CFL measures big-game hype by the cup, not the bowl GREY CUP 1994

November 27, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- How can you tell you're at the Grey Cup, the Canadian Football League's human-sized championship, and not at the Super Bowl, the NFL's bloated and almost unbearably self-important championship?

You can tell when you're at a player/media interview breakfast and you notice that the players are waiting patiently behind you in the buffet line. (I'm having trouble envisioning Deion Sanders waiting for me while I pick through the kiwi fruit and ladle syrup on my pancakes.)

You can tell when fans participating in something called FootballFest'94 Family Day are allowed to watch the Baltimore CFLs and B.C. Lions in their final practices before today's game at B.C. Place. (Your average, paranoid NFL coach would have them rounded up and debriefed, and their cameras confiscated.)

You can tell when nearly 5,000 tickets remain unsold a day before the game. (The last time the Grey Cup was held here, four years ago, the Lions didn't qualify and Vancouverites were so uninterested that league officials were handing out free tickets to Desert Storm-bound servicemen on the morning of the game.)

You can tell when the country's political leader (Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien, in this case) is asked which team he is rooting for, and responds, "Who is playing?"

You can tell when a cliche-spouting coach says, "In the end, it's gonna come down to 12 guys against 12 guys."

You can tell when you see actual real people in the stands. (Instead of corporate junketeers wearing company sweaters with tasteful" logos, who are the only people who go to the Super Bowl.)

You can tell when you cross paths with the Saskatchewan Roughriders pep band so many times -- on the street, on the concourse of the dome, in the parking lot of your hotel shortly after sunrise -- that you begin hearing them coming even when they're not.

You can tell when the league commissioner doesn't hold his annual "state of the league" news conference in front of a 75-foot, communist-style banner bearing only the league insignia, as Paul Tagliabue does.

You can tell when a reporter asks CFLs kicker Donald Igwebuike about his Lions counterpart, the legendary Lui Passaglia, and he reponds, "Who is Lui Passaglia?"

You can tell when you come across gangs of Calgary Stampeders fans stomping around town wearing cowboy hats and red shirts with cowbells sewed onto the front. ("Let me guess, you're from Montreal," you tell them, sending them into a spasm of ya-hooing and cowbell-ringing aimed at setting you straight, buster.)

You can tell when everyone in the league office is in love with Baltimore.

You can tell when a Toronto reporter begins the week's first official news conference as he has for each of the past 46 years, by asking the coaches whether they will establish a curfew for the week and whether their players will be allowed to have sex.

You can tell when a reporter friend from Edmonton tells you that at next year's Cup, scheduled for tiny Regina, Saskatchewan, there will be a "media motel."

You can tell when you see the "Spirit of Edmonton Hospitality Room" and the "Saskatchewan Roughrider Hospitality Room" listed on the league's official schedule of Grey Cup events, and you ask someone what kind of hospitality is provided in these rooms, and you're told, "oh, beer."

You can tell when all vestiges of political correctness are shed and everyone admits that they're here primarily to drink until they're cross-eyed. (You can't do that at the Super Bowl because you can't go unless you're on a corporate junket, which means your boss is also there, which means you're about as relaxed as Dennis Hopper in those Nike ads.)

You can tell when you drop by the "Spirit of Edmonton Hospitality Room" one evening and a group of fans from Toronto is singing "I'd rather be a Lion than a team without a name," and someone gives you a Klondike Days silver dollar when they hear you're from Baltimore, and you suddenly realize that a roman numeral on the Grey Cup would be terribly, terribly wrong.

You can tell when a player is fined $10 for sleeping through a morning interview session.

You can tell when you hear the fans say that the team in possession of the ball is on "oh-fense."

You can tell when the game at hand is traditionally high-scoring, well-played and exciting. (As opposed to lopsided, dull and befouled by perennial losers and a numbing avalanche of silly hype).

You can tell when the lobby of the league hotel is bomb-scare empty 24 hours before the game. (As opposed to a rollicking sea of ticket scalpers, hustlers and hangers-on mixed in with the occasional farm animal.)

You can tell when you find yourself on a radio talk show panel with the Dan Dierdorf of Canada, a former CFL star turned broadcaster, and, being a typical American, you have no idea who he is, where he played or what he looks like.

You can tell when you're asked to make a prediction as a member of this radio talk show panel, and you pick Baltimore, 37-27, and someone says to you, "Well, you Americans always beat us anyway."

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