U.S. Football in Toronto: A Threat to the Canadian game?

Red Grange in Canada

By PFRA Research

In November of 1926, the American Football League--Red Grange's rival to the NFL--invaded Canada by scheduling a game in Toronto. At that time Canadian football was even more different from the U.S. brand than it is today. For one thing, the forward pass had not yet been legalized.

The following story from the Tuesday, November 9, 1926, issue of the Hamilton Spectator was discovered and submitted by Stewart Brown of the present day Spectator sports department.


Think More of Canada Game After Tilt

"Red" Grange's Yankees Winners, 28 to 0

No matter how wildly enthusiastic Americans are over their style of football, the American game will never find favor in Canada. That seemed to be the consensus of opinion following yesterday's exhibition at Toronto, where "Red" Grange's New York Yankees battled "Wildcat" Wilson's Pacific coast professionals, and scored a 28 to 0 victory.

About ten thousand fans turned out to compare the American brand of rugby with the Canadian game, and there appeared to be very little enthusiasm apart from the interest in the players and a little excitement stirred by good individual plays. The absence of kicking, and the narrow outlet for scoring proclivities of the teams, together with the forward passing and the general interference, made the game seem comparatively tame to the hard-boiled fans who like to see the pigskin sailing for points, an aerial duel up and down the field, extended end runs and solo field goals.

Grange Got Try

There was plenty of action in the game, and "Red" Grange provided a pretty piece of work when he broke loose through the line and shook off half a dozen would-be tacklers to sprint sixty yards for the Yankees' first touchdown. The "galloping ghost" also showed some nifty line plunging and defensive work, and he tossed a number of forward passes that were taken for granted as being good, although the receiver didn't always carry the play through. Several other members of the Yankees, notably Gerald Maloney, former Dartmouth star, "Bullet" Baker, former Southern California star, and Wesley Fry, an outstanding Iowa star of other days, fitted into the smooth-working Yankee machine well, and Bradshaw, the quarterback of the Wildcats, together with George Wilson himself and R. Morrison, showed up well for the Wildcats.

Passes Counted

Two of the Yankees' touchdowns were scored on forward passes, and Grange's run, and an intercepted pass accounted for the other two. The placement kick behind the line converted all four.

There was no arguing with the officials, and very few subs were used, both teams going almost all of the first half without a change. The Yankees didn't change their line-up at all. Kicking was seldom indulged in, as no points are allowed in the American game unless the kick is a bona fide field goal or kick from placement. The placement is made by one man taking the ball out and holding it on the ground in position for the kicker. The method of converting touchdowns by bringing the ball ten yards out and directly in front of the goal posts was another feature that looked too soft to the fans.

The line-plunging was fast and hard, and although the gains were mostly small ones, all these plays were well meant. The extensive interference didn't appear to help either team, except on rare occasions, due, probably, to the defensive skills of the teams. Then the feature of any player recovering a punt without being offside was confusing to the fans and took the thrill of kicks being run back, out of the game.

From the standpoint of curiosity and interest in a comparison, the game was a decided success, but from a propaganda standpoint it was a failure. It would take a long time for Canadian football fans to take to the pastime.

In his accompanying letter, Mr. Brown points out that the story appeared on the third--and last--sports page. He adds: "It's interesting to note that a Canadian football game between the Hamilton Tigers and Balmy Beach of Toronto, played the same day at Varsity Stadium in Toronto, drew a 'handful' of fans. However, another sporting event in Toronto that Thanksgiving attracted 8,000. They watched the Bethlehem Steel soccer team from the U.S. defeat Toronto Ulsters 3-2 in an exhibition soccer match.


On October 27, 1923, the Edmonton Eskimos ventured to Calgary to take on the Tigers for their second of three Alberta provincial union games after Calgary won the first match 18-4. In the second quarter, Edmonton was ahead 4-0. when they punted to the Calgary 20-yard line. On second down halfback Ken McCallum broke through the Edmonton line and into the secondary. Weaving through a broken field, he sped 90 yards to the goal line with two Eskies in pursuit.

Upon crossing the line under the watchful eye of an official, Ken slowed to a trot, allowing one of the pursuers to tackle him. When he touched the ground, the referee blew his whistle to indicate a dead ball and gave the Tigers a single point rather than five points for a try (touchdown). It seems that in 1923 in order to register a try, the ball either had to be TOUCHED DOWN to the ground after crossing the goal line or the player in possession of the ball had to remain stationary, in which case the official would blow his whistle and indicate a dead ball and award the team their points. McCallum's movement after crossing the line did not bring the play to an end, and the Eskie player was able to make a legal tackle.

