The Canadian Press
The CFL preseason should be embraced for exactly what it is: an opportunity for young players and aging veterans on the brink of being pushed out the door to show they have what it takes to claim one of the coveted twenty four starting positions on a CFL offence or defence.
Every once in a while you’ll see a marquee name pop up on the depth chart for a preseason game, usually your team’s home exhibition tilt. Often this results in the well known Rider, Argo or Lion playing a series, maybe two, before joining the rest of his expected Week 1 teammates on the sideline with a hat and hoodie on.
There’s no shame in that; we didn’t come to the preseason to watch Vernon Adams Jr. or William Stanback, anyways. We are here to watch preseason games because it is the greatest reality television there is playing out right in front of our eyes in real time.
Everyone is familiar with the 21st century explosion of reality content on your televisions and now your streaming platform of choice. Humans, unironically, decided the best way to get away from our daily reality was to watch somebody else’s and revel in their successes and failures.
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The problem as the demand increased and the supply wasn’t there, is that much of what you saw came off feeling scripted, fake, fraudulent and sometimes downright deceitful. Here is where I have always, and will always, love sport more than anything in the content game: You can’t script this.
Despite recent meme creations suggestions that professional football is scripted and everyone is just following along with the plot line, there is no way to fake this. Best of all, you don’t have to sit at home staring into a screen to see the drama unfold. No you, the lucky CFL fan, can drink a cold beer on a hot late May evening with friends, family and fellow fans and sit the stands peering over your modern day roman coliseum for your entertainment fix.
Here’s the real key though: to enjoy the drama and nuance of watching a bunch of players you’re not overly familiar with run around and play the game you love wearing your teams uniform, you need to do a little homework. This isn’t your standard grade 10 algebra assignment though, you’ve just been assigned to the case of your teams preseason roster and there is plenty to read, watch and absorb before watching these ascending athletes take the field and but their bodies on the line for a finite chance of employment on already established rosters.
When I arrived at Hamilton Tiger-Cats rookie camp last week, there were no fewer than eight names and numbers I was completely unfamiliar with. Thanks to my work covering the CFL Draft, I was well aware of the Canadians in play, but those Americans who come North for the chance to chase their pro football dream are so intriguing.
They come from all shapes and sizes of school, background and life story. They come fresh from college, and more often than not after bouncing around looking for the chance to earn a career playing the game they love. The CFL gives them that chance, and the desperation of a CFL locker room just before entering the field in preseason is a mixture of emotions you have to feel yourself to experience.
The catch to all of this, even if it doesn’t work out for this team or this roster, is that the players’ job is to lay down as much positive film as possible, create some buzz and maybe even make a play so they might catch on with another roster or jump onto the radar of an opposing, for now, General Manager.
The ones who fight their way through the depth of bodies, make a play or two that refuse to be ignored and earn the chance to have their story told to the masses after making the team could become household names like Ticats receiver Tim White, Edmonton running back Kevin Brown or 2022 leading yardage receiver Dalton Schoen. For everyone else, the uphill battle continues to the next roster for another opportunity to prove worthy of employment in the ruthless business that is professional football.
So grab a media guide, google a name or two and then sit back in the stands over the next two weeks and impress your buddies with all the knowledge you’ve accrued about the wild spectacle that is the CFL preseason.