The professional Canadian Football League (CFL) plays American Football under the only slightly different Canadian rules. Though the CFL is considerably older than the National Football League (if one counts its predecessor, the Canadian Rugby Union), and its rules remain closer to those originally developed for gridiron football (so much that several games over the past century between American and Canadian teams have been contested under essentially the same rules), there has been a substantial Adaptation Displacement making U.S.-style football far better known worldwide.
Among the main differences are 12 men per side versus 11, 3 downs per series versus 4, the neutral zone being a full yard wide rather than just a football's length (meaning that quickness is more important for Canadian offensive linemen than it is in the U.S. game; also, if third down is within a yard of the first down marker, the offence will more often than not attempt to convert), a 110-yard long field with 20-yard end zones (Originally 25 yards but shortened in the 1980s, and virtually all of the American teams had end zones only 15 yards [or less] deep due to the constraints of putting the Canadian field into American stadiums) versus 100/10, goal posts placed on the goal line rather than the end line (the American game also had the goal posts on the goal line prior to 1927 at the college level and from 1933 to 1974 in the NFL), unlimited backfield players in motion, and the fact that any kick that goes into the end zone and isn't returned (including missed field goals) counts for one point (a "single" or "rouge"). Since the 2000 season, overtime in the CFL uses the "Kansas Playoff" format used in the NCAA rather than using the NFL's modified sudden-death format; from 1986 to 1999, the CFL used two (non-sudden death) five-minute halves.note These rules open up the passing game considerably and result in several otherwise unmemorable NFL players being able to do very well in the CFL, as well as the inverse. The leader for combined passing yards in all North American professional football leagues, Anthony Calvillo, played exclusively in the CFL and quarterbacks like Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia have done extremely well in the CFL despite average careers in the US note . CFL supporters in Canada tend to point to this as evidence of a more exciting game while NFL supporters point out that there is a significant difference in skill between the two leagues. At any rate, the NFL and CFL have always had a good relationship, and were more or less on equal footing until the 1980's, when broadcasting rights to NFL games became ridiculously lucrative.
The CFL season starts in mid-June and ends with the CFL championship game, the Grey Cup, at the end of November. The CFL season starts in the summer and ends in November to avoid playing in the winter, since almost every team except for the BC Lions plays in an open air stadium, and to avoid getting overshadowed by the NHL regular season and for the CFL's American fans, NCAA bowl games and the NFL playoffs. After a two game preseason, each team plays an 18 game regular season schedule in a modified double round robin format, with each team playing six teams twice and two divisional opponents thrice. At the end of the regular season, six teams advance to the CFL playoffs. The top team in each division earns an automatic berth - as well as home field advantage - in their respective divisional finals. In the divisional semifinals, the second place team hosts the either the third place team within their own division OR the fourth place team from the opposing division, provided they have a better record than the native third place team.note The winners of the divisional semifinals advance to their respective divisional finals, and the winners of divisional finals play for the Grey Cup.
The Grey Cup game is a major annual event in Canada, and the Grey Cup trophy is considered to be a major symbol of Canadian sport, although it's not as well known as The Stanley Cup by non-Canadians. Like its hockey counterpart, the Grey Cup is named for a British nobleman who served as Canada's Governor Generalnote and was originally commissioned as an amateur trophy; however, it became solely contested by the CFL's predecessor leaguesnote by 1954, is reused every year and the name of winning players, coaches, and executives are engraved upon it. Similar to the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup game is hosted at a predetermined site every year; however, with six teams out of nine in the playoffs, it is not uncommon for a team to play for the Grey Cup in their own stadiumnote - this is in marked contrast to the NFL which has not seen a team compete in the Super Bowl in its own stadium in 53 editionsnote and often sees teams whose stadium hosts the game not even make the playoffs.
As a side note, since many Grey Cups were televised by the CBC, they are archived much better than early Super Bowls. Kinescopes of games going back to 1956 can be seen on YouTube in their entirety, whereas tapes of most of the first four Super Bowls are lost.
