TD Atlantic converting Moncton to CFL fans

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Canadian football fans take pride in a game that is played on larger fields, with bigger footballs, and one fewer downs than the pigskin that is played south of the border.

Enlarge Photo GREG AGNEW/TIMES & TRANSCRIPTReg MacWilliams and Shawn Kelly wear their Green Bay Packers 'cheesehead' hats yesterday. However, because the Canadian Football League hasn't had an East Coast franchise, the allegiances of local football can often times be swayed to the National Football League and its gargantuan marketing machine.

This week's Touchdown Atlantic was an opportunity to showcase a product that many fans across the country find more exciting than its American counterpart, and maybe even convert some fans who prefer the American game.

Mac McKernan of Edmonton uses a car racing analogy to explain the difference he sees between the CFL and NFL.

"It's like Formula One or NASCAR, which one is better racing and which one is marketed better?"

McKernan said he is exclusively a CFL fan, as he feels he can relate to the players more than their ultra-rich counterparts in the NFL.

"They're playing for the love of the game, not for the cash."

Neil McBain, also of Edmonton, said a CFL franchise in Moncton would instantly convert NFL fans over to the CFL once they saw a chance to take ownership of a local team.

"But lots of people end up being NFL fans because there is no CFL team here and the NFL gets so much hype," said McBain.

He said there is research that shows a CFL game features 25 more plays than NFL games on average.

"I'm not an NFL fan at all, I love the CFL and I don't even watch the NFL."

Some fans at yesterday's game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Edmonton Eskimos were sporting NFL jerseys and other merchandise, but that didn't necessarily mean they prefer the NFL to the CFL.

Some said they would have worn CFL gear if only they had been able to find some, which goes to show how strongly the NFL is marketed here like everywhere else in North America.

But how about the true NFL fans out there - can they be converted to give up the American game, or at least adopt the Canadian one?

Dave Corbett said his allegiances to the NFL wouldn't prevent him from becoming a whole-hearted CFL fan here.

"That doesn't matter, I could be a fan of both. If they had a team here I would buy season tickets."

Mike Allain said it is possible to enjoy both leagues, although he said the two games aren't the same.

"It's all about the football," he said.

"I grew up on the CFL. I do like the NFL but we all know the CFL is a lot harder than the NFL: the huge fields, the three downs, you have to do everything with one fewer downs."

Tim Carson, of Sussex, said he can't even compare the two products. "I love the CFL. I don't watch the NFL so I can't compare the two."

Terry Bachmann, of Moncton, said he enjoys the fact the CFL season runs through the summer.

He has seen live CFL and NFL games before and he says the atmosphere in the stands is similar.

"The fans are just as energetic," said Bachmann.

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Yesterday's Scotiabank Touchdown Atlantic game in Moncton was already historic for being the first regular season CFL match ever played in Atlantic Canada.

Enlarge Photo But it was also unique in the history of the Canadian Football League for another reason.

It was the first football game to ever end in a five-way tie.

First, of course, the visiting Edmonton Eskimos won on the scoreboard, topping the home team Moncton Argonauts 24-6.

Second, the Argonauts still managed a win, gaining new fans across our region this week, not to mention drawing 1,063 more spectators than they did for their home game the week before at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

With the official attendance at the Stade Moncton 2010 Stadium tallied at a capacity 20,725, the CFL won too, gaining significant yardage in Atlantic Canada on the way to being the nation's only truly coast-to-coast professional sports league.

In turn, the day was a big win for Atlantic Canada, proving our region would fill every seat we were offered, telling the CFL and the rest of Canada how much we love our football too.

And of course, Moncton scored the biggest win of all, first for turning yet another one of our small city's ambitious dreams into reality, but more importantly, for once again telling a wider world who we are and what we do.

At 4:30 a.m. Sunday, there was one guy at the Stade Moncton 2010 Stadium, a security guard at the main gate huddled against the cold of a steadily falling rain on a long, late September night.

But behind that lonely scene was all the potential of what was to come. The big lights were all on, the ones so tall and so bright you can see them from Riverview and Dieppe, from passing airliners and a whole lot of places in between. The lines and logos were painted on the field and the scoreboard was so bright you could read it through the trees from out on Morton Avenue.

And while the stadium may have looked small compared to most of the fields in the CFL, there's no denying it looked impressive for anyone who knew the land it was on was just a boggy patch of scrub trees two years ago.

It would look even more impressive eight hours later as 20,000-plus people took their seats - every seat - under sunny blue skies.

"This is a spectacular day for Moncton and it's hard to describe," Mayor George LeBlanc said, raising his voice over the roar of the crowd as the game got under way at 1 p.m. "I'd like to see this happen every day."

The mayor's choice of adjectives was apt. The day was as much one of spectacle as it was of sport. Beyond seeing the true speed and the agility of the pro football players, something television labours heroically to show but still somehow fails to capture, the Atlantic Canadian crowd got a taste of all that goes on around a CFL game, whether it's just how much time the cheerleaders spend performing or seeing what needs to be done to televise the game for a national audience.

