This is not an official blog of the City. It is the work of Mark Kapel who is solely responsible for content.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Card from the Canadian Football League.

It's that most wonderful time of the year (for most people ). Time to display all the Christmas Cards and of course to showcase the particularly  prestigious ones. In the City of Bloomfield Hills some residents we are sure have received cards from President Obama or at the very least The Governor of the State of Michigan. Usually it helps to send money. This writer and  publication are  of modest means.  Therefore It came as a complete and pleasant surprise to receive a  Christmas card from the Canadian Football League.

Of course there is a connection. Years ago  wife and I were  in Montreal  Canada, a  a city made famous by the novels of Mordecai  Richler. She was attending a conference. My job was to scout out what was worthwhile and interesting  in a City named after a mountain which happens to be in the center of town. I  got as far as the Rue de St. Catherine when something that normally happens only in movies occurred.
I turned a corner and saw an apparition dead for twenty years. Or so I thought, as I presumed everyone else did .The death was indeed announced to the world. As I would learn however  there were pieces missing  and I would spend the better part of the day tracking then down. In trying to recall exactly what I saw that day almost five years ago, I remember a large sign  depicting some sort of angry bird. Beneath it was the world "billetterie" which I knew from my five years of flunking French in grade school and high school meant tickets. Beneath the sign was a door. I opened it and found an elevator and a staircase. I chose the former which had four buttons. Two were for the Montreal  Alouettes  a Canadian Football Team most of the world thought dead and buried.. One of the Alouette  buttons said  "Executive Offices". The other button offered "Alouettes" with  no further explanation. I chose the latter and when the doors opened I found myself in the middle of an office which apparently occupied the entire floor. "Avez vous une media guide ?"  I tried with the first person who seemed to aware of my off the street presence . No I was told in English , the media guide was still being printed,but complementary trading cards were available. Would I like some?. "Merci beaucoup." I said accepting two packs.  If the reader is amazed by my sudden command of the French the language rest assured It reads better than  it sounds.I ruin it by pronouncing  every letter. For example the "P" in Beaucoup  is silent. a fact I remember when it is often too late.

Speaking of  late, I later decided that if  I had pushed the button  for  "Executive Offices" were it not for my poor French they probably would have made me Vice President of Operations. How exactly I don't know. It's just a feeling I  got apropos of nothing and as the day wore on the feeling intensified. Yankee ingenuity was needed. Many of the people  I talked to in the  Tobacco/Newspaper/Souvenir  stores  on the Rue St. Catherine Street said as much.  Such retail establishments could, on demand, produce Alouette wearing apparel but only after prolonged rummaging in backrooms. In pursuit of further facts I also  hit five bookstores, two Department Stores, and a cyber cafe. Thus was I  able to put together the amazing story I will now share with you.

Although there are no records in the morgue, for all intents and purposes the Montreal Alouettes died in two days before the start of 1987 season. It was the last and most definitively final death in a five year drama. Then first demise occurred in the  in 1982  but the team was resurrected as the Montreal Concordes. In 1986 The Concordes decided to honor their proud heritage by becoming once again the Alouettes. After an abysmal 4-14 season the Alouettes, folded again presumably for forever. The cause of death was listed as fan indifference.

Eight years went by and in the fall of 1996 the Canadian Football League decided to invade the United States by placing franchises in City's like Shreveport Louisiana and  Baltimore Maryland. The Baltimore CFL team  was intended to be a replacement for the NFL Baltimore Colts who had moved to Indianapolis. An injunction by the latter prevented the former from calling themselves Colts however. As a work around the stadium announcer would say Baltimore (pause)  and the fans were supposed to yell Colts ! Eventually the team became known as the Baltimore Stallions.  It was a good team and made the Grey Cup (Canada's Superbowl) in 1994 and won it 1995.Then the NFL Cleveland Browns announced that they were coming to Baltimore to be  the Ravens which sent the Stallions back to Canada where a vacancy in terms of a CFL  team still existed in city of Montreal.

Of course in the busy city of Montreal the Alouettes were  but a dot on the landscape.  There were those who thought Montreal  had become too sophisticated for Canadian Football. Worse  the  residents seemed to sense a  lack of Alouette  savoir faire.  For awhile the doubters were proved right. The Als, as the Alouettes are known locally  played good football but drew only a few hundred fans to the "Big O" Olympic Stadium which had a  100,000 seats.  The Alouettes  were on the verge of another death when fate in the form of U-2 concert intervened. It seems the Big O double booked and the rock concert took precedent. The Als, which in the 1970's spent a couple of seasons playing in auto race track suffered the indignity of having to call around town for a venue.
Then they hit upon Percival Molsen stadium on the side of Mount Royal on the campus of  McGill Univeristy . That game at McGill captured the City's imagination. It was a sell out as has been virtually every game since then. Three Grey Cup Championship  in the last ten years along the way has certainly helped maintain the momentum. Tradition dictates that before every home game U-2's Bloody Sunday is played over the loud speakers to honor the Rock group that saved the Montreal Alouettes.