As of the end of the 2018 CFL season, the roster of CFL teams consists of:
- BC Lions: AKA the Leos. Created in 1954 and has never folded. It has long had to compete with hockey for fans' attention and lost miserably on this front, but events starting in the late 2000s have given it a large insurgence of viewers. No inherent major rival, since the other four teams of the Western Division are all preoccupied with each other (even during years when Winnipeg's in the East). However, it takes the place of Montreal's "rival" in rivalry matchups when Ottawa's on hiatus or otherwise preoccupied. Despite being left out of much of the major drama this way and overshadowed by hockey, BC has made a lot of accomplishments, like being the first Western team to win a Grey Cup in their own stadium (and the only one until 2013) and the only Canadian team to beat a US team — fan favourite Baltimore — in the Grey Cup during the American experiment. Since the Argos' 2016 move to BMO Field, the Lions are the only CFL team to regularly play in a fixed or retractable roof stadium, since the Als as of late only use Stade Olympique to host the Grey Cup.
- Edmonton Eskimos: AKA the Esks (and originally the Esquimaux). Though Toronto has the most Grey Cup wins of the overall history of the league, Edmonton has the most Grey Cup wins of the league in its current incarnation, and is thus a very popular team. Continuing the "Battle of Alberta" tradition made famous by the NHL, its main rival is Calgary.
- Calgary Stampeders: AKA the Stamps. The current Grey Cup champions. Founded in 1935, this team was originally called the Calgary Broncs. Its main rival is Edmonton due to the aforementioned provincial rivalry. Saskatchewan has also been listed as a rival in recent years, but its animosity was not for Calgary itself but for its star player, Henry Burris; Burris was traded away in 2012, eliminating this reason for heat with Rider fans. However, the sheer number of former Saskatchewan residents in Calgary (thus Riders fans at McMahon Stadium) and the memory of previous venom often leads to friction when the teams play in Calgary. A fight in the stands will erupt during most games.
- Saskatchewan Roughriders: AKA the Riders. Founded in 1910 and based in Saskatchewan's provincial capital of Regina. Not usually a successful team, though there have been seasonal exceptions, the Riders are nevertheless known for their absolutely devoted fans, to the point of being called the Canadian counterpart of the Packers.note Their major rival is Winnipeg, (often) crossing division lines, especially after an incident in which a Winnipeg player recalled a provincial stereotype in an interview and referred to the Saskatchewan population as "banjo-pickin' inbreds"note . However, much like Toronto, they also hate nearly every other team in the league for some grudge or another. For many years, the Riders were one of two similarly-named teams in the CFL. From the 1950s (when Canada's Eastern and Western leagues merged into the modern CFL) through 1996, the 'Riders co-existed with the Ottawa Rough Riders.
- Winnipeg Blue Bombers: AKA the Bombers. Founded in 1930. Though Winnipeg played Hamilton for the Grey Cup on numerous occasions before the division lines were enforced for the playoffs, its main rival is actually Saskatchewan, regardless of divisional alignment. The Bombers are the team the CFL traditionally uses to balance divisions — if there are four other Eastern teams, Winnipeg goes back to its traditional roots in the Western Division. When the East is down to three teams (during one of Montreal or Ottawa's hiatuses), Winnipeg moves to the East. Despite their 10 Grey Cup wins ranking 3rd all-time (only surpassed by the Argonauts and Eskimos), the Bombers currently hold the longest Grey Cup drought, having not won the Cup since 1990.
- Hamilton Tiger-Cats: AKA the Ti-Cats. Created in 1950 from a merger of two teams. Throughout the twentieth century, either Hamilton or one of the two teams it had been before the merger won the Grey Cup at least once per decade. Its rival is Toronto, being from the same province; Hamilton largely sustains the rivalry with an image of the working-class Hamilton people standing up to the stuck-up big-city upper class. Their stadium (Tim Hortons Field, which opened in 2014 on the site of the Ti-Cats' former Ivor Wynne Stadium) is notable for being smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood, giving home games a feel similar to a block party. The Tiger-Cats hold the second longest Grey Cup drought, not winning the Cup since 1999, and they also have not hosted the Grey Cup game since 1996.
