Well after the Lions 48-10 beat down at the hands of the Stampeders last night, hopefully we can enjoy and talk about a real football game this afternoon. Join us for today’s game at 12:45 to talk a little CFL football, and we can also dissect last night’s debacle under the dome.
I’ve been a CFL fan, and a BC Lions fan in particular, for most of my life. When I was a child, my parents took me to games at Empire Stadium. Later, I attended games at BC Place. My mother was an Edmonton Eskimos fan and used to torture the family by screaming as she watched them on TV. She must have been happy in those years, as some of my earliest CFL memories included the Eskimos hosting the Grey Cup. Unfortunately, none of my friends were interested in going to games and most of my thirst for the Lions and the League in general were satisfied through newspapers and television. That was until 2002.
It was in that year that I met other fans through the internet and in 2003 I was back under the dome, attending games. By 2004 I had bought my own season tickets.
One of the greatest pleasures I’ve experienced since returning to games has been the wonderful people I have met across Canada. I have made friends and acquaintances from, literally, every CFL city. Over the last few years, many of these people have become good friends, and we routinely visit each other throughout the regular season and every year during Grey Cup week.
This latest road trip took me to the province of Alberta – to both the Eskimo Empire and the land of the tailgate party in city of the Grey Cup Champion Calgary Stampeders. The following words and pictures tell that story.
Thursday July 16th
My flight is at 7:00 am so it’s up early. It’s funny how when you go on a trip you have no trouble waking up. The flight to Edmonton is great – just over an hour long. I am greeted at the airport by Brian Edwards, a long time CFL and Edmonton Eskimo fan. Brian and his wife Linda are gracious hosts every time I visit their city.
Our day starts with a little breakfast, followed by a trip across Edmonton’s high level bridge on an old Japanese streetcar. The streetcar was built in 1921 and then rebuilt in 1947. It remained in service in Osaka until 1990, before coming to Edmonton. The train leaves from a location near the old landmark Strathcona hotel. It travels over the High Level Bridge and back, providing a breathtaking view of the city and the North Saskatchewan River.
It was a hot trip, so from there it was a no-brainer that we hit Julio’s Barrio on Whyte Avenue for some lunch and a few Bulldogs. Bulldogs are double margaritas with a bottle of Corona placed upside down in the glass. Let me just say…tasty and potent folks! Julio’s is a must stop for me on every trip to Edmonton. I was also thinking that stopping for drinks on Whyte Avenue will be good karma for new Lions kicker Sean Whyte, who would start his first CFL game that night.
After returning home and having a brief rest…err letting the Bulldogs wear off, it was off to Commonwealth for the Lions vs. the Eskimos.
Dante Marsh sent a tweet this morning on Twitter that the team is ready and he’s preparing by riding the bike and doing some stretching. He calls tonight’s game “huge,” and I have to agree. You can now follow Dante on Twitter: @dantemarsh
The Lions have gone 2 and 2 at the games I’ve attended at Commonwealth. It’s a great place to watch a game and it’s supposed to be nice tonight, so sitting outside in an open air stadium will be a treat.
We arrive at Commonwealth around 6:30 pm. The atmosphere around the stadium is noticeably retro. The 60’s version of the Eskimos fight song is playing. Cheerleaders are dressed like they were in the 60’s – shiny gold suits with big belts and headbands. They look really good!
Inside the stadium, I see lots of Lions fans in orange and black. As I get my first view of the field, I see the Lions warming up and instantly become a fan of the retro uniforms. It is, hands down, the best look I have seen the Lions wear. My Eskimo hosts tend to agree, and their team looks sharp as well.
The game starts a bit slowly. However, after Buck Pierce goes out with an injury, the Lions pick it up with Jarious Jackson at the controls and go on to a big 40-22 win on the road. Despite the lop-sided win, the atmosphere in the stadium is great, the weather is awesome, and I realize on nights like this one outdoor football cannot be beat.
After the game, we head to a downtown pub called 1905 to discuss the game and have a bite to eat. We run into another happy BC Lions fan who chats with us for a while. He’s a transplanted Lions fan from BC with Eskimo season tickets, so tonight he celebrates (but states the Eskimos are his second favorite team).
After a nightcap back at my hosts’ place, it’s off to bed as tomorrow we drive to Calgary for Friday Night Football.
Friday July 17th
During the drive to Calgary, we were entertained by the comedic talents of Russell Peters on the radio. We talked about stories of past CFL road and Grey Cup trips. Don McAskill has joined Brian and I for the trip, and I look forward to meeting up with friends in Calgary at the tailgate party – a huge highlight for me on any Calgary road trip.
