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; the CFL itself was established in 1958), 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 4note , 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 or the goal line, the offence will more often than not attempt to convert), a 110 x 65 yard 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 x 53⅓ yards with 10-yard end zones, goal posts placed on the goal line rather than the end linenote , 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 American high school and college football rather than using the NFL's modified sudden-death format; from 1986 to 1999, the CFL used two five-minute halves without sudden death.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. Several former all-time leaders for combined passing yards in all North American professional football leagues played exclusively in the CFL (the most recent among them being Anthony Calvillo), 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 traditionally starts in mid-June and ends with the CFL championship game, the Grey Cup, by the end of November. The CFL season starts in the summer and ends in November to avoid playing in the winter, since all but one team (with BC as the exception) 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 over 21 weeks 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 outside of Canada. Like its more famous 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, the name of winning players, coaches, and executives are engraved upon it, and the players get to spend a day with the Grey Cup, which sometimes results in the Cup getting involved in misadventures. It is also customary for players of the winning team to chug champagne (or some other alcohol, commonly beer, either Molson or Labatt) from the Cup's chalice. Similar to the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup game is hosted at a predetermined nominally neutral 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 home stadium, with Hamilton being the most recent team to play for the Grey Cup in their home stadium in the 2021 edition; however, Saskatchewan was the most recent team to win the Grey Cup at home, doing so in 2013note . This is in marked contrast to the NFL, which had not seen a team compete in the Super Bowl in its own stadium until Super Bowl LV (hosted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and often sees teams whose stadium hosts the game not even make the playoffs; in the rare instances where the Super Bowl host does make it to the postseason, they are more often than not an early out.
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. (For that matter, the best-archived NFL games of the 1960s, including the 1961 NFL championship game and Super Bowl IV, are also CBC recordings of the U.S. network feed.)
The 2020 season was outright cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The league attempted to secure a C$30 million loan from the federal government, as the CFL is more dependent on gameday revenue compared to the other major North American leaguesnote , to play an abbreviated season in a central hub city without spectators, but the request was rejected. Also, the CFL's 2020 season cancellation was the first time in over 100 years that the Grey Cup was not contested; the Grey Cup was not contested between 1916 and 1918 due to World War I and in 1919 due to a rules dispute among the various organizing bodies for Canadian football and coincidentally The Spanish Flu pandemic. The CFL returned in 2021 with fans in the stands, although the regular season was shortened to 14 games and started later in August, pushing the 108th Grey Cup to mid-December.
As of the 2022 CFL season, the roster of CFL teams consists of:
- BC Lions: AKA the Leos. Created in 1954 and based out of Vancouver. 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 2016, the Lions are currently the only CFL team to regularly play in a fixed or retractable roof stadium.
- Calgary Stampeders: AKA the Stamps. Founded in 1935, this team was originally called the Calgary Broncs. Its main rival is Edmonton; however, 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.
- Edmonton Elks: Formerly the Eskimos (and originally the Esquimaux). Founded in 1949. Although Toronto has the most Grey Cup wins in the overall history of Canadian football, Edmonton, as the second-most decorated team, has the most Grey Cup wins in the modern era, and is thus a very popular team; the Elks also hold the longest Grey Cup winning streak, winning it five times from 1978 to 1982. Continuing the "Battle of Alberta" tradition made famous by the NHL, its main rival is Calgary. Similar to the former Washington Redskins (known in the 2020 and 2021 seasons as the "Washington Football Team", now known as the Washington Commanders), the Esks had drawn controversy over their politically incorrect name, and on July 21, 2020, the team announced that they would discontinue the use of the "Eskimos" name and adopted the working name "Edmonton Football Team"note . In June 2021, the former Eskimos officially became the Elks and introduced a new primary logo based on the new nickname, with the long-time "double-E" logo initially relegated to secondary status; however, it was brought back as the helmet logo in March 2022.