- Toronto Argonauts: AKA the Argos. Founded in 1873, it is one of the oldest North American sports teams still existing and the oldest North American football team. Has the largest amount of Grey Cup wins in the league and the longest Grey Cup winning streak in part because it is the oldest and has also never folded. Has near-equal animosity towards the entire Eastern Division, but its main rival is Hamilton. Their team name is an Artifact Title (they were originally owned by the Argonaut Rowing Club) but has proven popular despite that; they've never once changed it. Since moving to the formerly MLS-specific BMO Field in 2016, the Argonauts are the only CFL team to play on a (mostly) grass field; however, since BMO Field wasn't originally designed for Canadian football, the end zones are artificial turf and are only 18 yards deep rather than the regulation 20 yards.
- Montreal Alouettes: AKA the Als. Created in 1946, this team has been in Montreal for most of its history. It folded in 1982, was immediately relaunched with new owners as the Montreal Concordes, restored the Alouettes name in 1986, folded again after that season, and was later recreated from the ex-Baltimore Stallions in 1996; to simplify record keeping, the original Alouettes, the Concordes, and the current team are considered by the league as one team which "suspended operations" from 1987 to 1995, while the Stallions are considered a separate franchise. Under GM Jim Popp and quarterbacks Tracy Ham & Anthony Calvillo, one of the strongest teams in the league from their 1996 return until the early 2010s. Their historical rival is Ottawa, though when Ottawa's not running, they'll claim Toronto, Edmonton, and/or BC just so they have someone — though they aren't that desperate, since they turned down an upstart prospective Quebec City team that tried to declare them its rivals before even officially trying to join the league. In May 2019, then-team owner Robert Wetenhall, the last remaining U.S.-based owner in the league, surrendered the Als franchise back to the CFL, citing his advanced age and recent losses both on and off the field; the CFL took over operations of the team while they find a new owner.
- Ottawa Redblacks ("Rouge et Noir" in French): Introduced in 2014, the Redblacks are the CFL's third team in Canada's capital city. The first, the Ottawa Rough Riders, was one of the oldest teams in the CFL, founded in 1876 and folded in 1996. The second team, the Renegades, only lasted for a few years before folding (it lasted 2002-2005). The league initially did not recognize the Redblacks or the Renegades as a continuation of the Rough Riders; however, the league, as of 2017, now recognizes the three Ottawa teams as a singular entity for record-keeping. The Redblacks own the intellectual property rights of the Rough Riders and honour the 10 numbers retired by their predecessor. With the issues regarding the redevelopment of Ottawa's football stadium and the area around it having been worked out, the way was cleared for the Redblacks to return the CFL to Ottawa. The new stadium, TD Place (formerly named Frank Clair Stadium, after an Ottawa Rough Riders legend), at the redeveloped Lansdowne Park, opened with the Redblacks' first home game on July 18, 2014; they won against the Toronto Argonauts. After a 2-16 inaugural campaign, the RedBlacks clinched the Eastern Division in only their second year of existence, marking the first time any club from Ottawa reached the Grey Cup game in over three decades, and would go on to win it all the season after, beating the heavily favoured Calgary Stampeders in overtime with their star quarterback, the aforementioned Henry Burris.
In recent years, especially after the success of the Ottawa Redblacks, the CFL has explored the idea of adding a tenth team to the league. One-off games have been played in Quebec City, Quebec; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Moncton, New Brunswick and all were well attended. An attempt was actually made back in 2009 to start up a Quebec City team (Montreal had won the Grey Cup that year), but the management of the Montreal Alouettes replied that any attempt to form another Quebec team would need to go through them and nothing has been heard since.
A CFL expansion team, the Atlantic Schooners (meant to represent all four Atlantic provinces), was awarded to Halifax in 1984, but never came to fruition. This came after the prospective franchise's owners lacked the funds needed to build a new stadium using land purchased in neighbouring Dartmouth. The Schooners are still included in official things that don't require an actual team, however; for example, when the Grey Cup rolls around, there's a party in the host city for each team and one for the Schooners. In 2017, a Halifax-based group, Maritime Football Limited, made a credible pitch to the CFL for a prospective tenth team in the Maritimes, and two days prior to the 2018 Grey Cup Championship, the league and Maritime Football announced that they would revive the Schooners identity and could launch as early as the 2021 season assuming stadium plans in Halifax go through.
