Keep the 'C' in CFL

Would Canadians such as Als slotback Ben Cahoon have a chance to strut their stuff if the CFL...

Would Canadians such as Als slotback Ben Cahoon have a chance to strut their stuff if the CFL starts to reduce the number of Canadians on each team? (Sun Media/Darren Makowichuk)

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

The call came right out of the blue, the voice on the other end of the line unfamiliar.

It didn't take long to realize he was a passionate CFL fan, which, in itself, wasn't unusual.

Where he was from, and what he was calling about, was.

Chris Cataline is a 52-year-old bus driver living in Modesto, Calif.

And on this day he was driving home a point about the CFL's proposal to reduce the number of starting Canadians in the game.

It's a rule change the league hopes to include in the next collective bargaining agreement, taking effect next year.

A change an American CFL fan was so riled up about, he just had to make a long-distance call to vent.

"This is the thing you guys should cherish the most, and the thing the league should promote the most," Cataline began. "It makes me very mad. Just keep the league as it is."

Now, you're probably thinking the same thing I was: why would a Yank from the Sunshine State give a rat's behind about three-down football, let alone how many Canucks are playing it?

It turns out Cataline discovered the Canadian game in the late 1960s, when he was 11 or 12 and his dad took the boys on a trip north.

"I picked up an old Vancouver Sun," Cataline recalled. "Paul Brothers was the starting quarterback for the Lions then, I remember that. Dick Thornton was with the Blue Bombers. I just fell in love with the league."

Cataline can rattle off names like Jack Delveaux, Frank Rigney, Ernie Pitts, Dick Shatto, Eagle Day, Earl Lunsford, Joe Zaleski, John Michels and Piffles Taylor.

He'll wax poetic about the Fog Bowl, Edmonton's old Clarke Stadium and Lansdowne Park in Ottawa.

"It's a great league. And it's about the only league that's left that was like the leagues of my youth," he said. "Today all leagues have more franchises than McDonald's. It's nuts that a 52-year-old man would get this impassioned about it. But it's one of the few things I've got left, and I don't want to see anybody screw with it."

Cataline is worried the tall foreheads who run the loop today don't appreciate the league's history, that they'd just as soon create NFL-north.

He can't believe there are Canadians who'd rather watch the NFL, which he calls a "corporate, bloated and over-hyped conglomerate."

"On any given Sunday up there, any game between any two cities carries with it the freight of over 50 years of tradition and rivalry and fan involvement, and stories passed down from generation to generation to generation.

"Now, you go to the NFL, tell me what an Arizona Cardinals and, say, a Jacksonville Jaguars matchup means. I'll bet they haven't played a half dozen times in their histories."

It struck me Cataline was more passionate about the CFL than most Canadians are. And he can't even go to games -- he follows the league on the web.

"I want some of your countrymen to quit apologizing for not being the NFL," he said. "There's an attitude that if it's American it's gotta be better. And that's not true. In a lot of areas that's not true. Like with beer and beans, sometimes less is more."

Cataline's dream is to make it back to Canada to see a game.

"I've gotta get to Ivor Wynne or that place in Regina or Winnipeg -- I've gotta see one of those old parks while they're still around."

If he ever makes it, he wants the CFL he sees to be the one he remembers. One that celebrates its Canadians.

"It's a real short step," Cataline concluded. "From having even more American starters to finally somebody saying, 'Well, sh--, why don't we just turn on the NFL?' "

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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