Maybe it IS a new age in the CFL. In the bad old days, the game was terrific, but the halftime entertainment was tepid. Sunday night, the game between the city Canada hates (Toronto) versus the city Justin Trudeau hates (Calgary) was one-sided, won 35-22 by Toronto.
But the accompanying sound track of Justin Bieber, Gordon Lightfoot and some other vedettes du jour had even non-football fans tuning in to hear the Biebs go on about being someone’s boyfriend.
As a formula it seemed to work. Can it work another hundred years? That’s hard to say. But in the attention-deficit capital of Canada, 53,208 showed up at the Rogers Centre, thousands more sampled the street festival and many more tuned in or PVR’d the proceedings.
There are some questions about how many in the afternoon’s Grey Cup march from Varsity Stadium were Torontonians and how many CFL fans from elsewhere. In the CFL, which lavished every attention possible on the 100th Grey Cup game, that still constitutes progress.
HALF THE GAME
“ @dowbboy Will be interesting to see how many TV viewers returned for the second half after Biebs. Unless you’re an Argo fan, it’s been grim.”
The game itself was effectively over before the T-shirted Bieber ever flashed his tattooed pipes. Toronto had the answer for everything Calgary tried on offence and just enough tricks to wear down Calgary’s defence. It will be known as one of the great beat-downs in Grey Cup history. Also, one of the least entertaining games of the first 100 years.
Even when things went wrong they went right for the Argos. Placekicker Swayze Waters hit the upright on a field goal, but the play was whistled down for a Toronto penalty. Waters then made the second chance. When the refs gave Calgary a chance on a ridiculous pass interference call in the second half, the Stamps squandered that, too.
For the 15,000 or so Toronto fans who actually gave a damn about the team all year, it was sweet vindication. For the bandwagon jumpers (and you know who you are), it was a passing trifle in a city that worships the hot ticket like Stephon on Saturday Night Live.
LUNCH BAG LETDOWN
“ @dowbboy Nice to see Toronto enjoying the CFL for one day the way the rest of the country enjoys it the other 364.”
The big question for the league is whether the CFL will experience a “lunch-bag letdown” in the wake of Toronto’s big party. First, are Toronto fans inclined to give the CFL a second look after decades of neglect? Toronto affects a snobbism about the NFL product, and that’s not going to change soon.
Till a new stadium gives them something to obsess about, don’t hold your breath. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon describes the lack of a proper facility as an “opportunity”. (Like bankruptcy is an opportunity.) Till a stadium appears, the best thing that can happen to the Argos is for the Buffalo Bills to stay in Buffalo.
That leaves them some oxygen till a Sugar Daddy buys the team from David Braley and, by extension, can rescue the league.
SETTING THE BAR
“@dowbboy To anyone watching the Grey Cup on NBCSN, I’d like to explain what you’re seeing. But words won’t suffice.”
The league’s bigger dilemma is how to keep up the momentum of this Grey Cup with the corporate side. There are major sponsors in play over the next year for the CFL. Fair or not, the kids they are trying to reach will compare the CFL’s halftime show to those at the Super Bowl or the NBA title series.
Next year’s Grey Cup game is in Regina, so you know it will be fully embraced by the locals even if you had Johnny Paleo and the Harmonicats playing halftime. But having set a standard with Justin Bieber, sponsors will be looking for an equivalent level of talent if they’re going to buy in to Grey Cup 101 and beyond.
Varying quality of game-day presentation has been an issue for the CFL. Many will now want to see the high standard set this week maintained in future Grey Cups. In a world of three-week attention cycles for products, you can’t make customers wait a year for another Grey Cup and then leave them feeling short-changed.
“@dowbboy Good to see Biebs’ tats. Cuz that’s what you want before you’re 20. A reminder of a bad night you can’t get rid of.”
A note to TSN/ Grey Cup programmers for next year: To reduce the exposure to goofs in the background, you might want to pretape stuff like the introduction of the referees or Brian Williams playing Ed Sullivan before the halftime show. Plus, more cowbell on the Biebs.
After all the fuss about Calgary’s infernal touchdown horse, the Stamps didn’t score a TD till very late, by which time the horse was being loaded into the van.
And having Burton Cummings sing O Canada is like Little Richard doing America The Beautiful. Let him rock it or get someone more tame.