Edmonton held on to win 4-1 and the third game was canceled by bad weather. The Eskimos finished the season in first place with a 3-1 record, while Calgary was last at 1-3.

(The Coffin Corner Volume IV, 1982 - PFRA)

p.s. It is amazing how little times have changed! X

So the Americans have been trying to introduce their game to Canada for 85 years and it still hasn't caught on - despite Canadian curiosity. There's a message there.

Very interesting take on the situation, rpaege.

NFL isn't yet a major threat to CFL because exhibition games are few. For NFL to be a threat, there must be sustained competition for market share in CFL city. After failure of NFL Europe, Canada seems to be sensible target because of existing market of football fans. If NFL wants to expand, aren't there American cities that are better markets?

Besides Los Angeles, there is probably no better city for the NFL to expand or move to in all of the USA and Canada besides Toronto. The reason for that would be the tendency for the Canadian media & probably very many Canadian fans (although I doubt that number would include many of the hard core CFL buffs that are posters in this particular forum!) to regard such a team as being Canada's representative in the NFL. (see the Raptors, Blue Jays & in the pre Blue Jay days, the Expos) This would open the way to a lucrative TV contract, probably from the CBC. So Toronto's population & market area basically becomes all of Canada for TV purposes, maybe even including the Buffalo area too if (probably when) the Bills wind up moving away.

Canada's TV market is worth a pittance compared to giant markets in the U.S.. Besides, it's not the NFL that wants a team in Toronto, it's a couple of fat cat Canucks who are drooling over the prospect of NFL revenue.

One must assume that the Blue Jays, Raptors, and maybe even Leafs will be threatened, too?

quite right - this ould be a fight for corporate sponsorship $$$ - think corporate suite rentals and season tickets. Advertising $$$ and revenue streams.

Just a question regarding the Toronto & La as best possible expansion cities regarding NFL expansion. I went to the net and typed in NFL expansion and Jerry Jones from Dallas states he and most of the owners think 32 teams is perfect and do not want to expand the league to 34. So my question is everyone in Toronto is talking expansion of the NFL. Who has heard anything about expansion and if so when does the league plan on expanding?

The NFL will not expand past 32 teams. We're talking about relocation. L.A. is the number one priority. Toronto doesn't stand a chance, because there is not enough fan support up there to warrant a team moving there.

I doubt the NFL has any interest in moving franchises to Canada. A major stumbling block is the lack of CBS/ABC/ESPN television stations here. So TV ratings in Toronto do not count towards the leagues $3.5B TV deal. Unless Rogers or CTV is willing to pony up the US$100M to match what each team receives from their U.S. TV deal, the NFL would be better off moving a dud franchise to L.A. or another U.S. city.

Toronto also does not have an adequate stadium. Skydome would be by far the smallest stadium in the league (it is only the 4th largest stadium used in the CFL).

Another disadvantage in moving a NFL franchise to Canada is their is already a football league in existence here which is more popular than the NFL. A U.S. city would not face this competition for the football hearts, minds and dollars...so a Canadian NFL franchise would be working with less than half of the football market.

IF the nfl puts a team in canada it depends on if the team makes a playoff run....if the team wins i think canadians would follow it......

I hate to say it, but I still think that had prices been comparable to CFL prices, the stadium would have been almost packed.

That seems to be a good point however.. it is wrong... The reason LA does not have a team is because TV viewership is actually stronger in LA now then it was when they had a team!!! (no more blackouts)
The NFL could probably contract 10 teams and barely take a hit in TV ratings.... That is why you are seeing more games on Thursday and Monday...because with all the multiple games on Sunday they have found that fans often don't want to watch the game in their area. If you lived in SanFran for instance....what would you rather watch SanFran Vs San Diego orrrr Colts vs Patriots.. I can guarentee what people in LA would rather watch.

I'm sure you're right 'bro, and so they should! Obviously people would follow the team, probably very well in the beginning and if they were winning and had a chance to make the playoffs, but I have a feeling the honeymoon would wear off after several years of mediocrity.

Torontonians have shown that they will show up for games out of curiosity if for no other reason. Though there does seem to be a limit as to how much you can expect of them if you offer a poor product (a preseason game) and charge way too much for it. No matter what though, nobody really knows for sure if the NFL in Canada can ever catch on long term. That's really not a given.

I live in the Bay Area and I can tell you that there is NO question which game 49er fans would watch. There also no question which game fans on the other side of the bay would watch.

The reasons L.A. doesn't have a team are because of the lingering (still) resentment over the loss of the Rams, the transient nature of the fans in that area, and because the stadium is in a frighteningly lousy area right beside the 'hood.