When my wife and had our roundez vous  that day there was only one Grey Cup in 2002 to consider. Maybe that is why she was a little slow on the uptake and in fact looked at me as though she had absolutely no idea what I was talking about when  I related all of the above. I assured her I wasn't making any of it up. She said she knew that but her expression didn't change. To melt  the ice I asked her how she knew.

"Your not that inventive," she said not thawing. A five minute silent period  then followed  while we both puttered around. Then she asked, "what did you find out about the city. Other than football."

Oh yes. Of course. Montreal who's name indicates a royal mountain in the center of  town, is  a city made famous by the novels of Mordecai Richler. That prompted  the question, who is Mordecai  Richler and that was another story which I wasted no time in launching into.  I decided my inventiveness not withstanding to make no mention the possibility of  me becoming Vice President of Operations. It would have only complicated matters. In reality pushing the the  button to the executive offices would have simply got me re-directed and quite likely precluded the possibility of getting trading cards

Eighteen months went by before we found it necessary to revisit  the subject of the Canadian Football League. The fall prior the Alouettes had stunk up the joint in a first round play off loss game with Winnipeg Blue Bombers who were two weeks later, in the  Grey Cup to the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. No  Comments was  necessary.

A year later however the Al's made the 97th  Grey cup, to play the Calgary Stampeders.  That year, the Grey Cup which rotates through all CFL Cities was conveniently set to play in Montreal's Big "O" . On that I had a lot to say but the wife said "No," as in No she didn't want to go and No I wasn't  going either.. There were practical considerations involving friends, family, and the Thanksgiving Holiday which I could not dispute. I took my consent of said as a sign of middle age maturity.  The Als' who were heavily favored to beat the Calgary Stampeders blew a big lead and a lost heart breaker.

The next year the  the Al's were the team of destiny but with 7:47 minutes left in the 98th Gray Cup  the underdog Saskatchewan Rough Riders led 27 to 11.  The Montreal  announcers in both English and

French  were still assuring listeners  that  the Al's could still pull it out. They had the offensive fire power  and maybe lightening could strike.Montreal did get the two touchdown, one extra point, and they got something else called a "single" which in fact  decided the game. Most Americans don't know what a single is. That's because they are puzzled  by the Canadian game which has three downs instead of four, 12 men per side instead off eleven, a 110 yard field as opposed to 100, and a fatter  football than the trimmer American one. A Canadian Single occurs  when the ball goes through the end zone for what we Americans call a touch back. In both countries the receiving team gets the ball on the twenty but in Canada the kicking team is awarded a single point. The Montreal kicker that night was a young man named Damon Duvall , born in Morgan City Louisiana, and a graduate of Auburn University, who's  temper and kicking ability were often erratic. When the got they the single and the Montreal defense held there was hope. The margin was 2 points and if the Al's could field  the ball at say the55 yard line  a couple of good plays could put the ball in range for a last second field goal to win the game. When the Montreal player fumbled the punt and had to chase the ball back to his own  twenty yard line before being tackled there no hope. Unless of course lightening struck. Alouettes Quarterback, Anthony Calvillo in a series of mad cap scrambling and passing plays (the last of which is show in the below clip)  brought the Al's back to the brink but Duvall's kick was wide right as time ran out.
 But there was a still hope.  Lightening had indeed struck. Penalty flags in the words of one announcer were "all over the field". Saskatchewan had 13 men on the field and that was confirmed by replay. One man too many. Duvall tried again from 10 yards closer and this time the fat Canadian Football sailed through  the uprights

A year later everyone, prompted by the a Montreal Saskatchewan rematch in the 99th Grey Cup, was still talking about 98th Grey Cup. This a TV promo for the 99th Grey Cup

The  Al's won  again in an another close game and this time even the wife ventured a  comment. She said It was not Sas-Kat-You-Wan in four distinct syllables. It was Saskatchewan in said rapidly in two,or  no more than three syllables. She got that from listening to the announcers.

The other day,the wife noticed the CFL Christmas Card and  asked about it. Was this something where we have to send them one ? I said I didn't think so. I mean I should probably acknowledge it in some sort of off hand way but it wasn't vital.
"O....K", she said in two elongated and distinct syllables which indicated she had her her doubts either about my ability to remember to acknowledge or the or the social correctness of such an  acknowledgement, but wasn't going argue the point.  My friends. Not hers. Or as they say like to say in Montreal, C'est La Vie.


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