CFL 101, a learner’s guide for the Grey Cup

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“They’re at the five-yard line, third and goal, and the quarterback takes the snap.” If you need Google translate for this sports lexicon, keep on reading to get up to speed just in time for the Grey Cup this Sunday, November 26, 2017. The Toronto Argonauts are facing the Calgary Stampeders in Ottawa for the 105th Grey Cup championship, but if you’re more of a halftime show person, Canada’s favourite country star Shania Twain will be performing.

With nine Canadian teams, we should know a thing or two about football (fun fact, The Toronto Argonauts is the oldest professional sports team in North America still using its original name)! The Canadian Football League (CFL) has a different set of rules compared to the American Football League (NFL) and depending who you ask; some argue that the CFL is a more exciting game. So if you don’t want to break the bank with Leafs tickets, check out an Argos game next season. Not only will you enjoy chugging a beer at the tailgate party, but you’ll also be a certified CFL expert.

The Lay of the Land of Canadian Football

Each team has two “lines”, the offensive line and the defensive line. When a team’s offensive line is on the field, the opposing team’s defensive line is also playing. The offense’s goal is to score touchdowns (advancing the ball into the opponent’s end zone counts as six points) while the defense’s goal is to do everything in their power to stop the offence from scoring.

The offence scores points by moving the ball down the football field into the opposing team’s end zone. Scoring can happen in one of two ways:

  1. Touchdown Play: Running with the ball into the opposing team’s end zone or having a receiver catch the ball in the end zone.
  2. Field Goal Play: Kicking the ball into the end zone, through the uprights.

Game Facts

  • A game consists of four quarters.
  • Each quarter is 15 minutes in length.
  • Each team consists of an offense, a defense and a special teams squad. The specials teams unit is in charge of kickoffs, punts and field goals.
  • In the CFL, there are 12 players on the field during play. Seven of the 12 men on offense (typically the five linemen and the wide receivers) must be at the line of scrimmage at the time of the snap, and the other five must be at least one yard behind the line.

416 Mag interviewed Brodie Lawson (BL), current host of Digital Content, CFL This Week & Brodie OT to get her intel on the Canadian football scene.

416 Mag: How would you explain the essential components of a football game to someone who’s never watched a game before?

BL: The simplest way to look at football is to take away all the jargon! Whichever team has the ball is on offence. They are ultimately trying to get the ball into the opposing team’s end zone to score a touchdown. They do this by either throwing the ball or running it in, and they have three tries (downs) to get 10 yards. If they can get 10 yards, they get three new tries (downs). If they aren’t able to get 10 yards because the opposing team’s defence can stop them or the offence is struggling, then the ball turns over to the other team. The special teams unit comes onto the field, they punt the ball, and it is run back by the team who will now be on offence and wherever he is tackled, determines which part of the field the offence will begin their first three tries. Then the whole process starts again. These are the MOST basic components, but it should get your started in time for the Grey Cup (the Stanley cup but for football)!

416 Mag: CFL, NFL and College football are all different in their own rights, what makes the CFL unique?

BL: The CFL is a super pass heavy league which makes it incredibly fun to watch! 2017 has been coined The Year of the Catch because of the outrageous circus grabs from players this season – visit to see a few. It’s more up-tempo than college football and NFL because of the time clock and the fact that the CFL has only three downs instead of four. The CFL field is also longer and wider than other leagues at 110 by 65 with deeper end zones; this is in part what creates the perfect conditions for electric touchdowns and long bombs (when the quarterback tries to complete a pass for a significant distance down the field).

The combination of fast pace football, larger field, the amount of BIG plays and the high scoring nature of the CFL makes the game entertaining and ensures that NO LEAD IS SAFE!

416 Mag: How do you think the CFL could make football more popular among millennials?

BL: This year with the introduction of TSN CFL Fantasy and last years CFL Pick’ Em has been huge along with our increased digital coverage on and our app. We are delivering a constant stream of content to millennials to their phones including our live show CFL This Week which airs weekly on Twitter. I think it’s key that young fans connect with players and getting players, helmets off, in-front of the camera and onto our phones and laptops is a huge part of that. The CFL social media voice has a sports fanatic meets casual fan vibe.

416 Mag: What are your top three tips for an epic tailgate party?

  1. Good music + good speakers.   Have your playlist ready to go and make sure your speakers can handle the weather or spilled beverages.
  2. Amazing food and (adult) beverages.  I am beyond impressed when people show up at a tailgate with their BBQs and a full spread of food and drink. In my opinion, it doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be plentiful and easy to eat/drink.
  3. REP YOUR TEAM!  I’ve noticed at tailgates across the league fans are constantly trying to out do one another with the tailgate decor. They bring tents with tables, chairs, tablecloths, multiple flags, and games like corn hole. I’ve seen people hang up jerseys and totally deck out their trucks – rep your team!

416 Mag: Tell us about your favourite CFL underdog story.
BL: The 2016 Grey Cup in Toronto was probably the biggest underdog story the CFL has had in years. The game was between the Calgary Stampeders representing the West who were the heavy favourites finishing the season 15-2-1 and the Ottawa REDBLACKS, representing the East who were 8-9-1. The week leading up to the Grey Cup Ottawa was more of a sweet story, less of a real threat whereas the Stampeders seemed all but unstoppable and they overtook all the headlines. Though it all Ottawa QB Henry Burris was confident in his team’s abilities and was vocal about their chances. After a week of hype and buildup Grey Cup Sunday arrived, and as the players warmed up, the REDBLACKS were faced with an absolutely gut-wrenching situation. Henry Burris tweaked his knee and was whisked off the field by medical staff right before O’Canada. It wasn’t clear if Burris would be able to play in the Grey Cup and even if he did, people wondered to what extent? He emerged, knee injected and painkillers taken and prepared to take care of business. The REDBLACKS played a scrappy and relentless football game all the way until the end of the 4th quarter, where to the shock of many, the REDBLACKS had tied the game. In a thrilling overtime finish, Burris found Ernest Jackson who bobbled the ball about three times and nearly dropped the game winning TD but he managed to hang on, and the REDBLACKS won it all in a CRAZY 39-33 overtime victory.

416 Mag: Favourite football movie?

credits: some football facts sourced from CFL Football 101: Lesson 1 – CFL | The Gal’s Got Game.

Kelty Campbell

Kelty is a marketing guru and glass half full type of gal. When she’s not at work, you'll find Kelty on her yoga mat or lacing up to reach a new personal best running. Passionate about people, health & wellness, and checking off her Toronto taco bucket list. Kelty is proud to call the 416 home and loves all things Canadiana.