(NB: This was such a huge weekend that I decided to split this into two separate posts. This is Touchdown Atlantic weekend from my perspective. For a more in-depth look at the game itself and other Alouettes news, click here.)
This past weekend’s match between the Montreal Alouettes and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was supposed to be a premier event for the Canadian Football League. On the strength of previous incantations of this event and this weekend, the hope is that any success going forward could one day lead to a CFL team being granted to Atlantic Canada.
But this weekend’s event, with all its good and bad, ended up feeling more like a decent drive that ended with a punt on third down rather than a touchdown. While there was a lot of good times and wonderful memories shared with some really great CFL fans, there was also a lot of missed opportunities and the feeling of “what if” had come up more than once by those who attended.
Arriving into Moncton, there was no sense that this game was even being played, except for one scant placard located near the city’s “Welcome to” sign. Going through the downtown core, there was not very much indicating that this was a premier event for not just for the CFL, but for the city itself.
In fact, throughout the entire weekend people would see me wearing my Alouettes gear, stop me and ask questions like, “Where is the game this weekend?” and “What time is the game?”. I got the sense that there was not a whole lot of press done for this game in the days and weeks leading up to it.
In fact, most of the build-up for the game that I did see what very conflicting; I would see articles in the press touting its imminent success and it’s waning interest. Obviously journalists aren’t on the CFL payroll so it’s not their job to hype the event per se. But a little consistency in what the people feel would be ideal. If people were to ask me today based on what I saw if the city of Moncton wants CFL, I’d have to say, “I’m not sure.”
In reading past accounts from others who attended the previous Touchdown Atlantics, this was supposed to be an atmosphere similar to a Grey Cup weekend, with plenty of parties and events for all football fans. But aside from one open practice from each team on the Friday afternoon, there was practically zero involvement from either the Alouettes or Tiger-Cats.
I mean, you could certainly approach these players if you saw them; the CFL’s players are among the most fan-friendly in all of professional sports. But no official team parties? No meet and greets? Nothing from the league to want to spark your interest in making the trip from Montreal or Hamilton to visit Moncton and see this game?
It just really felt like the league and both teams had completely forgotten that there was this game going on and hastily threw it together. Which is really unfortunate, as both previous Touchdown Atlantics were a huge hit with the fans who came down for it.
I’ve said this phrase numerous times regarding the Alouettes and their half-hearted attempts to promote events and the CFL would be wise to consider it as well; If you treat these endeavors like after-thoughts, eventually so will the people who you want attending them.
But CFL fans are a resilient bunch; they make their own fun. So one great pub in downtown Moncton embraced this event and opened their doors to ALL CFL fans.
The Old Triangle Ale House is a warm, friendly place that is ideal to grab a pint of beer and take in the local colour. The original plan was to make this a sort of home base for Tiger-Cats fans, but when no one from the Alouettes decided to make a similar venture, the pub welcomed fans from all CFL teams!
It was there where I got to meet new friends and revisit old ones. If you read my blog posts about my two trips to Hamilton last year, I got to meet some great folks from that area and they came to New Brunswick to support their black and yellow team.
We laughed, we drank, we swapped stories and for at least these moments, this did have the feel of a Grey Cup weekend. Heck, even fans of other teams and CFL commissioner Mark Cohon joined us at this funky joint. More proof that the Canadian Football League is far reaching to all points of this great nation.
As for the game atmosphere itself…..well, it really did feel like a Hamilton Tiger-Cats home game. Which I suppose is the point, as Hamilton did relinquish a home date for this event. But again, previous versions of this event gave the impression that this was a neutral game to celebrate the Maritimes. Instead, it felt as though they just packed up the Tiger Cat game experience and moved it 1700 kilometres east.
Introducing the Montreal Alouettes as they took to the field was a tad insulting, as they blared a children’s version of “Gentille Alouette” when the team came out of the gate. However, the Alouettes endeared themselves to the region as players came out waving flags of Canada, Quebec, New Brunswick and Acadia. So at least they had a sense of paying homage to this geographic area.
But once the game got underway, it was clear the Tiger-Cat faithful were taking over. I’ve spoken about how the Hamilton fans have not been coming out to the temporary home in Guelph, so I think this was THE marquee game for many of the Ti-Cats fans. Again, all the stadium events and in-house contests were geared towards their fans. The team wore its home uniforms while Montreal wore their road whites. The only things missing were the tailgate and the steel factories serving as a backdrop.
This game was nearly sold out and while it’s hard to know for sure who all was there from the Maritimes, I have to believe that there is at least SOME interest in having a team in Atlantic Canada. But can Moncton itself sustain this kind of support for ten home games per year? Once again, I’m not sure.
I think the decision to not have this game played last year killed the momentum from the two previous Touchdown Atlantics dead in its tracks. Last season was all about the 100th Grey Cup game and there was no way the league was going to take any attention away from that. But in not having the Touchdown Atlantic game last year and barely mentioning the game this year, the CFL may have cut off their nose to spite their face.
This league wants to grow bigger and stronger; they are welcoming Ottawa back into the fold next year and want to field a tenth team, preferably in Atlantic Canada. But the love for this Canadian game wasn’t grown by half-assing events like this. Imagine if the Grey Cup had gotten this short shrift of attention. Then it would be really easy to say, “Well no one here cares about this game.”
There’s no question CFL fans truly enjoy being a part of this game and if allowed, they will embrace it and make it an event like no other. But to expect fans to accept mediocrity because you kinda slapped a CFL logo on it, that’s another thing entirely.
Do this event right, get the locals and fans of the involved teams excited about it and make this a weekend to not only remember but plan a trip around. Or don’t bother doing it at all.
Overall, I’d have to say that I enjoyed my weekend in Moncton. It’s a nice little place to visit, ideal for an event like this. If the Montreal Alouettes were to play in another Touchdown Atlantic, I’d certainly come back. If only for the PumpHouse Blueberry Ale, served with actual blueberries in the glass!!
Merci encore, Nouveau-Brunswick!