This time, on this Sunday in late November, there are no horses roaming around in a hotel lobby, a tradition dating back to 1948.
There’s no Pigskin Pete chanting ‘Oskee Wee Wee!’ from street corners or the sidelines.
Groceries stores in the host Grey Cup city aren’t running low on watermelons, after a green wave of fans from Saskatchewan showed up to party.
And there will be no fly-over above the stadium just minutes before game time, the surge of the jet engines injecting excitement and electricity into the venue.
Fans, many bleary-eyed from a week-long bender, aren’t waking up on this Sunday having to will themselves awake and muster up one last push to kick-off.
For the first time since 1919 the Grey Cup won’t be awarded to a deserving Canadian Football League team and that means the shenanigans that goes with a quintessentially Canadian and quirky celebration isn’t playing out either.
Instead, Mosaic Stadium in Regina which was meant to host this year’s championship game sits empty, more than 33,000 green, plastic chairs out in the cold. The snow hasn’t been cleared from the aisles awaiting the rush of fans to take their seats.
The lights and buzz and hum of Grey Cup Sunday, hushed.
This is a dark time in the league’s history. Unable to play in 2020 after the league officially cancelled the season in August, many questions still remain as the CFL tries to remain optimistic about its future, earlier this week releasing a “comeback” 2021 schedule.
But this isn’t the first time the CFL has been in a precarious position. In past decades, there have been times the league teetered on the edge of collapse, only to find a way to play another season. And much like the league itself, the Grey Cup trophy has also endured.
Commissioned at a cost of $48 in 1909, the 13-inch silver chalice with a wooden base certainly comes from humble beginnings. That small trophy has grown mightily over the years, becoming the grand, shiny, prize players hold over their heads after winning it – sometimes they break it too.
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In fact, the Grey Cup has been broken too many times to count now – overzealous players so thrilled to finally hoist it, snapping the original top from its base. The trophy has been stolen twice, held ransom once and even survived a 1947 fire that destroyed numerous artifacts housed in the same building.
This Sunday, though, the trophy won’t be ushered out by Mounties and presented to the champions.
And for as much as the championship has been about two teams waging war on the field in the hopes of names being etched into the side of the trophy, forever being a champion in Canada’s football league, it perhaps more importantly has been about bringing people together.
Whether a Ticats, Stamps, Bombers, Riders, Edmonton, Als, Argos, Lions or Redblacks fan and whether you’re a diehard or casual observer of the CFL, for millions of Canadians on this one Sunday in late November, the Grey Cup has symbolized community and celebration.
Forget the beach or some exotic foreign country, people plan their annual holidays around Grey Cup week — attend any one of these national celebrations and you’ll get the feeling it’s more like a family reunion, many of the same faces and costumes appearing year after year. The country this one week in November feels a little smaller and a lot more united.
It’s meant Shania Twain riding a dog sled into the stadium to perform the halftime show. It’s meant 13th Man heartbreak. The Fog Bowl in 1962, Ice Bowl in 1977 and the Snow Bowl 1996. John Candy in a long leather coat in Winnipeg, watching his Argos win it all. Tom Hanks and Martin Short in Regina.
It’s meant last-second field goals, body-contorting catches and plot twists in the waning minutes only the CFL can manufacture. No lead is ever safe.
It’s produced heroes, from Warren Moon to Tony Gabriel, Rocket to Pinball and Ridgway to Flutie. The list goes on.
The weight of not playing a CFL season is being felt today more than any other time throughout the last seven months because on this Sunday in late November, millions of Canadians are supposed to be gathering in their homes, placing their bets and enjoying their favourite snacks and beverages. It’s just what’s happened on this day in November for decades.
The league will survive. It always has. And that treasured trophy will be lifted to the heavens again as confetti swirls and the bright lights of the stadium shines down on the champions.
But on this Sunday in late November, the promise of what might just happen next over 60 minutes of Grey Cup football is gone.
And it’s missed.