55 Yard Line

Riders’ 1986 “Rambo” commercial draws international attention: should the CFL bring the crazy ads back?

The CFL and its franchises have done some zany promotions over the years, and it's always fun when some of them are dug up decades later. The latest example? This 1986 Rambo-themed commercial Saskatchewan Roughriders Nick Hebeler, Rick Goltz and Al Johns did to promote an August game against the old Ottawa Rough Riders, a great find by Stephen Douglas of The Big Lead:

There really doesn't seem to be a great deal of rhyme or reason to this: while the first Rambo movie, First Blood, was shot in Canada, it was filmed near Hope, B.C., not in Saskatchewan, and the 1986 timing of this ad is a year after 1985's First Blood: Part II and two years before Rambo III. There aren't a lot of connections between either the Roughriders (named after either the old North-West Mounted Police or Teddy Roosevelt's famed cavalry) or the Rough Riders (named after Roosevelt's troops or the Ottawa valley's loggers) and the Rambo series, either, so this was probably just "Hey, these films are popular! Let's parody them." Still, this isn't even the most bizarre CFL promotion of that era, as the Roughriders' famed 1988 music video probably takes that title:

And the league itself made some pretty unusual ads in the 1990s "Radically Canadian" era, including the famed "Our Balls Are Bigger" campaign and this video talking with Americans about the CFL's lack of fair catches:

You don't see promotions like this any more, and that has some advantages; today's CFL and team ads are much slicker, with better production values and some impressive results. Consider this year's Kiefer Sutherland-narrated "It Reflects Us All" video:

However, while the serious and reflective commercials have their place, there's still a value to flat-out zaniness, and while there have been a few efforts along those lines (Kate McKenna's Fantuz Flakes parody comes to mind), they've decreased in recent years. From this quarter, that's a shame; embracing the weirdness can be fun, and funny commercials like that 1986 Riders' one are always going to get more attention than the purely serious. There's still plenty of opportunities for humour to promote this league, and teams and the CFL itself should exploit that. Hey, maybe if the Argonauts and Roughriders somehow meet in the Grey Cup, Toronto could do a rebuttal to this commercial with receiver Ken-Yon Rambo. (Or the Argos could have Rambo, fellow receiver Pacino Horn and kicker Swayze Waters team up for an all-action parody! "The Not-So-Expendables", perhaps?) The CFL's a much more professionally-run and serious league than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, and by and large, that's a good thing. There's still a place for having fun, though, and the attention these old commercials have drawn illustrates that. Let's bring them back, but do a better job all around this time.

Hat-tip to Neate Sager for passing along the TBL post.

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