WINNIPEG — John Couture has gone to every Grey Cup since 1974 and has made great memories and lifelong friends along the way. The recently retired Winnipeg Blue Bombers superfan was hoping to fill up his summer schedule with football games.
“All hell broke loose,” he said Tuesday.
He was disappointed to learn his team won’t be able to defend its Grey Cup championship this year. However, he’s not letting the CFL’s decision to scrap the season affect his unbroken streak — he is considering 2020 a lost year.
“It’s not my fault they aren’t playing this year, so I’m going to consider my streak alive,” he said. “If it was happening this year in Regina, I would be going.”
Fans across the league shared in the sadness of the lost year after commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced the decision to cancel the 2020 season and focus on 2021.
There was hope Winnipeg — home of the 2019 champions — could serve as a hub city for the league. But the CFL was unable to secure financing from the federal government or resolve some other issues.
It marks the first year the Grey Cup won’t be presented since 1919.
Fan Mike Goodchild had a lot more time for vacation and house projects this summer in Manitoba, but said he’d rather be watching football games.
“We miss going to the games, watching our favourite players,” Goodchild said Tuesday. “It is what it is right now.”
That the Bombers remain the reigning champions is a small silver lining to the news, Emile Morrissette said. The Manitoba team won its 11th CFL championship with a 33-12 victory against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last November, ending a 29-year drought.
Morrissette, a season ticket holder, wanted to see what the champions would have done to defend the title on the field.
“Finally we win the Grey Cup and we have a very competitive team and we are probably going into the season to be one of the favourites again and then that COVID hit,” Morrissette said.
“You know, it just makes it tough as a fan.”
Some people plan their summers around the cottage or the beach, but Morrissette and his sister make their plans around going to football games together.
He supports the decision if the league can become stronger and more financially stable for future seasons.
In Saskatchewan, Nelson Hackewich said he was expecting the season would be cancelled, but it was still hard to hear.
“The league was in a situation where it couldn’t win. It was going to lose money either way,” he said. “It still hurts that we aren’t going to have CFL football this year.”
To say the Hackewich family are Saskatchewan Roughriders fans is an understatement — they bleed green and white, he said. They are known for the Rider Room in his parents’ Regina house. They converted Hackewich’s childhood bedroom into a place to showcase decades of Roughriders memorabilia.
To fill the hole left by the season, Hackewich began simulating the CFL season using a video game and livestreaming it online. Each Friday, he gets about 8,000 viewers. But it’s not quite the same as watching the game, he said.
It also feels like a bit of salt in the wound for Hackewich that the season was cancelled the year the Roughriders’ top rivals — the Bombers — hold the Cup.
“They ended one of the longest droughts in CFL history and the league decided they were going to shut it down… It’s all Winnipeg’s fault,” Hackewich said with a friendly laugh.
Morrissette responded from Winnipeg that it better not be another curse on the Bombers.
“They won the Cup and then the season gets cancelled, right? It’s kind of weird,” he said. “But technically I can never agree with a Rider fan. That’s just in the DNA.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2020.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press