- Saskatchewan Roughriders: AKA the Riders. Founded in 1910 and based in Saskatchewan's provincial capital of Regina. Not usually a successful team, as it took the team over a half-century since their founding to clench their first Grey Cup, 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 Green Bay Packers.note The number of Saskatchewan residents who moved to Alberta for work meant that Roughriders merchandise like jackets, hats and flags have been nearly as common in cities like Edmonton and Calgary as merchandise of those cities' own teams. 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. The current Grey Cup champions, winning the Cup back-to-back. 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. The Bombers have played for the Grey Cup 26 times, the most of any Canadian football team, amateur or professional, are the third most-decorated team with 12 wins, and are the first team not based in Ontario or Quebec to win the Grey Cup.
- 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 Ti-Cats hold the dubious distinction of being the only active CFL team not to win the Grey Cup in the 21st century, last winning the Cup in 1999; Winnipeg formerly held the longest Grey Cup drought, breaking their own nearly three-decade long drought against the Ti-Cats in the 2019 Grey Cup. Up until 2021, Hamilton had also held the longest Grey Cup hosting drought; however, the Ti-Cats are scheduled to host the 2023 Grey Cup, since COVID-19 canceled the pre-game festivities for the 2021 game.
- 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. With 17 Grey Cups, the Argos are the most-decorated team in Canadian football. 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) natural 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.
- 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 regards the three Ottawa teams as a singular entity for record-keeping with two periods of inactivity (from 1997 to 2001 and from 2006 to 2013). The RedBlacks own the intellectual property rights of the Rough Riders (although the Sask Riders vetoed reviving the old team's identity) 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.
- Montreal Alouettes: AKA the Als. The original franchise was founded in 1946 and 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 to be one continuous franchise which was dormant 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 sold 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 as they searched for a new owner. On January 6, 2020, the team was purchased by the owners of Crawford Steel.
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, bring both divisions to five teams a piece. 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 team in Quebec City, the largest metropolitan area in Canada without a CFL team, being slightly more populous than either Winnipeg or Hamilton, 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 team in the Maritimes, and two days prior to the 2018 Grey Cup game, the league and Maritime Football announced that they would revive the Schooners identity, and Maritime Football would subsequently rebrand as Schooners Sports and Entertainment (SSE). The Schooners could launch as early as the 2023 season assuming stadium plans in Halifax go through, although SSE has indicated that the team would likely start play in Moncton while the Halifax stadium is under construction. However, like everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into the CFL's expansion into the Maritimes.
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 and the Big Ten's Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans; some past proposals for a Windsor CFL team would have put the team in the Lions' former home of the Pontiac Silverdome at least for playoff games, before the stadium was abandoned and left to deteriorate in 2013 and ultimately demolished in 2018. Victoria is unlikely to land a CFL team due to its relative isolation from mainland Canada on Vancouver Island and much like the Als for Quebec and the Riders for Saskatchewan, the Vancouver-based BC Lions would likely claim territorial rights on the entire province. Aside from Victoria's close proximity to Vancouver, the BC capital is also relatively close to Seattle and the NFL's Seahawks and Pac-12's Washington Huskies.
In the early 1990s, despite the finances of the league itself and its member clubs 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; before moving to Montreal, the team had seriously considered moving to Houston to fill the void left by the soon-to-be departing Oilers, whose attendance and popularity was tanking when Bud Adams made the announcement of the Oilers' relocation to Tennessee, but the CFL felt that staying in America was a lost cause.
- 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 team, considering the three closest teams to Birmingham, the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were perennial bottom of the barrel teams; 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 Memphis was passed over for NFL expansion in favour of Jacksonville, Florida (Jaguars) and Charlotte, North Carolina (Panthers) in 1993, FedEx founder Fred Smith was awarded a CFL expansion franchise in 1995note . The Mad Dogs' home field, the Liberty Bowl Stadium, could not fit the Canadian field at all due to being a completely enclosed stadium; 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, and switching to Sunday games didn't help. 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 weren'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.