West of Montreal, other locations often rumoured for CFL expansion include Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; London, Ontario; Windsor, Ontario; and Victoria, British Columbia. The Regina-based Roughriders argue that Saskatchewan, with a provincial population just barely above one million, is not populous enough to support a team in Saskatoon. For London and Windsor, the Argos, Ti-Cats, and Redblacks would likely object to a fourth team in Southern Ontario. Also, Windsor is on the Canada/US border next to Detroit, and a Windsor CFL team would almost certainly be overshadowed by the NFL's Lions, despite their near-perennial Butt-Monkey status, and the Big Ten's Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans; some proposals for a Windsor CFL team would have put the team in the Lions' former home of the Pontiac Silverdome (before it fell into serious neglect and was ultimately demolished), at least for playoff games. Victoria is unlikely to land a CFL team due to its relative isolation from mainland Canada on Vancouver Island and close proximity to the BC Lions in Vancouver and Seattle with the NFL's Seahawks and Pac-12's Washington Huskies.
In the early 1990s, despite the finances of the league itself and its owners in dire straits, the CFL expanded into the United States with little to no success.
- Ottawa Rough Riders: AKA the Red & Black. Ottawa's original CFL franchise that originated way back in 1876, before unceremoniously folding in 1996, despite decades of history and success. Winners of nine Grey Cups, including four from 1968-1976, but never posted a record above .500 after that, even in their 1981 Grey Cup finals run. Troubled ownership under Bernie Glieberman and Horn Chen in the 1990s, and a brief attempt by Glieberman to move the team to Shreveport, Louisiana didn't help matters, despite steady fan support. Succeeded by the Renegades and more successfully by the Redblacks, who bought the Rough Riders identity from Chen and recognize that team's 10 retired numbers. Their folding helped calm all of the jokes about the two out of the league's 8/9 teams having the same name, so there's that...
- Sacramento Gold Miners: AKA the Miners. For a trial period in the early-to-mid 1990s, the CFL also included a few American teams, with Sacramento joining first in 1993 as the league's only American entry (due to the San Antonio Texans folding before ever taking a snap.) Basically a renamed revival of the WLAF's Sacramento Surge, the team benefited from existing team chemistry & dedicated ownership. Despite decent on-field success (including a 9-8-1 record in 1994), the team never made the playoffs, and only exceeded 20,000 in attendance for the 1993 home opener. Unhappy with Hornet Stadium, the team packed its bags to become the new San Antonio Texans in 1995. Notable players included starting quarterback David Archer and future Hall of Fame running back Mike Pringle.
- Baltimore Stallions: FKA the CFL Colts and Baltimore Football Club. By far the most successful of the CFL USA teams, going 27-9 overall and reaching the Grey Cup in both the 1994 & 1995 seasons, winning in 1995, the only time (to date) the Grey Cup went south of the Canadian border. The team averaged over 30,000 fans a game throughout their run, and knew to sign CFL veterans on their roster and staff, including Hall of Famers Tracy Ham, Mike Pringle, Elfrid Payton, and coach Don Matthews. The team was sued by the NFL to keep them from going by the name "Baltimore CFL Colts", although this didn't stop Baltimore fans from using the Colts name (the PA announcer would give a pause after "Your Baltimore CFL" to allow the crowd to shout "Colts!" before finishing with "... football team"). By the start of the 1995 season, the team had settled on "Baltimore Stallions". While the American experiment ended in 1995, the Stallions were a strong enough franchise that they might have stayed, had Art Modell not been about to bring the Ravens to town. The news of an NFL team coming to town caused local media to virtually forget their excellent CFL team even existed. Given that Baltimore didn't have another stadium available to move into (the CFL and NFL seasons overlap) and they wouldn't be able to compete with the Ravens for fan support, the team was moved to Montreal as a revival of the Alouettes.
