LABOUR OF LOVE: A RETROSPECTIVE LOOK AT THE LABOUR DAY CLASSICS:
by Ted Soutar
The hot, humid days of summer turn to crisp autumnal harbingers of an inevitable winter yet unseen and even less anticipated. August’s dog days soon dissolve into September’s Indian summer. Frosty morning air gives way to warm -- occasionally overwhelmingly so -- afternoons, to be replaced by cool nights filled with the promise of a new school year. The harvest moon glows ripe and large in the evening sky, highlighted by stars more brilliant in their appearance with the cooler air of the coming season. The rustle of leaves beginning to turn indicates the winds of change blowing over the city streets and country lanes. The answer to Christina Rosetti’s classic rhetorical poem “Who Has Seen the Wind” is evident everywhere. Out on the prairies, farmers begin yet another long grueling battle with Mother Nature and Father Time to gather their harvest. It is a beginning and an end. New possibilities abound, and the rebirth that will become more evident next spring begins its conception.
The winds of change, too, blow throughout the Canadian Football League, as the turning point in every season announces itself in the drama that unfolds in the annual Labour Day Classics. Traditionally the midpoint in every CFL season, this one weekend demands that even the most casual observer of Canadian football sit up and take note. Like the very seasons themselves, this one weekend is a beginning and an end. It is the end of what may be the most protracted experiment in speculation. It is the end of all the “what ifs” and “maybes”. It is the beginning of “the time is now”. It usually signals what is to be, while giving homage to what has gone before. It is the beginning of the playoff races.
With the exception of the Grey Cup itself, it draws together longtime fans and novice curiosity seekers alike in a way nothing else can. A way that touches the very fabric of what it means to be a Canadian football fan, and, in one very real sense, what it means to be a Canadian. Yes we are all alike, but we are also different. We all of us make up that ‘distinct society’ that the late Prime Minister Trudeau spoke about. We gather together in stadia or around television screens across the country to reclaim a part of our past lost to our neighbour to the south - we did introduced them to the game, after all.
And yet it’s not lost, in the sense that what the American game has become is as different to the Canadian game as we all are to “the great melting pot” below the 49th parallel. Someone once said the only way to tell the difference between an American and a Canadian is to point out to a Canadian that there is no difference. No truer words were ever spoken, particularly when it comes to football. No, rather than a reclamation, it’s really more of a celebration of our game and our heritage.
While their game is just getting under way, ours has already
seen more than two months of battle to this point, merely to arrive at the
crossroads that will determine the fates of players, coaches, teams and fans
alike. It is this weekend, more than any other that challenges the
collective psyche of football fans in
Ultimately, it’s just another week in a long 18-game
season. But it is also oh, so much more. It is a renewal of why
we care about the CFL. The history and tradition of our game go back a
century and a half, the roots of which are firmly planted in the first
recorded game of rugby in
Since 1948 the game has seen its most productive and potentially destructive eras, yet the traditions these years have created have ultimately sustained both the game and us alike when it seemed the game would die. And no greater tradition exists than the annual clashes on Labour Day weekend. It is this weekend that gives us the great rivalries in sport – the Toronto Argonauts, the oldest continuous professional team in North American sport versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, themselves a proud and storied team with roots extending further back than their hated rivals. It gives us the Edmonton Eskimos versus the Calgary Stampeders; a rivalry no less storied, dating back to 1892, and if anything, even more heated than the Toronto-Hamilton rivalry. It gives us the Saskatchewan Roughriders versus the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a pitched battle for prairie supremacy. In past years the Montreal Alouettes and Ottawa Roughriders would square off, with both teams splitting the bragging rights.
With all the upheaval and conflict the past two decades has seen
for this league, there remains one constant: the Labour Day Classic
weekend. Even the Grey Cup game has seen changes, what with dwindling
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