The Toronto Argonauts can turn this Sunday’s Eastern Final into the perfect kickoff for the upcoming Grey Cup festival. If the Argos beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to reach the championship game, it’ll give a huge boost to the week-long party, also known as “Canada’s national drunk.” Brad Watters, general manager of this year’s Grey Cup, says that the team winning the 95th Grey Cup at home “would really turn the town on its ear.” The excitement generated would also go a long way to ensuring the continued success of the team over the long term. Which two teams are playing, however, won’t matter to the tens of thousands of CFL faithfuls who’ll travel to Toronto on their annual pilgrimage to the Grey Cup.
The five days leading up to the game on November 25 will be filled with concerts, awards shows, children’s activities, and countless parties. Everything will be centralized in and around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Rogers Centre and CN Tower, with Front Street and Bremner Street closed off for street festivals. Among the highlights of any Grey Cup are the regionally-flavoured parties and events hosted by every CFL city. Each will feature the continuous entertainment of live music, cheerleaders, past and present players, libations, and merchandise tables. But the real draw will be the fans, whose passion has been the CFL’s greatest strength through all the league’s ups and downs.
Wherever you wander during the festivities, there’ll be a real sense of camaraderie. The fans you encounter—costumed, face-painted, dressed in team colours, covered in commemorative pins, or carrying flags—will enthusiastically share their personal stories with anyone who will listen. But the anecdotes likely won’t concern highlight-reel plays of Grey Cups past. Rather, the stories will show how it is the seemingly peripheral experiences of Grey Cup week that stand out as most memorable. You’ll hear of a riotous Stampeder fan riding a horse through the lobby of the Royal York Hotel; or of the time it was so cold in Winnipeg that all the beer fans snuck into the stadium ended up frozen solid; or even of fans getting kicked out of a stadium for trying to pilfer souvenirs from the team benches in the aftermath of the game. CFL fans aren’t always sophisticated, but they’re good-natured and sincere. In addition, the Grey Cup offers unparalleled access to players who, after scheduled autograph sessions, mingle with fans in the pizza lineup or good-naturedly heckle fans testing their football-throwing skills.
Because the best part of hosting the Grey Cup isn’t the game itself, its appeal is not limited solely to die-hard fans. The raucous, but friendly, fans from across Canada are a snapshot of the country, and the reason why Watters calls it the truly Canadian event.
For full details of all the events, times and locations see the official 2007 Grey Cup Toronto website.
Photo courtesy of the Toronto Argonauts.