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When Americans endured ‘bush-league’ Canadian football


NBC had a problem.

It was the NFL’s broadcast partner, bringing American football fans — and some Canadians — the game they loved.

But when the league went on strike in 1982, it left a gaping hole in the broadcast schedule. So they turned to the next best thing: Canadian football.

The CBC’s Tom Alderman was there to see how they did it.

‘Cram course’ for broadcasters

NBC football broadcaster John Brodie tried to absorb the rules of Canadian football in one day. (The Journal/CBC Archives)

“The NBC network rushed its telecast crew north to Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium,” said Alderman in a report the next day, “and airlifted its broadcast team up for a feverish, one-day cram course on the Canadian game.”

The Americans had a lot of questions about the finer points of Canadian football rules versus American rules.

“What’s so unique about the run-and-shoot?” asked NBC broadcaster John Brodie. “What does that mean?”

But by the time the first game broadcast on NBC began — a match-up between the Toronto Argonauts and the B.C. Lions on Sept. 26, 1982 — Brodie had it down pat. He described a play as “the old run-and-shoot.”

“The ‘old’ run-and-shoot?” exclaimed Alderman. “Hard to believe he just heard about it for the first time the day before!” 

But the people watching the game in a New York City bar were not convinced the quality of the Canadian game compared. 

Fans still had questions

In a New York bar, a vote is held — and American sports fans have had enough of Canadian football. 2:00

“Is it sorta like junior-league or sandlot football?” asked one woman. “Do you go up there and play for a while until you’re good enough for American football?” 

“It looked like high-school football,” another fan told Alderman. “The people who couldn’t make it in the NFL went to Canada and why should we watch them?”

But he did have praise for one aspect of the game.

“Cheerleaders weren’t bad,” he said. “Looked like some talent there.”

When the bartender took a vote on whether the room wanted to stick with the CFL or switch to Major League Baseball, it wasn’t hard to tell what won: baseball.

“It looked like high school football,” said a fan who was unimpressed with the CFL game. (The Journal/CBC Archives)

Read more at CBC.ca