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Horsing around during the Grey Cup

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November 22, 2012

CALGARY, AB, Nov. 22, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Rumour has it there’s a big football game this weekend in Toronto.

This has a lot of people excited. Mostly about the fact that it’s being played indoors, in Toronto’s Rogers Centre, which used to be called the Skydome, but is now named after one of those wireless companies we love to hate so much. Anyway, the company can’t be all bad, because the game will be played with the roof closed.

Back to the game. It’s a big deal to a lot of people. Not including my wife, who confessed to me last night that she didn’t know the Grey Cup existed until about five years ago. She tells me she’s a Cleveland Browns fan, mostly because she went to one of their games when she was a kid and her family lived in Cleveland.

But this is Toronto, which is richer than Cleveland and more economical with its downs. The Canadian Football League certainly plays a different game than the NFL, all right, even if two-thirds of the players are from the United States and couldn’t make the NFL draft.

Given such mediocrity, you could argue this is just another game. But, then again, maybe it’s not.

This, we are told, is an epic battle – East versus West in a game that not only pits two of the league’s most successful strategists against each other, but also represents a clash of our country’s two biggest civic egos – buttoned-down Toronto versus Ranchman’s raunchy Calgary.

In fact, when the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders throw their teams’ overdeveloped muscular bodies at each other in this Sunday’s 100th Grey Cup, it will symbolize an ideological clash almost as great as the first Canada/USSR hockey series. Think of it as the establishment against the mavericks; Bay Street versus the Oil Patch; clothier Harry Rosen versus designer Paul Hardy.

Bring it on.

As with all such contests, there is some pretty serious mischief going on behind the scenes. The Stampeders, for example, want to bring a real, live horse to gallop along the sidelines every time the pride of the west scores a touchdown. Not on our artificial turf, Toronto has declared, and high-level negotiations are under way to resolve the diplomatic standoff.

Horsing around appears to be at the heart of this hoedown. It’s a tradition that goes back to 1948 when hundreds of Calgary Stampeders fans descended on Toronto for their team’s first appearance in the championship game. They brought chuckwagons and horses, and organized a pancake breakfast for stodgy Torontonians. And when Calgary won, its future mayor, Don Mackay, rode his horse into the lobby of the Royal York Hotel.

That was probably pretty cool at the time – fortunately, I’m too young to say that I was there. But the unintended consequence has been the creation of a parade of cliches, forcing the western visitors to uphold the tradition by assuming the cartoon-like personality that is their city’s brand.

No matter that cowtown had just 100,000 hardy residents back in 1948, and really was just a few oil barrels away from its ranching roots. Real Calgarians today are about as authentically western as Roy Rogers – all show and no go. Most of them couldn’t find their way to the top of a horse if they were spotted a stepladder.

More cliches: I’ll bet you’ve heard the one about the mayors. You know, the story about the hip Muslim progressive and the right-wing buffoon who were reportedly switched at birth and ended up in each others’ cities? Enough already about that. Calgary has a mayor; Toronto has a long-running political joke. It won’t change the outcome of the game.

And speaking of which, don’t ask me who is going to win this Sunday’s contest; I don’t have a clue. I only know that if the Argos look for inspiration from the city’s baseball or hockey teams, their fate is already sealed – humiliation at the hands of the cowboys from the west.

And such cowboys those westerners are, like hero quarterback Kevin Glenn who stepped up when the number one hurler was injured and has carried the team most of the season.

There’s a player who encapsulates our western Canadian pride, all right. Which is all the more remarkable when you realize, he’s from Detroit.

Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist of Troy Media.

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