As the regular season weeks countdown to increasingly anticipated playoff matchups we also near award season. It’s a time when individual excellence from across the CFL gets recognized and debated from coast-to-coast.
I wrote earlier this season about the difficulty in choosing between running backs with Winnipeg’s Brady Oliveira and Toronto’s AJ Ouellette for the one available CFL All-Star spot at their position, but the running back debate is far from the only matchup in which there really isn’t a wrong answer.
At receiver and defensive back there are standouts across the CFL regardless of team record. Linebackers have put up mighty stat lines in a way that could and should complicate even divisional All-Star voting and the Most Outstanding Player debate at quarterback is set to rage amongst the league’s three best teams’ leading men.
Instead of making an argument for any of these, this week I wanted to zoom out from the chaos and echo chamber of local All-Star voting discussions to talk about the place ‘All-Star’ holds in our sports lexicon and more directly how it applies to the CFL.
To be an All-Star is to have your performance validated. You can’t be an All-Star without playing a majority of the available games which also means you’ve checked the box receiving votes by having the most important of abilities, availability.
Being named an All-Star is an honour. While many players do the “right thing” in the traditional sense and claim it’s just another accolade and all they’re focusing on is winning the Grey Cup, the reality is these two major milestones work in tandem. An honest answer from a truth serum taking All-Star would sound more like, ‘Hell yeah it feels good. I work hard to give my team my best effort every time I put on the pads and to have that recognized feels amazing.’
I recently asked Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer about the concept of All-Star voting. As both a five-time CFL All-Star and current coach, Steinauer sees both sides of the All-Star voting concept. He was graced with the chance to be recognized but now leads a locker room full of players he works tirelessly to bring together without the ‘disease of me’ influencing decision making on a day-to-day, snap-to-snap basis. His answer was thoughtful as always, reminding me of the well-rounded perspective it takes for a coach to stay level headed through the many layers of adversity that professional football guarantees annually.
“To players it does matter. Despite knowing it’s team-first, everybody understands they train their tail off,” he said.
“People like recognition and everybody can’t be an All-Star so it means something but we can all agree that without us all being All-Stars we can’t all be champions. People get recognized in any business. This is our recognition system and I love seeing the smiles that come with an All-Star selection, be it the CFL or CFLPA teams.”
To vote is a simple act, one often done flippantly to your favourite player as a fan regardless of true accolades or pieced together from conversations with fellow CFL lovers. When you make an All-Star selection as a fan, you’re not solving a geopolitical issue or inventing a way to solve climate change. It’s supposed to be a fun activity, one that engages your football sense and shows your support for players who in turn have given you their best.
Once in a while though it is a great test of the whole concept to just drop all preconceived notions, influences, bias and select All-Stars based on nothing more than their film. I love stats as much as the next analyst, but the film says it all.
That’s just one voter’s approach though, and All-Star voting is at its core about individuality. So this award season, throw on an old game or two, peel back the numbers as much as you want, vote based on the player who gave your kid the biggest high five or maybe for the hometown hero that represents your town with the best of them. Whatever your style and approach, vote and you just might bring a smile to a grown adult’s face when they realize how many people appreciate and respect their craft.