While the team is looking stronger this season, I am still disillusioned by the sparse crowds drawn in Hamilto, as well as Toronto. It would seem that sports media has adopted the position that the NFL athlete is superior to the CFL athlete. TSN itself features a number of broadcasters who have allowed trend and hype to shape their opinion. Far from true. For those falling prey to hype, allow yourself a moment for the following consideration.
Premise: NFL players are better.
First, theoretically, let's assume the statement is accurate. US colleges graduate 10,000 football players every year? If 8 - 10 new players are added to NFL rosters yearly, only 300 of that 10,000 will find employment in the NFL. If the CFL has access to the next 50 best players that means only 350 of those 10,000 players will play football at a top, professional level. Can the drop off between player number 300 and player number 350 really be so dramatic? No, of course not. Such a fine line would bring many other factors into play. And there are indeed many other all too often ignored factors at play.
The CFL is a different type of game played by different types of players at positions with different responsibilities. I have heard broadcasters pshaw this argument saying "a football player is a football player". Yes, someone paid to comment on sports said this! How about look at a football team itself - how different are the players at various positions? Different rules and different demands call for different athletes. The NFL is the best marketed sports product in the world. It practices the hype that and sells. The NFL game is very, very structured. They require players who can play a highly structured game. There is not a lot of improvisation. Frankly, there is no room for it. It's like the pre-lockout NHL - the game became dominated by big men dedicated to positional play. The NHL of the recent past was about the denial of improvisational play using traps, locks and structure. In the NFL, there are huge bodies on a relatively small field. There is no separation between down lineman making athleticism secondary to size in line play. Running backs, linebackers and even quarterbacks need to be of a certain body type in order to succeed.
CFL players are selected on the basis of talent. The large field opens the game up and allows improvisational talents to be utilized. We have seen running backs of all shapes and size in our league. Do you remember Robert Mimbs? He did not look like a running back. He did not hit the line hard or run with power. He could move laterally like no one else and he could read the play. He could pick and slide his way through the line of scrimmage. This was his talent and few could match him in this regard. The CFL is a game that allowed Robert Mimbs use his unparalleled lateral abilities. In the NFL, these skills are useless. It's all about hitting the line and hitting it hard. The CFL is more talent focused.
Gizmo Williams and Pinball are players the NFL would consider too small. Their talent and athleticism were superior to any NFL returner. The CFL provided a game that enables talent to overcome size. That is what the CFL game does. You cannot claim that the athletes are inferior. That is far too simplistic and ignores so much. How many times have we seen NFL players come to the CFL and fail miserably? Often! Particularly quarterbacks. Vince Ferragamo, Eric Kramer, Lee Saltz, Tim Rosenbach and many more. Tim Rosenbach signed with Hamilton some years ago. He was supposed to be the next great quarterback. He is an NFL style passer. He stands in the pocket and waits for plays to develop before throwing. It does not work in the CFL. You don't have all day to sit in a shallow, static pocket and wait for a play to develop. Rosenbach was a flop. CFL quarterbacks need more skills. The only NFL style QB to ever have success was David Archer who succeeded because he adapted, he developed a quick release. Doug Flutie succeeded because he is a CFL style quarterback. Doug could improvise, create and execute. He was the best I've ever seen. Noone could match what he did in the CFL. The CFL still has access to many of the best athletes at quarterback because of the size requirements of the NFL. An NFL quarterback needs to be tall enough to find passing lanes through between linemen. A CFL quarterback can move the pocket and use his mobility to create his own passing lane.
I could continue a position by position breakdown but the bottom line is that CFL athletes are second to none. When Ricky Williams came to the CFL he was fine, but on no occasion could he go outside and turn the corner. CFL linebackers are smaller, but so quick. The NFL has all the hype but you must look beyond hype to substance. Rod Rust was a very successful NFL coach. He says many of the best athletes he coached were CFL players. Different game played by different players at different positions. Highly structured vs. continually changing.
The NHL has removed the red line and cut down obstruction, you have seen personnel changes galore in the NHL. As it stands now, the commitment to enforce the rules of the "New NHL" have already rendered behemoths like Rathje and Hatcher ineffective. They need different players. As contracts expire, more of the large old grinders will be replaced with more dynamic, improvisational players. This is happening.
When selecting a team to compete on an Olympic sized ice surface vs North American size, managers and coaches consider players skills in context to the playing surface. The CFL has a different sized playing surface than the NFL. A different game requires different abilities. There are similarities and constants, but we cannot assume that differences relate to quality. Furthermore, we cannot look at the salaries involved and expect that to be an accurate barometer of quality, it doesn't work.
The NFL is hugely successful and offers player salaries no other league can compete with. True. But Britney Spears draws endless attention, sells out arenas, and has 10 times the radio play of Diana Krall. Is Britney a better artist than Diana Krall? Of course not, it’s a far too simplistic to infer from superficial means of assessment. Diana Krall is several times the artist Britney Spears is. Similarly, the athletes of the CFL are second to none. Just take a look.
Do you really believe that Trent Edawards and his endless littany of heavily pre-programmed 3 yard passes to proto-type players is more exciting? Wow - unreal that hype is so overwhelming that it obliterates what lies right before our eyes. But hey, Britney will continue to sell out shows and have many more electronic, formulaic hits. So Sad. CFL players are second to none as athletes playing an amazing game and so many are so overwhelmingly blind.