Cauz: 5 famous CFL references in popular culture

When it comes to watching the CFL in the United States, I have some good news and some bad news. First let’s get negative out of the way: the next game scheduled on ESPN2 (although every game is available on ESPN+) isn’t until Sunday, Sept. 30, when Saskatchewan takes on Montreal. Huh, I wonder who is on Montreal’s roster that would interest an American football audience? I’m guessing Chip Cox, that dude is still getting it done at 35. Now for the good news: The CFL is all around no matter where you are in Canada, the United States or the world for that matter!

Are you a fan of the Netflix special ‘Ozark’? Perfect! In Episode 4, Season 2 you can clearly see Ricky Ray moving up to the line of scrimmage on a TV set in the background of the local bar (Huge hat tip to the Twitter account of Blue Bomber History @BomberHistory for pointing this out to me and acting as the motivation for this column). Now, it’s one thing to spot game action during an episode of ‘Corner Gas’ (Check out Matt Dominguez and Gene Makowsky in their NOT Gemini Award Winning Cameo) but it is quite a different matter to spot the CFL’s fourth all-time leading passer in the middle of a crime/drama web television series.

So in honour of that Twitter tip from Blue Bomber History, and the fact that as you read this I will be in Peru and I wanted to do a kinda cool/quirky article, here are other great moments in CFL action prominently displayed in the background of pop culture!

The Simpsons

Let’s start with the granddaddy of all CFL references on popular television: Homer Simpson watching the 15th round of the CFL Draft as he avoids Ned Flanders’ barbeque. This clip is absolutely perfect with the announcers in the sort of ugly blazers that used to populate CBC’s sports coverage back in the day. The fact that it is Saskatchewan drafting is spectacular pandering by the writers as well. Finally, what puts this scene over the top is the analyst explaining that the Roughriders “scored only four rouges all last year.”

The whole point is that Homer will do anything to stay away from Ned, so why not bring up an obscure scoring play that has zero baring to traditional American football fans? Clearly the writer of this episode Jon Vitti or the show runners must be a fan of our game. On the other hand, it should be noted that this episode aired in October of 1991, and the Roughriders kicker that season was Dave Ridgway, who was a CFL All-Star in 1990 and a West Division All-Star in 1991, so maybe the creators didn’t know what they were taking about as the Roughriders, despite finishing 6-12, obviously did not have a problem at kicker in 1991.

Modern Family

This clip comes from a website titled Canadian Crossing. The writer correctly identifies that the game was from back in 2012 as you can see Jarious Jackson, who wore No. 12 with Toronto, dropping back to pass.

How I Met Your Mother

In a takeoff of ‘Behind the Music’, we find out that the Canadian character on the show, Robin Scherbatsky, led a different life as pop sensation “Robin Sparkles”. You don’t really need to know what is going on (although the scene is hilarious for all Canadians) — just check out the 2:24 mark where Dave Thomas playing a sleazy rock manager talks about booking Sparkles to sing at Ivor Wynne Stadium for the 1996 Grey Cup halftime show.

The show gets it right as the ’96 Grey Cup was in Hamilton, but the real halftime act was ‘The Nylons’, an a cappella band. I would have preferred “Robin Sparkles,” her soon-to-be new identity “Robin Daggers,” or even Jason Priestley, who was hilarious in his ‘How I Met Your Mother’ cameo. But considering how crazy that Grey Cup was, who would have remembered the halftime show anyway?

Chris Cuthbert on ‘The Sopranos’

I couldn’t find any clip but on a forum page a viewer writes in that he could clearly hear Cuthbert’s voice calling a CFL game in the background at the Sopranos’ home. It occurred in Episode 10 of Season 6. Cuthbert himself confirmed his “appearance” in The Globe and Mail, saying:

“I was working on Sunday night and didn’t know anything about it. But I’ve had more calls and e-mail than during my entire hockey playoff run. Right now, I’m just resting on my Sopranos laurels.”

30 Rock

My last clip was the easiest to find as it was right there on the Montreal Alouettes website. In this one we get Danny Baker complaining that his Marc Trestman signed Montreal Alouettes poster has been taken away by Jenna Maroney. While not a main character, Danny, the Canadian on the show, was always a constant source of Canadian content.

There is one other Danny moment I would to highlight. Now, while this clip isn’t technically from a CFL game, it is chalked full of references that Canadians would appreciate just a wee bit more than anyone else. In the span of less than 10 seconds you get “hosers,” a reference to 12 men on offence, three downs and Boxing Day. Damn I miss ’30 Rock’.

From my research, the list of shows is much more extensive, with the CFL appearing in ‘The Mentalist’, ‘The West Wing’, ‘Person of Interest’ and so many others that I couldn’t find decent clips for. The official explanation for CFL placement is the rights are cheaper than the NFL, but I like to believe it’s because our game is more visually pleasing, which is especially important when you need a clip for only 2-4 seconds in the background of some dingy bar.

My question for you is what other shows would you like to see the CFL briefly featured in? Why not Bo Levi Mitchell to Kamar Jordan in Jimmy McGill’s office in ‘Better Call Saul’? I would be delighted to see a flash of Rod Smith and Milt Stegall debating Matt Nichols in ‘This is Us’, or why not go retro and have Mervyn Fernandez weaving through an opposing secondary in an upcoming episode of ‘Stranger Things’???

The ultimate challenge would be for the creators of ‘Games of Thrones’ to work in a shot of Damon Allen scrambling for a first down while Daenerys and Cersei are doing battle at King’s Landing. Come on guys, if you can make zombie dragons believable, you’ll work in some CFL in your final season. I’m fairly sure Allen was playing for the Eskimos back then.