July 5, 2018

3rd-and-love: Couples of the CFL

Photo courtesy Deb Strickland

It was July 7th, 2016.

Deb Strickland — lifelong Calgary Stampeders fan — was headed to a get-together at a bar in the nation’s capital.

Football and the Stamps had brought her to Ottawa that night; Dave Dickenson’s squad was gearing up for a Week-3 matchup with the hometown REDBLACKS, and she’d followed the team on the road.

Also at the bar that night: Vincent Rulé, Ottawa season-ticket holder.

The following evening, the Stampeders and REDBLACKS played to an electric 26-26 tie at TD Place; Calgary would not drop points again for three and a half months, while Deb and Vincent quickly became good friends.

Two years on — through a Stampeders-REDBLACKS Grey Cup grudge match and all — Vincent has moved west and the pair are engaged.

Sometimes it’s not East vs. West, but East and West. (photo courtesy Deb Strickland)

“We didn’t really have an inkling it would end up (that) two years later, we’d be living together and planning our wedding next year,” chuckled Vincent over the phone from Calgary. “Last year at this time, I came out for the REDBLACKS game, and that’s really where it became evident that there was something there.”

The duo are CFL fans through and through — Deb a Stamps from birth, Vincent an Ottawa football fan dating back to the original Rough Riders.

“It’s a big part of our relationship,” explained Deb. “We cheer for our respective teams, (but he) does have season tickets with the Stamps this year, of course. Usually he’ll cheer for the Stamps when they’re playing any of his eastern counterparts, and I’ll cheer for the REDBLACKS when they play a western team.”

They can, however, consistently root against one team.

“We always cheer against the Riders,” laughed Deb.

Kadie and Mat Smith have a similar story of finding love in the Canadian Football League.

The year was 2014; the Ottawa REDBLACKS had racked up losses on the field, but the team had garnered plaudits off it for its strong social presence.

The main person behind that presence was Mat Smith, the digital manager in charge of the first-year team’s social channels.

“I thought he was doing the coolest stuff on social, so I reach out to him on email,” explained Kadie, who then worked in a similar role with the BC Lions. “I asked him a million questions, and we stayed really good friends for a long time — we’d call each other and share tips. Text each other, talk about mini-camp or training camp, and then at the Grey Cup in 2015…”

Mat and Kadie embrace following a game in Ottawa in 2016. (Johany Jutras photo)

With Smith’s REDBLACKS in the Grey Cup, and the future Mrs. Smith on location to support the CFL’s social team, sparks flew.

“We had three different matchmakers — Max (Rosenberg, former CFL manager of social and content), Rhéanne (Marcoux, of the Bombers) and Johany (Jutras, league photographer),” chuckled Kadie. “We ended up spending every second together…after Ottawa lost, Mat was pretty choked. I took him out for scotch.”

The rest, from there, was history: the duo decided to try things out shortly after the 103rd Grey Cup; they were engaged on Aug. 8, 2016; married on June 7, 2017 in Victoria.

And, after years of working for opposing teams, the couple got the chance to work together as the social team for the Grey Cup Festival in Ottawa last year.

“To be able to run the Grey Cup Festival together, I loved it. It was awesome,” said Mat, who a year previously had been ‘called out’ by Henry Burris following the REDBLACKS’ win at the 104th Grey Cup in Toronto.

Hank had some time after the 104th Grey Cup for the Smiths. (CFL.ca Photo/Geoff Robins)

“We were walking out on the field to take a photo, and Henry was coming back from his press conferences,” explained Kadie. “Nobody else on the field except him, us and a bunch of photographers, and he screamed across the field ‘I see you two holding hands,’ and gave us the biggest hug.”

Two days before the 105th Grey Cup, as Mat and Kadie worked together on the GC Festival as newlyweds, another CFL-sparked couple — Vincent and Deb — was about to take the next step.

He surprised her by popping the question two days before the big game.

Earlier in the season, he’d decided that Alberta — a place he’d never been prior to 2017 — was where he wanted to be.

“Last August, September’s really where I made the decision that yes, this was something I wanted to pursue,” outlined Vincent. “It was mutual, we talked about it (and) it was a short conversation — I loved the city, loved the view of the mountains.”

The REDBLACKS delegate in the household, he fell for the team and league at the 64th Grey Cup.

“I got the bug for CFL football at the ’76 Grey Cup,” he recalled. “The Tony Gabriel catch to win the Grey Cup with 20-something seconds left on the clock…that’s my first memory from the Rough Riders. That Grey Cup…they dubbed it ‘the catch’.”

Canadian football brought them together, and they’ve planned their big day with the sport in mind.

Vincent and Deb will tie the knot on May 11, 2019: The date was picked to ensure nobody would miss a single down of football.


Deb and Vincent

Favourite CFL Memory: 2011 Grey Cup (Deb), 1976 Grey Cup (Vincent)

Favourite Current CFL-er: Reggie Begelton/Juwan Brescacin (Deb), Antoine Pruneau (Vincent)

Favourite Past CFL-er: Dave Dickenson (Deb), J.C. Watts (Vincent)

Kadie and Mat

Favourite CFL Memory: 2017 Grey Cup (Kadie), 2016 Grey Cup parade (Mat)

Favourite Current CFL-er: Travis Lulay (Kadie), Brad Sinopoli (Mat)

Favourite Past CFL-er: Geroy Simon (Kadie), Henry Burris (Mat)

To finish: Some awesome write-ins from Bomber fans on Twitter.