After checking in and waiting for our friend William “Hoof” Allen to arrive, I head over to meet friends on the west side of McMahon Stadium. As I stroll through the parking lot, the smell of barbeques fills the air – Canada’s best tailgate party is well under way. Elaborate tailgate setups are the norm here and there’s some serious grub being grilled throughout the lot.
Finally, I meet up with my old college friend, Brian Allan, his son Zach and his new wife Catherine. With them is Brian’s friend Ray, who’s been a regular at the tailgates for years and is known to put on a nice spread for friends and guests alike. I get to sample my first Spolumbo’s sausage, and it lives up to its famous reputation. TSN stops buy to do a promo shot of the sizzling grill and mock dust up between Ray and a visiting Argos fan. Thanks again to Brian and Ray for the hospitality they showed me that day and a great tailgate party experience.
I head into the stadium and find I have great seats courtesy of Ken and Jacky Smith, two Stampeders fans who have moved away from Calgary but still keep their season tickets. They can’t make it to the game, so there I sit on the 50 yard line. I am joined by my friend Hoof, Jacky’s sister Rande, Rande’s husband Mike and their friend Ryan – great people who made it a really fun night.
These two teams also look sharp in retro, although it took a while for me to warm up to Calgary’s. For some reason, the Argos were the only team with their names on their jerseys all weekend.
Much like the Lions and Eskimos, the first half of this game was close. However, the Stampeders opened the floodgates in the second half and shut the Argos out the rest of the way. In the end, it was another blowout, this time by a score of 44-9, setting up a battle of two 1-2 teams the following week when Calgary would visit BC
Ralph the dog tried to steal my Lions hat, but I head faked him, took my hat off and put it on his head (much to the chagrin of fans around me). You have to be quicker than that Ralph! I think you need to get on the same training regiment as Leo the Lion!
While in Calgary, I had the chance to visit another great CFL fan – Scott Oberg. Scott’s a great guy and I thank him for the hospitality he showed me.
Following the game and some parking lot mingling, it was off to the Big T Barbeque across from McMahon for some delicious pulled pork and more banter among friends. This was followed by a few drinks at the hotel. Another great day of CFL football fun for the books!
Saturday July 18th
After driving back to Edmonton, we watch the Hamilton vs.Winnipeg game, followed by parts of the Saskatchewan vs.Montreal contest before heading out to dinner. My BlackBerry revealed that a storm may be heading to Edmonton and, sure enough, I got to witness a good old-fashioned prairie thunderstorm – complete with lightening, rain, hail and wind. The storm knocked out power to the Edwards’ house and surrounding area. From a spectator’s point of view, the light show was spectacular and the storm very impressive, but unfortunately it caused a lot of damage throughout the city. After a late night, it was off to bed for an early flight back to Vancouver.
The best thing about being a CFL fan is the opportunity to meet other fans you from across the league, and then reunite with them, year after year, to share a common passion for Canadian football. At the end of the year, all of these friends gather at Grey Cup to celebrate the season, meet new people, develop new friendships and plan future road trips when we’ll meet again to enjoy the experience of the CFL.
Take a look at the trip through photos!
It came down to the wire, but Easy Park and the City of Vancouver finally showed BC Lions tailgaters a bit of love when they agreed to let us use their lot at Quebec and Terminal to hold our football tailgate parties prior to BC Lions games.
Thank you to everyone that came, and for all the cooperation and support you gave. If we keep it up, we’ll have a home for years to come!
Thanks to Easy Park, Councilors Andrea Reimer, and Kerry Jang, the parking lot security staff, and the police as well!
Here are some pictures from the party!
Will the Economic Downturn Pinch The CFL at the Turnstiles in 2009?
As the CFL get’s under way this month, it is remarkable to think back on what a different economic world we now see as compared to when the 2008 Grey Cup was awarded.
Since November 2008, we have been bombarded by economic changes, none of them positive. The economy has continued to shed jobs, leaving industries like BC’s forest industry and Ontario’s auto sector in ruins. Consumer confidence, so robust just a year ago, has taken a beating. Recovery is coming, say economists, but it will be a slow climb back.
This is an ominous development for the CFL, especially for a League that is still heavily gate driven. To date, though, neither team executives or sports media have really taken on the question of how this might affect League attendance in 2009.
