The questions have been thrown downfield in my direction more and more frequently in the last few months. Like a reliable wide receiver awaiting accurate passes, each time I attempt to respond with at least some form of acknowledgement.
Whether I’ve run into an acquaintance in a local restaurant, or been approached by a total stranger while manoeuvring a grocery cart through Sobeys, football is on their minds. Canadian football. Atlantic Schooners football.
Whatever their wordage, whatever their intent, their queries have been tossed at me for an opinion: Am I getting excited that a Canadian Football League franchise might soon be operating at Shannon Park or on a field somewhere else in Halifax-Dartmouth?
My reply: Not at all.
Do I think the proposed Schooners — after previous failed attempts — will finally become reality in a new stadium, more than likely on the Dartmouth side of the harbour?
Again, I’m not jumping with glee.
Yes, I admit, my personal opinion has been altered dramatically — by a full 360 degrees — over the last number of decades.
Once upon a time, some 35 CFL seasons ago, I was being asked to “come aboard” the J.I. Albrecht version of the Schooners in an executive position. At that time, I was honestly believing in his effort.
How wrong I was. How lucky I was that I turned him down.
When J.I.’s Schooners lost their sails without ever being launched into professional football waters, I began to think we would never see a Metro-based team playing games with the likes of the Toronto Argonauts, Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
That belief has not changed despite the announcements that an Atlantic team may soon become a reality.
Once upon another time, long before I first met Albrecht, I believed in the CFL, I actually cheered for the Argos and watched many games on television, even in the black-and-white era. As I recall, I even enjoyed the Canadian game more than the big NFL version of the sport south of the border.
In the 1970s, when I was sports editor of The Chronicle Herald, I was being sent to cover Grey Cup games each November. I attended championship battles in Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal — and loved those assignments.
It was from my involvement with the CFL in those years that I was being swayed by Albrecht to leave the newspaper world and become director of community relations for his franchise.
My interests are so different now. I don’t even watch the CFL anymore — at least not until the playoffs and Grey Cup. Many, many times since 1983, I’ve thought about what a huge mistake I would have made had I followed J.I. into his dream.
Once his Schooners failed, once he left town, I never saw him again.
J.I., who moved to Cape Breton and began a football program at the University College of Cape Breton, died in 2008. He had spent 53 of his 77 years in college and professional sports. His controversial personality may have developed enemies along the way, but I actually liked the guy.
As I’ve noted, I haven’t watched a single CFL game this year. Not even for five minutes. Yet I could hardly wait for the NFL to swing into schedule this past weekend. Yeah, I’m a New England Patriots fan.
That brings me back to the current questions I’m being asked. My response must include a question of my own: Will this latest effort to get Nova Scotia into the CFL really succeed?
Maybe it can happen. Maybe stadium funding, public or private, will become available. Maybe if a stadium is built, the fans will come.
I just have to be persuaded on all of those points before I can even suggest the Schooners will sail, and sail successfully.
It’s been the CFL’s hope for a long time that a Halifax-based team would give the league a 10-team operation with a balanced five-game schedule each and every week.
But even if all the obstacles involving a Maritime club are overcome, what if, down the road, there’s a possibility the very league itself collapses? I say that with thoughts of the situation in Toronto.
Hockey’s Maple Leafs are the centre of the hockey world. Basketball’s Raptors have shown what happens when there’s a championship. Baseball’s Blue Jays are in the midst of developing a great group of youngsters for the future.
But what positive thing can be said about the Argonauts and the CFL’s future in what has become the third largest city on the continent? What would happen to the Canadian league if Toronto got an NFL franchise, something that’s long overdue? Could the CFL survive without the country’s biggest city and biggest media centre?
That may happen someday. Right now the attention is on whether or not Nova Scotia becomes franchise number 10.
The Halifax area has shown it can support sports teams. The hockey Mooseheads have proven that for 20 years. The HFX Wanderers FC has revealed there’s a huge local soccer interest in the Canadian Premier League.
Could the Schooners do likewise?
Many folks who live in this part of the country, who pay provincial and municipal taxes, say that a local football team must finance itself, including the construction of a stadium, if there is to be a franchise.
Those folks claim there are far more significant problems in this province than financially helping a privately-owned football team.
That’s why, in 2019, I can’t get excited about the Schooners the way I did three and a half decades ago.