Michael "Pinball" Clemons is out in the crowd chatting with people, and man, he's smaller than you pictured. There's the Argos' Kevin Huntley peeking his head out of the dressing room before the game, taking a cellphone call, and man, he's bigger than you pictured.

The outcome of the game itself was something of a surprise, with Edmonton, who's having a lousy year, suddenly beating the normally stronger Toronto, who had a lousy game.

On the bright side, the Eskies' win played well with the audience. It may seem sometimes that a third of Atlantic Canadians call Toronto home at some point in their lives, but of course about two-thirds of us have called Alberta home.

The fact that the audience seemed to split 50-50 in its cheering spoke well for the work the Toronto Argonauts did to become the Moncton Argonauts for Scotiabank Touchdown Atlantic week.

Speaking of the nearly one full week of activities between the arrival of the two teams and yesterday's game, it was mostly a success, even if everything of course paled next to yesterday's main event.

The festival crowds were disappointing, though concerts by the Trews and Joel Plaskett and the Emergency were dramatic exceptions. And there's no denying splitting the festival between downtown and uptown dampened the effect of the whole thing. We humans have herding instincts to rival caribou, and the critical mass of people in close proximity that gives an event its energy were hard to achieve when miles, not blocks separated the attractions.

If you're going to throw any flags down on the play, though, throw them at Mother Nature for raining on our parade for much of the week, though she was good enough to come through on game day.

More than a few westerners, in town for the Touchdown Atlantic festivities, seemed surprised how many of us Maritimers seemed to let a bit of rain keep us away from the partying this week. The Edmonton Journal newspaper even commented that they thought Maritimers were made of sturdier stuff.

Still, if reputations were being made or broken this week, there are worse things than having the rest of the country now know that it turns out we Maritimers can't go on multi-day benders, because frankly, we have to work in the morning.

We passed the one test that counted, showing the country and especially the CFL that we love our football. Our Future Stars games, a series of high school matches, an amateur league game and a university game, all drew huge crowds, a couple of them spectacularly so. And it must be stated droves of people came out to those events no matter what the weather.

Though the daylight hours were quiet, the City of Moncton's Shane Porter said there was indeed a good crowd all three nights of Touchdown Downtown at the Moncton Coliseum.

"We were very pleased with the crowd throughout the festival, especially considering the move from Main Street to the Moncton Coliseum," Porter said.

There was also grumbling from the hardcore CFL fan crowd about the fact the tailgate party offered before the game was an organized event with an admission fee and no actual tailgates in sight, but others commended the organizers and generous local sponsor Economy Glass for coming up with something that would give the huge crowd a chance at some pre-game fun that otherwise wouldn't have been possible. Raising thousands of dollars for the city's two hospitals in the process was even better.

The Codiac Regional RCMP, concerned among other things about the mixing of alcohol and motor vehicles, had made it very clear from the outset of planning for Touchdown Atlantic that it would not turn a blind eye to public consumption of alcohol outside licensed events as police do in some other North American jurisdictions.

Metro Moncton has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation and Codiac RCMP last year boasted the best rate of any police force in the country for solving the crimes we do have. Again, if our reputation must be one of law and order and public safety, it'll just have to be our cross to bear.

In that vein, a highly intoxicated man might have escaped the notice of the Codiac Regional RCMP as the crowds emptied of the stadium after yesterday's historic game, had he not decided it would be amusing to urinate on one of their patrol cars.

It's perhaps just as well that he marked his territory that way, since the police car ended up being his chauffered ride from the stadium. While the limousine service to downtown might have been appreciated, there was no word at press time if his dinner and accommodations last night at the Hotel Codiac met with his approval.

Speaking of food, there were some complaints at the stadium during the game, as most concession stands ran out of most of their food by early in the second half. On the bright side, the site had a good number of porta-potties, so the wait times were short enough to keep most people from hopping up and down.

And on one final note, the marvelously engineered real grass turf of the brand new stadium, with its carefully planted grass and high-tech drainage system below ground, held up beautifully under the pressures of all those cleats, even after days of rain.

The stadium looked good in its close-up, Moncton looked good in the big picture panorama shots and the CFL in Atlantic Canada looked truly great in the crystal ball.

And what of the future? CFL commissioner Mark Cohon made it clear earlier this week and again during yesterday's Touchdown Atlantic game that the CFL would be bringing games back to Moncton, even if he said today's provincial election had interfered with making a formal announcement.

He suggested, however, there would be some good news for Atlantic Canadian football fans in the next 30 to 60 days.

So if you missed out on the historic Scotiabank Touchdown Atlantic game this year, don't worry, it looks like there will be more football to come for Metro Moncton.

This says it all right here! :

"Some said they would have worn CFL gear if only they had been able to find some, which goes to show how strongly the NFL is marketed here like everywhere else in North America."

hey Cohen.. read this and smarten up!

Some guy named "Cohen" runs an apparel store in Moncton you know of?