For decades, the CFL has served as a periodic curiosity for Americans. At one point, the Canadian equivalent of the NFL invaded the contiguous 48, with a quintent U.S. teams including the short-lived “Baltimore CFL Colts.”
The NFL revved up the litigation engine, and the “CFL Colts” became the “Baltimore Football Club” in 1994 and the “Baltimore Stallions” in 1995, the year they won the Grey Cup. Then, the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens and the Stallions vacated the country, with the franchise moving back to Montreal and resurrecting the Alouettes.
The Alouettes have renewed relevance to American football fans again because former NFL receiver Chad Johnson/Ochocinco/Johnson has joined Montreal after two seasons out of football. He compared catching a single pass in a preseason game to losing his virginity (hopefully, the story of how he lost his virginity is a bit more interesting), and Chad caught only two passes in his regular-season debut.
Peter King of TheMMQB.com, which devoted an entire week to covering the CFL, talked to Johnson on the field after the game.
“A joy,” Johnson told King regarding the experience. “A joy. That feeling, as a kid, you wake up on Christmas, the excitement. I’m just thankful to have a chance to play again. I didn’t care about catches, I didn’t care about the ball. I mean, the feeling just being part of something again, being part of this organization. . . . I mean, words really can’t describe how it felt, to lose something that I worked for all my life and have it snatched from me because of my irresponsibilities and my mistakes. A lesson was learned. Humbling experience. I don’t know what to say. It’s awesome.”
His performance wasn’t exactly awesome. King points out that Johnson lined up split to the right, avoiding much of the pre-snap motion and maneuvering that, coupled with the 20-second play clock, makes playing receiver a “track meet,” as Johnson called it. He got little help from former NFL quarterback and Heisman winner Troy Smith, who per King threw “wild pitches” and generally “looked inaccurate, and that’s putting it mildly.”
American interest in the CFL remains tepid, and that’s putting it mildly. But with ESPN acquiring exclusive CFL broadcasting rights, there’s a chance the audience will be force fed more than Chris Berman’s perfunctory Grey Cup references in November.
It’s apparently working for soccer, largely because of the American angle. So maybe the CFL should move a team or two back to the U.S.