Grey Cup Week will look a little different this year

Ah, here we are yet again. Grey Cup week. While there was no 2020 Canadian Football League season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am still excited for the virtual edition of the event this year. It will look a lot different from the past but it’s a way to celebrate our wonderful game, the fans as well as the history and culture that surrounds the Grey Cup in a year that we haven’t had much to celebrate. I decided to talk to a few fans to discuss the disappointment around not having any CFL games being played this year, Grey Cup Unite and their confidence level of the league making a return in 2021.

The first topic of discussion, the cancellation of the 2020 season.

“I was quite upset that there wasn’t a season as a CFL fan,” said Johnny Millette, who is a Calgary Stampeders fan. “I get why they didn’t have one (a season), if they had tried to push the season back they would have had to compete more with the NFL and NCAA which would hurt their viewership. With such big losses in revenue from less viewers and no fans, I think teams would have lost a lot more money than they did with just sitting out for a year. In the end it sucked as a fan, but from the business side I get why they took that route.”

Kris and Jackie Willard, who have been Saskatchewan Roughriders season ticket holders since 2013 both agreed with Millette in the fact that they were severely disappointed that there was no Canadian football in this pandemic year.

“Definitely disappointed we had no season at all this year,” Kris said. “It was almost like they didn’t make any effort to keep fans engaged. I wish the CFL would have done something to help fill the void … with social media there could have been so many options. It’s even more upsetting for us (as Riders season ticket holders) because we lost our Grey Cup and will have to wait until 2022 to host. I feel like we should have got 2021.”

“Summer always meant live football and it’s something we’ve done as a couple for many, many years,” Jackie said. “So for me it felt like I lost something more than just football and it was depressing.”

“I am trying to remain hopeful that next year we will get a season. Right now I think it’s a 50/50 shot, maybe with half capacity.”

The feeling was the same out in eastern Canada says Tina Swayze, a Hamilton Tiger-Cats season ticket holder.

“I honestly didn’t realize how much I would be affected by the cancellation of the season,” she said.

“I was upset because we (the Tiger-Cats) re-signed most of our own players and brought in a few guys that I was really excited about. I was so focused on the pandemic that I didn’t really think a lot about it, but I really started to miss it around Labour Day and it’s been downhill since. It’s my only hobby and I miss the game, the interaction with the players and other fans more than I thought I would.”

While there was much disappointment, a lot of fans will still be tuning into the numerous events put on by the league for Grey Cup United that will run virtually from Nov. 16 through until what would have been Grey Cup Sunday on Nov. 22.

“I’ll be attending most of them,” said Brent Stephen, the son of Calgary Stampeders radio play by play host for 770 CHQR Mark Stephen. He doubles as a Stampeders fan, just recently getting season tickets of his own just a few rows up behind the Calgary bench.

“The only issue is that they’re at terrible times in the day for people who have to work. They don’t have to deal with any team meetings or any of that type of stuff, but they’re still having events in the middle of the day.”

“There are definitely a few that I’ll watch, the All-Decade team seems like a fun event, along with the player media day,” Millette added. “The one I’m the most interested in is the State of the League address that (CFL Commissioner) Randy Ambrosie will be doing. I’m hoping he has some plans that will help grow the viewership outside of Canada and in general it will be nice to learn about how he plans to continue the league while making sure it’s still going strong in the future.”

While most of the fans I talked to said they were going to make time for the events, Ed Brucculeri, another Ticats season ticket holder said he wouldn’t be.

“I was so disappointed that the season was cancelled. I really thought this was going to be the Ticats year to win the cup and I love going to games,” he said. “Not being able to go to games and have the ability to cheer on the team has really left a huge void so I will not be attending any of the Grey Cup United events. Not having a season has been hard and I don’t want to make it harder.”

There were pretty mixed reviews for how people felt about being able to watch their respective teams compete for the ultimate prize in 2021.

“It varies,” Brucculeri said. “Some days I’m pretty confident that there will be a season and then I see the rising COVID-19 numbers and my feelings change. I love this league and it’s longevity is my biggest concern. I want this league to be around for another 150 years.”

“As of right now, I feel like there’s a 50/50 chance we have football next year,” Kris Willard said. “That percentage drops to about 30 per cent if we’re talking about the possibility of fans in the stands.”

“My heart says 70 per cent, my head says around 50-55 per cent,” Swayze added.

“My confidence level is 75-ish or so per cent,” Stephen said. “I think it all depends on how good the COVID vaccines are, how readily they’re going to be available, if there are any distribution issues and if mass gatherings are allowed deeper into 2021.”

Millette was the most optimistic of the group, saying he thought there was an 85 per cent chance the league would be back on the field in the new year.

“I would say I’m fairly high on that scale. I think they have seen how the NFL has been handling their season and will hopefully follow the same type of system.”

“I think they will come up with new rules just to make sure a season is possible. Things such as expanding rosters, more bye weeks and mandatory testing. It has been proven that it can be done without an expensive bubble, they just need to make sure they do everything they can to keep the players safe and limit the amount of people that get infected.”

The fans I polled were cautiously optimistic about football in 2021 but with the disappointment they endured during this weird pandemic year, they weren’t getting their hopes too high. Hopefully the league can give us some reasons to get excited over the next few days.

Enjoy Grey Cup week everyone, let’s hope this is the only year we have to do it virtually!

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