- Las Vegas Posse: Often considered the worst of the CFL's American franchises; they were a poorly-managed comedy of errors with a plethora of terrible stories, from their ticket sales (they went from hundreds for season tickets to five bucks a game with very little improvement in attendance) to their stadium (built American-style, not to mention open-air... in a desert for a league that plays over the summer) to the butchering of the Canadian national anthem in one infamous home game. They suffered so badly that they actually tried to fold mid-season. The league wouldn't let them. The Posse ended up being a warning in hindsight, with many other Vegas-based sports franchises suffering similar woes to theirs (at least, until the Golden Knights.) After a dismal 5-13 season in 1994, a planned relocation to Miami as the Manatees fell through. However, the Posse were the first pro team for future Hall of Fame quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who lasted 19 years in the league and went on to set the record for most career passing yards at any level of pro football.
- Shreveport Pirates: Created as a result of Bernie Glieberman's aborted plans to move the Ottawa Rough Riders to Shreveport (the CFL gave him an expansion team there if he sold the Riders), the team struggled to an 8-28 record in 1994 & 1995, but enjoyed strong fan support in the area, only behind Baltimore in average attendance, including over 30,000 fans in the 1994 season finale. Ownership remained an issue though, and a planned relocation to Norfolk, Virginia fell through, partly due to lawsuits by the city of Shreveport came out regarding defaulting on stadium debts. The team retained a devoted booster club of fans long after their final season. Notable players included quartetback Billy Joe Tolliver, kicker Bjorn Nittmo, and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Uzooma Okeke.
- Birmingham Barracudas: AKA the Cudas. The Cudas started off strong in attendance; however, attendance plummeted once the high school and college football seasons started. Team owner Art Williams tried to convince the league to let him play on Sundays, figuring that Alabamians weren't loyal to any one NFL teamnote ; however, this backfired. After their lone 1995 season, Williams attempted to sell the team to a group of investors who would move the team to Shreveport to replace the Pirates, but the sale fell through since the league wanted out of the States.
- Memphis Mad Dogs: After being passed over in the 1993 NFL expansion, FedEx founder Fred Smith was awarded a CFL expansion franchise in 1995. The Mad Dogs' home field, the Liberty Bowl Stadium, could not fit the Canadian field at all; the stadium had to use "yards" measuring only 33 inches and the end zones were an odd pentagon shape less than 12 yards deep. Much like fellow Deep South city Birmingham, the Mad Dogs drew well early in the season, but attendance tanked once the high school and college seasons started. Two years after the Mad Dogs' folding, Memphis finally got a long-desired NFL team... sort of. The Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) relocated from Houston after the 1996 NFL season, intending to play two seasons in Memphis while what would become Nissan Stadium was built in the team's intended home of Nashville. Since Memphians weren't interested in supporting a team that would end up leaving in only two years, and Nashvillains likewise weren't interested in driving over 200 miles (320 km) one way to see "their" teamnote , the Oilers' stay in Memphis was cut short by one year.
- San Antonio Texans: The league's only officially recognized relocated franchise, they were previously the Sacramento Gold Miners. Among the American clubs, San Antonio was unique that their stadium, the Alamodome, could accommodate the larger Canadian field. Like the Stallions, the Texans were a strong team both on and off the field, and its ownership were committed to playing the 1996 season; however, with Baltimore becoming the revived Alouettes and all of the other American teams folding, the Texans had no choice but to fold as well.
- Ottawa Renegades: AKA the Gades. Ottawa's first attempt at a new franchise post-Rough Riders, they played from 2002 until 2005. The Renegades never had a winning season, and though they were third in the East with 7-11 records twice, the cross-over rule meant that they never made the playoffs. Financial difficulties before and after the return of infamous former Rough Riders owner Bernie Glieberman did the team in after four seasons, despite strong fan support. Their best known player was quarterback Kerry Joseph, who won the Grey Cup and Most Outstanding Player award with Saskatchewan in 2007. The current Ottawa Redblacks are technically the same franchise, but aren't initially recognized as the same team in official records; however, as of 2017, the league now considers the Rough Riders, Renegades, and Redblacks as a single entity for record keeping.