Monday, July 03, 2006

National Football League versus Canadian Football League

Die-hard Canadian Football League fans will disagree. In fact, they will adamantly declare the opposite is true.

When comparing the CFL with the National Football League, some might say the NFL is bigger, better, and more professional. It’s a perception that has plagued the CFL from the perspective of both the avid football fan and those who could take or leave the sport.

But what of it? Is it true? Players who experienced both leagues set the record straight.

All-American high school player, Ken-Yon Rambo, who received the Paul Warfield Award as Ohio State’s top receiver, signed two NFL contracts with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets. He sees the CFL and the NFL as similar in that they are both professional football leagues. “You have the same amount of athletes, the same talent,” says the first-year CFLer. “There are different coverages, but I don’t see the NFL as being faster or quicker than the CFL.”

Canadian offensive lineman Taylor Robertson, who played college in Central Florida and played for the Philadelphia Eagles witnessed some differences but doesn’t believe one league is better than the other. “They are two totally different games. I wouldn’t say the NFL is more competitive. It’s still pro football. We’re still playing for our career and our lives in the CFL.”

Echo Jeff Pilon, a Canadian player who spent time with Syracuse University, the New York Jets, and New York/New Jersey in the XFL. “You can ask any guy in the room. We (CFL) have as much talent as they do. They practice their asses off. We practice our asses off. It’s two different games.”

Where you do experience differences is in how teams prepare. The NFL is certainly a full-time job with 10-hour days, while in Canada many players tend to have another career on the side.

The scheduling differs. NFL games are traditionally held on the weekend, while CFL games start out mid-week, adding the challenge of quick turnaround games, then steer towards the weekend after Labor Day.

Robertson adds, “In the U.S., you get players from all around the country. In Canada, you get them from all over North America: Quebec, Ontario, Florida, California, Texas. When I was in the NFL, I was the only Canadian. I think it’s more culturally mixed in Canada. It brings guys a lot closer together. Everyone meets everyone for the first time – different cultures are learning to live together.”

In the CFL, stadium capacity ranges from 25,000 to 60,000. In the NFL, it’s upwards from 80,000. Because there are greater overall revenues, the stadiums are valued at more money and the players are paid more.

For a player, they see the same hype in the stands. Coming out of the tunnel for 30,000 is the same as coming out for 114,000. Players tend to zone out distractions once they hit the field anyway. The only time a crowd might make a difference is when you can’t hear the snap count. Game day is game day, regardless of league and it is approached the same from a football standpoint.

There is no doubt that football is bigger in the U.S. “They’re born and raised in football,” observes Pilon. “You go down to Pennsylvania and Texas, high schools have 30,000 season ticket holders. When I was in high school, you were lucky to have 100 people out for a championship game. It’s ingrained. You’re bred to love a certain team, to play for a certain high school. Here, you play whatever you want to play. The commitment to developing our youth isn’t there. From the time you can walk in the U.S., it’s a business. It’s big money. It’s also getting to that level. Some will sell their soul to get there.”

But in reality, the difference between the CFL and NFL is mainly off-field. CFL players have the same talent and the same drive. In the end, it’s still pro football.

Debbie Elicksen


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