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Once again, football season is finally here. No, not the NCAA or the NFL, whose seasons do not begin until late August and early September, but rather the Canadian Football League, the first game of the 2015 season being a showdown tonight between the Ottawa RedBlacks and the Montréal Alouettes on ESPN2 at 6:30pm CDT. As for how I became interested in Canadian football, here is the story…
It was July of 2012 and I had just returned to Lubbock after having spent nearly two months in the United Kingdom doing historical research. The beginning of the NCAA and NFL football seasons was still several weeks away, but I noticed that there were a number of Canadian football games showing on ESPN3, so I decided to check them out. Almost instantly, I was hooked.
In contrast with American football, Canadian football uses a field that is 110 yards long and 65 yards wide, with each team fielding 12 players. As each team has only three downs (as opposed to the American four) to advance the ball, Canadian football features more passing, scoring, and more frequent lead changes. It is quite an interesting and exciting game in its own right. As for the scheduling, most games are played on Friday night and Saturday, with some Sunday games and certain special exceptions such as the first game of the season and games played on Canadian Thanksgiving in October. The playoffs conclude in late November with the Canadian Football League championship game, known as the Grey Cup.
In the late summer of 2013, while doing archival research in Ottawa, I decided to drive over to Montréal to see the Alouettes play their East Division rivals, the Toronto Argonauts (the Ottawa RedBlacks would not enter the league and begin playing until the following year). The 120-mile drive on Highway 417 (which becomes Autoroute 40 after crossing the Québec border) from Ottawa to Montréal was a memorable one. Miles and miles of forest passed by, and for much of the trip I was listening to a country music station out of Ottawa. At one point, a song by Lefty Frizzell named “Saginaw, Michigan” began playing, and my mind drifted…
I thought of my great-great-grandfather Frederic LaRoche, who left Québec in the 1880s – where the LaRoches had lived since the 1660s – to seek out a new life in America. The great northern pine forests have always had that effect upon me, dredging up some deep ancestral longing to return to the lands of my forefathers. The same feeling overcomes me whenever I visit the Pacific Northwest, where I have family both immediate and extended. I often wonder if there is, indeed, such a thing as ancestral memory. It is as if the trees are saying “you belong here,” or in the words of Tolkien, “Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!”
Upon arriving in Montréal on that late summer day in September, I parked in a garage beneath a shopping mall and then walked north to McGill University, on whose campus is Percival Molson Stadium, home of the Alouettes. Before the game got underway, I wandered around the stadium and visited the team gift shop. But just as I began making my way to my seat, I was intercepted by three petite, beautiful young women. One of whom handed me something. I figured it must be an advertisement for some local business, but lo and behold, it was a calendar, and the three young women turned out to be Montréal Alouettes cheerleaders! I chatted them up for a while, after first having to say “Je regrette. Je ne parle pas français.” Next time I’m there, perhaps I should ask Cousin Annie for some French lessons and some backstage passes. Heh.
Anyway, the game was an exciting one. I had been hoping that I would get to see the legendary Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo play, but he was out with a concussion injury and would retire after the season was over. The game was a relatively high scoring contest, but the Alouettes lost by a score of 37-30 after a late, game-tying touchdown was waved off when an Alouettes receiver stepped out of bounds at the eight-yard line. C’est la vie.
There is nothing quite like the thrill of watching a competitive sporting event, be it professional basketball, college football, or Major League Baseball. Such memories are to be treasured forever. If you have the time, check out tonight’s game. And go Alouettes!Published in