TORONTO — It's a first for David Thomson and NFL Canada.
The organization has opened the '22 season with The Huddle, a first-ever pop-up sports bar event. The aim is to celebrate the league's Canadian fans and give those in southern Ontario "a unique viewing experience."
"Nothing really pulls people together quite like the NFL," said Thomson, the vice-president and managing director, NFL Canada. "What we really wanted to do this year with the NFL Huddle concept was to create a one-of-a-kind, viewing experience in Toronto by bringing all fans, frankly, to the ultimate NFL sports bar.
"So we've taken over a partner venue in downtown Toronto for five prime-time games as an opportunity for fans, new and old, to really come in and have the ultimate NFL experience."
The Huddle launched the opening week of the season with the Green Bay Packers 27-10 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night and also included the Buffalo Bills 41-7 win over Tennessee on Monday night.
It resumed Thursday night with the Cleveland Browns' 29-17 decision over the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Sunday night, it will be held in conjunction with the San Francisco-Denver contest before concluding with the Dallas-New York Giants game Monday night.
Those in attendance can watch the games being featured but also take part in various gaming and tailgate activities. Team merchandise is also available for purchase and there are draws held for a variety of prizes.
Veteran NFL performers, like former Buffalo Bill Eric Moulds, will also be on hand to speak and interact with fans. Moulds participated in the Monday night festivities while Vernon Davis, a former Pro Bowl tight end with San Francisco (2006-15), Denver (2015) and Washington (2016-19), will attend Sunday's event.
Tickets are available for $10 to those 19 years of age and over at nflhuddle.ca. All proceeds will go to Interval House, Canada's first centre for women survivors of intimate partner violence and their children.
"That made it a no-brainer for me" said Moulds. "I also liked the opportunity to come back Toronto, where I have a lot of friends who I got the chance to see.
"Doug Flutie (a former Toronto Argonauts and Bills quarterback) always talked about Toronto and what the city meant to him and the fans there are tremendous. Some of my fondest memories are going to Toronto for NBA and hockey games and it's really a great thing what The Huddle is doing, giving fans the complete NFL experience."
Canada is well represented within the NFL, with 21 Canadians currently on active and practice rosters, the most of any international country. In fact, the Los Angeles Chargers have four Canucks on their active roster, including rookie defensive back Deane Leonard, a 22-year-old Calgary who helped the Calgary Dinos capture the 2019 Vanier Cup before heading to Ole Miss.
The others included defensive lineman Christian Covington (Vancouver), linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga (Calgary) and receiver Josh Palmer (Brampton, Ont). Leonard, a '22 seventh-round draft pick, is also participating in The Huddle program.
"To involve someone like Deane Leonard is really about helping to inspire the next generation of fans and players," Thomson said. "When we get a chance to see that players from Canada can make the NFL at really skilled positions I think it really helps inspire that next generation of fans and players.
"I think we as Canadian fans can really adopt any team but it really is incredible to see how many Canadians have made the Chargers roster. Obviously every team in our league is there to find the best of the best and I think we're fortunate to have such great Canadian players on the Chargers roster."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.
The Canadian Press