Hopefully you’ve been able to enjoy your September long weekend. It has been a long six months and if you had a chance to relax, visit the cabin/cottage, or spend time with family, you deserve it. For anyone reading this column, though, it’s probably safe to say this weekend was missing something. The lack of CFL football was tough to swallow, but it gave us a chance to appreciate why this weekend has turned into one of the country’s best sporting traditions.
Regardless of how any one team’s season is going, for the six teams traditionally involved in Mark’s Labour Day Weekend, all that becomes secondary. Sometimes the game has huge implications. Sometimes only one team is truly relevant. But these games are always important based on the history and regional bragging rights of the teams involved.
Calgary and Edmonton’s Labour Day Classic showdown has been happening regularly since 1949 and has been an annual event since 1982. Of all the traditional matchups, this is the one with the most history: the two teams have met 59 times on Labour Day with each team holding a 29-29-1 record.
Living in Calgary, I can tell you how much each this game means. It’s always sold out. The tailgating always starts early…and I mean early. The CF-18 flyover always gives you goosebumps. And the game is almost always exciting. Each team understands the history of the Battle of Alberta, and especially what that means on Labour Day.
Not far behind in the history column is the recently one-sided matchup between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, which has seen the former win a whopping 13 of the last 14. While not in the same province, there’s equally as many traveling fans in this regional home-and-home set. If you ever want to prove to someone how big the CFL is in the prairies, all you have to do is bring them to a Labour Day game Regina between the Riders and Bombers.
Of course, the Saskatchewan and Winnipeg rivalry has taken another step ever since Troy Westwood helped give birth to the “Banjo Bowl” rematch the following weekend. Then Bombers’ kicker Westwood didn’t mean to inspire a household name when he made some, um, less than flattering comments in 2003. But ever since the following year’s rematch in Winnipeg, the name has stuck, adding an extra element to the Labour Day tradition the weekend prior.
So while the two prairie matchups are in their 50’s, the Ontario edition of this rivalry is sitting just on the outside. The Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats have played one another 49 times over Labour Day weekend. Every single one has been hosted by the Ticats at Ivor Wynn Stadium or Tim Hortons Field, and that shows in the one-sided nature of the showdown. Hamilton has won 35 of the 49 Labour Day games between these two teams, including the last six.
There’s just something special about this weekend in the CFL. Many people believe Labour Day is when the season starts to matter for real in the midst of a long, grueling regular season. In some cases, winning on the Sunday or Monday of the September long weekend can be the highlight of a team’s season.
More than anything, though, Mark’s Labour Day Weekend is about celebrating tradition. It’s about celebrating the history of the Canadian Football League, especially as all three of these matchups predate the league’s inception in 1958. When it comes to football Canadiana, there’s the Grey Cup and there’s Labour Day Weekend.
We’re not getting either in 2020, and that hit home a little more over the last few days.
A look down South
There will football in 2020, starting this week in the NFL. And, thanks to the CFL’s opt-out window and the outstanding talent in this league, there will be numerous names to watch once the NFL season gets going. From final 53-man rosters to potential opportunities down the road, there are plenty of recognizable names to keep an eye out for in the coming weeks and months.
Leading the way is Grey Cup champion and parade standout Chris Streveler. The former Bombers’ quarterback has made the 53-man roster for the Arizona Cardinals and will serve as one of Kyler Murray’s backups this season. It’s a pretty incredible accomplishment for one of the most athletic people to come through the CFL in recent memory and I’m curious to see if and how the Cardinals start to work him into short yardage packages.
Some other recent CFL names to make NFL rosters include Diontae Spencer (Denver), Alex Singleton (Philadelphia), Brandon Zylstra (Carolina), and Tevaughn Campbell (LA Chargers), and Sam Eguavoen (Miami). All those guys have been south of the border for more than a year, but it was still good to see them make final rosters over the weekend.
While Streveler is the biggest name under contract in 2019 to make an NFL roster, there are a number of guys knocking on the door. With practice rosters expanded from ten to 16 for 2020, the door was far more wide open for CFL opt-outs to catch on, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen.
Names like Reggie Begelton (Green Bay), Dakoda Shepley (San Francisco), Nate Holley (Miami), and Derrick Moncrief (Los Angeles Rams) have all made practice squads and will be in the mix to be promoted if teams run into injury issues. In the meantime, they’ll be able to practice and make a solid living in the absence of the a 2020 CFL season.
The amount of players getting work, whether on a roster or a practice squad, is more this year than it would be in any other year. While it’s still a relatively small number compared to the entire CFL as a whole, it’s nice to see opportunities opening up for guy who wouldn’t be able to play this year otherwise.
It’s a small positive as a part of a difficult 2020.