The cross-country Grey Cup Tour has taken the trophy to some remarkable places, including Iqaluit and Halifax, and that continued Wednesday with a visit to Parliament Hill. Legendary Canadian quarterback and famed Ottawa Rough Rider Russ Jackson was on hand with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, and they brought the Cup into a sitting of the legislature. (This makes sense, considering that the federal government has chipped in $5 million in funding for Grey Cup Festival events, including the tour.) It was primarily a photo op, of course, but this and the tour's other stops in Ottawa (including events at Rideau Hall every day from Sunday until today) could also be an excellent way to get people talking about Ottawa's forthcoming, as-yet-unnamed expansion team, which is set to begin play in 2014.
In that respect, Jackson is the perfect guy to bring in here. The old Rough Riders (and their later incarnation, the Renegades) had plenty of notable players and won nine Grey Cups, but Jackson remains one of their most enduring legends. He spent all 12 years of his CFL career with Ottawa, is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and is still well-regarded around the league. He led Ottawa to Grey Cups in 1960, 1968 and 1969 (that last one, held in Montreal against the background of the FLQ Crisis, is the subject of TSN's Playing A Dangerous Game documentary, airing Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern ahead of the Lions-Stampeders clash), and he has been prominently involved in the Ottawa community since his playing days ended. He's also probably the best Canadian quarterback ever to play in the CFL, notable considering how tough the league's rules make it for non-import pivots, and he was involved in one of the greatest CFL quotes ever: Argonauts' coach Leo Cahill's 1969 comments that it would take an "act of God" for Ottawa to beat Toronto in the second leg of the East Final, before the field froze into ice and Jackson walked across the Rideau Canal and did just that. It's difficult to think of a better ambassador for the CFL in Ottawa, and his exuberance won approval from even non-football fans.
With the CFL, there's always a debate over how prominently history should figure. Some argue that the league is too stuck in the past, and this year's wave of history events with prominence given to former players like Jackson isn't going to win them over. However, it's the history that really makes this league so special, and that's why the 100th Grey Cup game is such an impressive accomplishment. The CFL's had so much working against it at various times over the years, from franchise instability to ill-fated expansions to inept owners to competition from other sports. Through it all, it's survived and thrived, and that's remarkable.
It's history that's about more than just games won and lost, too. As we've seen through TSN's documentaries thus far, this league's had profound impacts on everyone from Saskatchewan nuns to quarterbacks growing up in Portsmouth, Ohio and La Puente, California, and it's reflected a lot of important Canadian stories along the way. That should be kept in mind with the new Ottawa team, and while some of us still heartily disagree with Saskatchewan's attempts to thwart the return of the Rough Riders' name, it's reassuring to hear that the league's at least applied for those trademarks and plans to use them to honour the team's history. Yes, it's how the new team is run on and off the field that's going to determine its ultimate success or failure, not what it's called or how well they work with former Rough Riders and Renegades players. The league office and the existing teams realize the not-insignificant value of history, though, as has been shown over and over this fall. Here's hoping Jeff Hunt and his Ottawa ownership group are taking notes.
Correction: This post initially had one of Jackson's Grey Cups in 1963, not 1968. It's been updated.