Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader,

Will you be watching the game today? Wiarton Willie, Shubenacadie Sam and Theresa Tam all came out of their holes to remind us to stay safe and stay home.

Super Bowl LV will decide the championship for the 2020 NFL season. The Kansas City Chiefs will play Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I won’t be watching.

Between Covid, a near dialup internet, and a coat hanger glued to the back of the TV that can’t quite reach Florida, we will be isolated from all the hoopla of the game. Instead of watching Jennifer Lopez at halftime, we’ll be listening to Nanna Mouskouri on the record player. My bride and I will probably be playing Scrabble. “How many points is my word ’bored’ worth, dear?”

Last year, I wrote a story about the Grey Cup game I couldn’t watch. I feel like the fisher who never catches a fish but always talks about the big one who got away. I hope you enjoy it.

Last Sunday was Grey Cup Sunday in Canada. Long time losing Winnipeg and Hamilton were meeting in Calgary, my hometown, for the Grey Cup game. The weather was unusually warm and the snow easily pushed to the sidelines.

In the crowds, there was an old guy by the name of Chris Matthews who hadn’t worn long pants for eighteen years, since the last time Winnipeg won the Grey Cub. He was a man among men, and an example of steadfast determination to us all. He also had handsome knees. He swore that he wouldn’t wear long pants until Winnipeg won the Grey Cup. I felt called to cheer Winnipeg on so he could wear long pants again. We short pantsers have to stick together. The responsibilities of the retired can be overwhelming sometimes.

Football was an integral part of my childhood; so was watching the Grey Cup. Before we had a TV I went over to the neighbour’s place and watched The Grey Cup on a black and white set. My friend’s dad didn’t like the TV announcer so we listened to the radio play by play while watching the TV.

Later when the Lazelles got a colour TV, all the neighbourhood kids were invited to watch the Grey Cup in black and white while drinking pop in the basement while parents partied upstairs drinking beer. It wasn’t quite Christmas or Thanksgiving but it was a big deal.

The cool thing was that Gray Cup Day felt kind of religious but we didn’t have to go to church like we did on Christmas and Thanksgiving. It was like getting a holy day off with no strings attached. If your team won, you sort of went to heaven. If your team lost, it was like going to hell, just for a visit, you didn’t have to move in. You could come back out and shoot for heaven next year.

At school we had a regular routine for recess sports. We played football until the outdoor rink froze solid, hockey until the rink melted, marbles for a few weeks until the field dried out, and then baseball until the last day of school. We never had any teacher supervision and always figured out our own teams.

In football we almost always imagined were playing in the Grey Cup with Calgary and some other team in the finals. We all hated Edmonton so Edmonton never made it to the Grey Cup. In hockey it was always Toronto and Montreal playing the final game in the Stanley Cup. I’ve played in more Grey Cups and Stanley Cups than anyone I know. It’s hard to be humble when I think about it.

From Eddy, I learned that Canadian football was different than American football. Americans had four downs to get ten yards while Canadians had only three. Americans hired guys “with lots of hamburger” so they could push their way through the ten yards they needed. The 300-pound “hamburgers” had to be lean hamburger, not 300 pounds of doughnut hamburger. I asked my mother to buy lean hamburger and not doughnut hamburger but she usually bought the cheaper regular stuff.

This must be why I never made it to the CFL. Canadian quarterbacks had to be able to throw long passes which made for a much more suspenseful game. Quarterbacks such as Eagle Day, Ron Lancaster and Russ Jackson were our heroes. They didn’t have a lot of hamburger but man, could they throw the ball!

In recent years, you can’t watch the Grey Cup unless you have cable and TSN. It’s kind of like living in North Korea where they censure almost everything. I bet that you can’t watch the Grey Cup in North Korea either. Talk about shame. The world has stooped to the lowest level imaginable. The capitalists have stolen the Grey Cup like the Grinch stole Christmas. Canadians can’t watch the Grey Cup on CBC or CTV.  Most guys have friends that have friends that have TSN and they host Grey Cup parties. Most of my friends don’t have cable. Dale had TSN and would invite us over to watch the game.

I called him up just before the game and found out that his wife had cancelled his cable so they could have,”more quality time together”. What the heck does that mean? I suspected that Dale was mad as hell but I was wrong. It seems that Dale became a couch potato and watched sports all the time. He turned into a guy composed mostly of doughnut hamburger. I asked him where we were going to go to watch the game.

He said, “I don’t know where you are going but I’m watching Anne of Green Acres or something with my wife.” I said, “Anne of Green Acres?  That’s about a redheaded girl with freckles who never plays football!” Dale said that sounds right, after that, at about halftime during the Grey Cup, we’re watching the finals of the cooking show. Yah, I said, Bernadette talks about both of those shows all the time. Now, let’s get serious…..

After I hung up, I had this disempowering feeling of being trapped with no place to go. I felt like I had been teleported to North Korea and was watching a military parade with President Kim Jung-un instead of the Grey Cup. While I weighed out my options, Bernadette called out from the den, “When are you leaving for the game?”

I walked purposefully into the room and said, “I’m not going to the game; I’ve decided that we need more bonding time. I’d much rather watch Anne of Green Acres with you.” She smiled as I joined her on the couch. Anne was just about to start and football was just a distant memory. We all do need some bonding time. It can be at a Grey Cup party or it can be at home with your beloved spouse, eating homemade popcorn and watching Anne of Green Acres.

PS Watching the cooking show is beyond the call of duty. Trust me. Stick with Anne of Green Acres. Don’t overdo it. Too many men died in the trenches for King and country.

This is peacetime. Stay out of the Cooking trenches. Wear shorts until the Grey Cup can be seen on regular TV. I’ll write David Suzuki and see if he can add the CFL to the list of endangered species.