It has been a long time since I was this excited for a Canadian Football League season.
It might be as long ago as 1991, when Doug Flutie was at the controls of the BC Lions, and Rocket Ismail was running back punts for the Toronto Argos, including one incredible 52-41 Lions win in overtime at BC Place Stadium. That game cemented me (and the skeptical dad I dragged to the game) as a CFL fan.
I hadn’t thought about those days for a long time, but NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana got me thinking about it. At our ICBA Gala in April, Montana told the crowd a story about how then Argos co-owner John Candy tried hard to recruit him to play in the CFL. It came down to money of course, and Montana – the greatest quarterback of his generation – opted to stay with the 49ers.
But if the price had been right…what a coup that would have been. One thing about Candy and his co-owners Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall: they always thought big.
Fast forward to the present day.
After several seasons of the CFL limping to find a consistent audience and fan base in Vancouver, last year two men lifted it back into the spotlight: owner Amar Doman and quarterback Nathan Rourke.
Rourke, nicknamed “Kid Canada,” seemingly came out of nowhere and electrified CFL fans with his Flutie-like dominance during an injury-shortened season. In just 10 games, he threw 25 touchdowns and added another seven on the ground. This season, he’ll be in Jacksonville, trying to beat out veteran C.J. Beathard to back up Trevor Lawrence for the NFL Jaguars. He’ll be missed, but in limited preseason action, his successor Vernon Adams Jr. looked more than up to the task.
Players come and go, but Doman will be here (hopefully) for a long time. Good thing, too. He’s the real culture changer, and he’s thinking big, like those 1990s Argo owners did – but also more sustainably.
The season kickoff party is back, with LL Cool J set to play. Last year, Doman brought in OneRepublic and Steven Page. Game day events are planned all season long, as he works to create a buzz in downtown Vancouver and beyond.
Doman has invested in new jerseys, new marketing, and new entertainment ideas – embracing the Vegas Golden Knights’ model of wrapping entertainment and interaction opportunities around the sporting event itself, offering fans of all ages and knowledge levels different entry points to enjoy the show.
He’s also stepped up to publicly fight Simon Fraser University’s ludicrous decision to axe its football program, and he’s worked with football and youth communities to promote the sport.
As a BC Lions fan, it’s heartening to witness all this, and to have my 13-year-old son asking me to take him to games.
Doman has a knack for getting positive attention for our Lions. After our ICBA Gala, he was spotted huddling up with Montana – who knows what plans were being hatched? Maybe the CFL’s 35-year quest to bring the quarterback known as Joe Cool into the league in a meaningful way will finally be realized.
If anyone can do it, it’s Amar Doman.
Either way, it’s great to see the CFL back and growing in British Columbia.
ROAR YOU LIONS ROAR!
Jordan Bateman is vice-president, communications and marketing, for the Independent Contractors and Business Association, and a renewed CFL fan.