Calgary Grey Cup committee.
“This is just one big happy Canadian party,” said Mike Currie, 54, from B.C.
Peter Zamos, 51, a die-hard fan who has bought tickets to every Grey Cup game since 1987, judged the Toronto festival as “pretty good,” but said he has seen Grey Cup celebrations in Calgary and Regina that were better.
“Out west, no matter who’s playing, they really put on a good show,” he said.
And when it came to winning the parties, the Toronto hosts seem to have lagged the visitors. While dancers and live bands wooed the crowd at regional-themed parties like Touchdown Manitoba, Spirit of Edmonton and Riderville, there were complaints at the Argos Double Blue Bash on Saturday.
Some Argos fans complained of insufficient seating, a lack of food other than pizza, and a bar that closed without warning 30 minutes before the two-hour party ended.
“This is pathetic,” said Toronto resident Inga Jones, who has cheered for the Argos since 1967. “Where’s the spirit?”
Her husband, Dennis, said he was leaving the Argos party. He went for a lobster roll at the Atlantic Schooners Downeast Kitchen Party.