Monday, 22 June 2015

Canadian Football for Americans!

No, not the ultimately spectacularly unsuccessful mass infiltration of CFL franchises into various non-NFL markets in the mid-nineties. This post is about some of the earlier attempts to popularize the Canadian game in the United States and of course the related memorabilia that resulted.

First up we have two fascinating press photos issued by NBC Television, the first on July 30, 1954 (above) and the second on August 3, 1954, both advertising the NBC series of Canadian Football broadcasts that were to begin on August 28, 1954. Thirteen weeks of Saturday games were televised culminating in the 1954 Grey Cup game. Why was NBC televising Canadian football in 1954? Because as American football began its rise to sports supremacy along with the development of television sports broadcasting in the early fifties, the American networks began to compete for the rights to broadcast the games. In 1954 NBC was the odd man out for both professional and college American football, hence the look to the north.

The network played up the angle of previous U.S. college stars who at that time played in Canada, including eventual Hall of Famers Dick Shatto (Toronto) and Sam Etcheverry (Montreal), as well as J.D. Roberts (Hamilton) and Tom McHugh (Ottawa) who had much shorter careers in the Big Four. Note that three of the four images appear to be from the player's college days, with Etcheverry probably the exception since he was already established in Montreal. Perhaps more of these press photos exist but in any case the broadcasts by NBC only lasted the one season.

Because of the increasingly heavy reliance on American players coming out of the college ranks, the CFL started to produce information to promote the league in the U.S. to relevant organizations. The above booklet aimed at the 1961 N.C.A.A. coaches convention is a good example of this and also has the absolute coolest and most unusual vintage Tiger-Cat logo I've ever come across.

By 1962 ABC appears to have been the odd-man-out in U.S. television networks competing now for broadcast rights to both the NFL and the AFL professional leagues. Once again the solution seemed to be providing the Canadian game to American audiences and the above multi-page booklet was issued to help provide some insight into the CFL. This time the Stampeders logo was a throwback to one that the team did occasionally use prior to the more familiar cowboy and bucking bronc over a football logo, but was more often associated with the Stampeders Western League hockey team.

In order to further popularize the championship game broadcast these quirky postcards were printed and mailed to various media people in the U.S.  Judging from the obscure small town Wisconsin newspaper this one was addressed to, the league must have mailed out quite a few of these to cover the gamut of cities and towns where presumably future college players could be sourced from.

ABC followed up the 1962 broadcast again in 1963 and the the CFL issued an updated pamphlet once again. For 1964 the CFL went all out and produce a slick full-size 40 page magazine that explained the game and the advantages and amenities in the Canadian cities so that potential American players could be convinced that a career in Canada was a great idea.The properly current full colour logos on the back cover look great as well.

Further published efforts to describe the Canadian game for American audiences into the seventies were done on a much smaller budget. Multiple different versions of the below illustrated pamphlets were issued in different colours with or without logos over the years.

Periodic efforts to demystify the northern game for non-Canadians would continue throughout the eighties as the booklet below illustrates. Once the actual U.S. expansion happened so that the game was being played live in front of U.S. Audiences, a whole new series of publications and even VHS video tapes were produced in order to help American audiences grasp the differences from the game they were so intimately familiar with, but these I will save for a future blog post.

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