CALGARY - Even with the craziness of Swaggerville, the wasp’s nest that is Riderville and a team playing under an Empire banner, going on the road hasn’t been much of a problem for CFL teams this season.
If Week 12 showed us anything (other than a bust of Don Matthews looks scarily similar to the man himself) is that anybody can lose in their friendly confines.
And if this season continues the way it’s headed, something could happen in 2011 that has only occurred once in the last 50 years.
With a combined 22-22 record right now, road teams in the CFL are flirting with eliminating the entire concept of home-field advantage. Not since the 1983 season, when road teams recorded a 36-35-1 mark, have teams travelling won more often than they’ve lost.
Since the beginning of Canadian football more than 100 years ago, home teams have won 59% of the time. Only five times in history have home teams lost more than they’ve won, which makes this season a special one, even if it’s parity that is probably the root cause of the trend.
Going week to week, some of the results make no sense. The boys from Swaggerville were humiliated by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Banjo Bowl a week ago, but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers turned around and beat the defending Grey Cup champions in Montreal this weekend.
Even with a beat-up quarterback and after four players missed the team flight, the Bombers manned up to win at Molson Stadium.
Another reason road teams are doing well is they travel in luxury compared to year’s past. Several teams are taking charter flights for their trips, including the Calgary Stampeders, who have a 5-0 mark away from home this season.
For years, the Roughriders complained about terrible travel schedules in and out of Regina, so this year, they chartered to Winnipeg for the Banjo Bowl.
A year ago, they flew west to Calgary for a long layover before heading to Winnipeg. They were crushed 31-2. This year, with an hour flight in comfort, they won 45-23. Coincidence? Probably not.
The Riders have always been a strong home team due to the noise their fans generate, but they were 0-4 at Mosaic Stadium before Labour Day.
The B.C. Lions struggled during their entire tenure at Empire Field, so they will try to improve on a 2-3 home mark in 2011 with four games remaining at the renovated B.C. Place Stadium. The dome used to be a tough place to get a win, but there’s no telling what it will be like with the new roof.
Even the team that looked like one of the strongest home clubs, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, couldn’t defend the Ivor Wynne Stadium turf last week. Coming off a Labour Day win over the Alouettes at home, the Ticats were expected to bounce back against the Edmonton Eskimos at home. The Eskimos instead recorded their second straight road win by manhandling the Tiger-Cats, who are still tied for the best home record at 4-2.
The old saying that anyone can win on ‘any given Sunday’ has certainly been true this season, which begs the question: Why fight for home-field advantage in the post-season?
Host teams in the Grey Cup are 0-2 since the last time one — the 1994 Lions — won the championship game, and all it takes is a couple of road wins to get there.
In fact, two Grey Cup winners in the last 25 years actually fell below .500 at home. Both the ’89 Roughriders and 2001 Stampeders were 4-5 at home during the regular season and went on the road for Grey Cup victories.