Like restaurant meals and vacations (two other sectors that have taken a beating recently as well) sports tickets are the ultimate discretionary spending item. Just ask Major League Baseball, who has seen their attendance dip 10% in 2009, and Major League Soccer, who have also seen attendance drop sharply. In the minor leagues of baseball, many teams didn’t even make it to the field for 2009, as a number of clubs folded up shop early in the year.
Even in a downturn, consumers will still buy tickets that represent good value to them. 2010 Winter Olympic tickets were scooped up quickly, obscure events and all. With its loyal fan base, the NHL survived the 2008-09 season remarkably unscathed. How will the CFL fare this year?
As a whole, the CFL is better positioned to survive this downtown than the last one in the early 1990s. Ownership across the league is more stable, marketing has improved, and revenue streams have been diversified. Still, there are potential trouble spots, most notably Hamilton. A lengthy streak of losing seasons, combined with a badly faltering local economy, could spell trouble for Steeltown attendance. Around the lake in Toronto, the Argos are facing their usual fight for fan interest in the most competitive sports market in Canada. A tough Southern Ontario economy hurts the Argos in 2009 as well.
Finally, what about the Lions? Again, the Lions are light years ahead of where they were in the early 90s, in the depths of Murray Pezim’s reign of error as owner. David Braley, the late Bob Ackles and Wally Buono have made the Lions a model organization, but even at that season ticket sales are slightly behind those of 2008. How will single game sales go, especially if the club struggles on the field somewhat?
After years of growth and positive stories, the CFL may have to retrench slightly in 2009, and perhaps into 2010 as well. It just wouldn’t be the CFL we love if we didn’t have a challenge to tackle.
(Regina, SK) The BC Lions were in a generous mood Friday night, and handed the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 28-24 victory at Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field on Friday.
Buck Pierce fumbled four times and threw two interceptions under constant pressure from a Rider defense that was seemingly having it’s way with BC’s new look offensive line, which often seemed confused with picking up the blitz giving Pierce little time to look down field allowing 9 sacks. Walter Stith showed that he is a work in progress replacing Rob Murphy, while Dean Valli also had a tough game at times. These deficiencies will need to be addressed or Buck Pierce will end up on the injured list in no time.
The Lions picked up key injuries as well, the most concerning being to running back/kick returner Ian Smart. Smart pulled up lame on a carry and looked to have popped a groin the way his body language was suggesting. Promising newcomer Emmanuel Arceneaux, who had a TD catch on the night, left the game with an apparent shoulder injury. The Lions got big scare came when Omar Morgan rolled up on the leg of Geroy Simon, bending the star receiver’s leg in a way it shouldn’t bend. Simon laid on the turf grabbing his leg but walked off under his own weight and thankfully returned to finish the game.
The loss of Smart left the return game in shambles and Darren Toney looked lost filling in for the CFL’s former special teams player of the year.
On a promising note the Lions defense looked pretty decent at times. Ryan Phillips picked off two Darian Durant passes and took one back for a touchdown, and the front four got decent pressure most of the night, registering three sacks and would have had a bunch more had Durant not been so agile and thrown the ball away on other occasions. Javier Glatt had a strong game for the Lions at linebacker, and Korey Banks looks as though there will be some exciting moments coming from him at his new nickleback position.
The Riders didn’t do themselves a lot of favours trying to win the game. They added turnovers of their own, and almost gave the Lions the win in the dying moments when Ryan Grice-Mullen was wide open deep but dropped the ball. Durant went 18-32 for 313 yards, 0 TD’s and 3 interceptions. 154 of those yards were to star Weston Dressler who served notice to the league he is quickly becoming the premier receiver in the CFL.
- The Lions have lost out on the Jamall Johnson sweepstakes as the former Lions linebacker signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Sad that an NFL tryout costs the Lions a good player, who may have had a bigger role here had he not left. The Lions apparently exchanged contract numbers with Reggie Hunt while in Regina, and will now explore the possibility of adding him or JoJuan Armour.
- With the injury to Ian Smart the rumored signing of RB Tyler Ebell could be finalized this week, or perhaps junior star Andrew Harris will dress. Martell Mallet had some promising carries, and looks to be a similar type of runner as Joe Smith.
- Former Lion Jason Clermont finished the night with 1 catch for 9 yards, while former Rider Anton McKenzie registered 6 tackles, 1 sack and a forced fumble.
- If Emmanuel Arceneaux can’t go Friday, we’ll likely see the other promising receiver in camp, Terence Scott get his chance to shine.
- Lowell Ullrich has more in a nice video blog he composed after the game in Regina. You can view it here.