TORONTO – In the CFL, the superstars are ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ at the same time. Players are accessible to fans through a variety of means. The players are down to earth and that’s one of the things that makes the league so beloved by those who follow it. You could say the same thing about those who run the league.
I was asked to cover the 2013 CFL Combine for the Argonauts. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and when I arrived, I needed some time to make sense of it all.
The room looked more like something I remembered from Grey Cup week in November last year. Argos sitting with Ti-Cats. Roughriders sitting with Eskimos. People were mingling together, wearing all manner of team colours – and they were laughing and telling stories. Except, these were the CFL’s coaches, general managers, and player personnel types – not fans.
And they were sober.
“It’s one of the few times that coaches and other coaches get together in the same room,” said Calgary Stampeder Head Coach, John Hufnagel, “It is a nice little get together.”
“There’s a lot of camaraderie until you start competing,” said Edmonton Eskimo Defensive Coordinator, Greg Marshall, “There’s not too much sharing of information, but there is a lot of kibitzing and exchanging stories and laughs and all that kind of stuff.”
Everyone was approachable. I chatted briefly with Hamilton Ti-Cat Head Coach, Kent Austin – who thanked me afterwards for talking to him. Eric Tillman is someone whom I met only once, and then only for a couple minutes. When I shook his hand he looked at me and remembered the time and place of our meeting. Jim Popp and Joe Mack had a real bromance going on. Scott Milanovich nodded politely in my direction as I walked passed him.
“It’s a small league right, so you get to see people,” said Argos’ Director of Canadian Scouting, Ted Goveia. “You play each other 3 or 4 times a year, and at the end of the day, you’re competing. But that’s the joy of working in pro sports, is that you can have a rapport with guys.”
The combine itself has become a much bigger event than it ever was in the past. The room was as much a TV studio as it was an evaluation centre. Lights were hung, banners raised, and the CFL’s best foot was definitely put forward.
I guess there were players there too. They were being evaluated for the 2013 draft or something. I wasn’t really paying attention. My focus was on evaluating the vibe in the room.
The League has never been in a stronger position. There’s a shiny new TV deal afoot. Marketing opportunities abound. Sponsors lining up. Fans buying tickets. Stadiums being built.
For the CFL in 2013, the sky’s the limit, even as it remains completely down to earth.