Every CFL football season begins with hope and optimism. That's one of the great things about an eight-team league...every club has a legitimate shot at Grey Cup glory. The sins of every team's past, every player's mistakes, all seem to magically disappear once the Canada Day weekend rolls around.
Players don't necessarily need any extra incentive to play for championships but this year seems just a little different. I mean, really, when was the last time the league was treated to sellout crowds for preseason games?
An off-season filled with movement, sub-plots and sidebars have certainly provided the context for an unprecedented amount of CFL interest and anticipation.
Maybe it's the build-up organizers have created for this Sandy Annunziata with the Grey Cup in 2005.year's iconic 100th Grey Cup anniversary? Perhaps it's about the end of an era in Edmonton coupled with a sigh of relief in Toronto as Ricky Ray brings his quarterbacking savvy and skill from west to east? There's the anxiety in Saskatchewan that comes with saying goodbye to old friends. Or winning the lottery in Hamilton and perhaps finally a better fate than .500 football. Young guns in the West battling the seasoned greybeards in the East. A changing of the guard in B.C as Wally Buono turns over the coaching reins Mike Benevides, who faces the challenge of trying to lead the Lions to a Grey Cup repeat. Players discarded or encouraged to move on, with something still to prove. New faces anxious to get their shot and show the world they belong.
One thing this CFL season won't face is a shortage of storylines. For the three-down fan, it creates drama and excitement. For prognosticators and those responsible for setting betting lines, they will experience some sleepless nights and unbelievable nightmares. Those entrusted with picking the winners and losers must all be cringing at the prospects of trying to figure out just who will show up for each and every game. Is it MVP Hank or Discarded Henry Burris? Breakout seasons for Travis Lulay and Andrew Harris, or the sophomore jinx for the B.C. backfield. Sack master Odell Willis, who had the benefit of a ball-hawking secondary and the calming influence of Doug Brown in Winnipeg, can he now be a one-man show in Saskatchewan?
Yes, parody is a good thing in pro sports and with that in mind, I'll boldly make my predictions. Take the underdog every game, because the human spirit, the will to win and certainly the passion to prove your critics wrong will never be accounted for in a Vegas oddsmaker's very convoluted algorithm. Add to the equation that wearing a ring as the champion of the 100th Grey Cup will be a little more special and a whole lot bigger than previous ones. That incentive to win and wear that ring on your finger becomes powerful stuff.
Yes, CFL fans are anxious, nervous and excited. And finally, for the league and all the Canadian football faithful, it's for all the right reasons.