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CFL vs. NFL: Comparing apples to oranges

Now that football season is well underway, both in Canada and in the United States, I thought I'd tackle an argument that pops up every once in a while, and makes little sense to me - maybe you've come across it as well.

Now that football season is well underway, both in Canada and in the United States, I thought I'd tackle an argument that pops up every once in a while, and makes little sense to me - maybe you've come across it as well.

The argument goes something like this: The NFL is better than the CFL.

I know what you're thinking: pointless; who cares?; I'm about to turn the page, etc. But hear me out.What particularly annoys me is when Canadians (because let's be honest, Americans don't follow the CFL anyway) feel the need to talk down about the quality of the CFL.

Does the topic matter? Well, to me, and for all of the other faithful followers of the Canadian game, it does.

I got to thinking about this a couple of weeks ago during the Roughriders vs. Blue Bombers Banjo Bowl catastrophe, when one of my "Facebook friends" posted as their status, something along the lines of: this is why the NFL is the true form of football - the CFL is a joke.

This really irked me. OK, so you prefer the NFL over the CFL - that's fine; to each his own. But, does it really follow that one particularly bad game means the whole league is a joke? I've seen plenty of lopsided NFL games. In fact, it never fails that at least a couple of times a year a shutout takes place - quite a feat in a high-scoring sport like football. But, after classic games like the 'Riders home opener against Montreal, or even last week's overtime upset again Calgary, can one really say the CFL is a joke?

I think it does a great disservice to the Canadian league to immediately push it aside and think of it as a bastardized version of the American game. It's simply a different game.I really don't even think it's fair to compare the two leagues.To start with, perhaps the biggest difference between the two games, is the skill level. Players in the NFL are almost always, bigger and/or stronger and/or faster. Almost every single American who comes up to Canada to play, played college football in the States, and was either given a tryout with an NFL team and was cut, or was simply not picked by an NFL team. The same certainly can't be said about the rare few Canadians who make it to the NFL.But is there any wonder why?Guess what - there's a huge amount of money, resources (ie. players/coaches) and fans in the States, when compared to little old Canada.The United States has a population base of well over 300 million people to draw from - Canada: about 34 million, plus all of the American leftovers.Likewise, the salary cap for teams in the CFL is currently $4.25 million, whereas the NFL team with the lowest total payroll in 2009, the St. Louis Rams, paid out over $62 million to players. This adds up to a fairly significant wage difference for players, to say the least.

It's like comparing the two countries' armies, or something like that; Canada just can't compete.Secondly, the two leagues hardly even play the same game. In the CFL, the size of the field and the size of the ball are larger, therefore more players are on the field at all times; the field goal posts are placed at the front (as opposed to back) of the end zone - allowing for single points to be scored - which radically changes the game strategically; there are three downs, not four; and the list goes on - those are the most easily recognized differences.To compare the leagues, and determine which game is better based on the rules alone, is like comparing five- and 10-pin bowling; or curling and lawn bowling.Having said all of that, I would argue that calibre-wise, the Canadian game more than matches that of its neighbour to the south. Sure, the players only get paid a fraction of what their compatriots to the south make; most of them are smaller and less skilled than NFL players; there are far fewer teams; and some of the rules are a little wacky compared to the American game. But, to me, this all adds to the charm of the CFL.

A starting player - even a better than average player - is not likely to become a millionaire, or make it on the cover of Sports Illustrated, during their CFL playing career. But, week in and week out, the players take the field and give all they've got to the sport they love.

A Canadian team certainly couldn't compete against an American one skill-wise, but in their own respective league, Canadian football is highly competitive, there is no shortage of talent, and it's completely entertaining.

There's also something to be said about a tight-knit eight team league, like the CFL. It's more personable, perhaps? It's like the CFL is a small city like Estevan, where everybody recognizes everybody, while the NFL is a giant metropolis like Toronto or, the Canadian game kind of resembles Canada - humble and friendly - while the American one resembles America - big, loud, arrogant and obnoxious. Kidding, of course, but that was kind of a brilliant analogy, you must admit.

At the end of the day, if you'd prefer to watch the NFL over the CFL, that's completely understandable. But there's really no substance to the argument that the NFL is the better game. It provides something different than the CFL and the players are certainly better - but the show itself delivers the exact same package. And besides, what kind of stake does a Canadian have in cheering for an NFL team?

Anyone who says otherwise is an elitist! Yeah, I said it.

Until next week Ciao!

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