Cauz: A fan’s guide to the ultimate CFL road trip

Recently I learned about a new expression called “Revenge Travel.” This is the phenomenon where people, with the means to do so, plan long, extravagant vacations to make up for the lack of travel over the past year-and-a-half due to COVID.

I imagine this entails month-long sojourns to Europe, flying to super far exotic islands or going on exorbitant safaris through the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. For those of you planning on such a lengthy journey I say good on ya but I have little to offer in terms of advice beyond try NOT to get a seat on the plane next to the bathroom and please tip well.

But this concept of making up for lost time made me think of what sort of revenge trip would I like to do in connection with the CFL and the answer was simple: Road trip! I went through the newly released CFL schedule and plotted a western and eastern Canada road trip tied into visiting as many CFL cities as possible.

Each journey would last for at least two weeks because if you are going to do it, you have to do it right after being so geographically limited since March of 2020. I’m not saying you need to follow my exact itinerary but here are what I consider some pretty fun CFL inspired vacations. One last note before we hit the road: Yes, many of the places I suggest will seem like an obvious destination for the locals but hey, we’re tourists. We’re supposed to see the famous sites, ruin our diets and catch as much football as we can. First up is the western road trip.

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Thursday Aug. 5: Hamilton @ Winnipeg

Football-related highlights: What better way to kick off our epic trip than with a Grey Cup rematch? Before we get to the specifics for this game, I’m wildly curious to see how well-played this game can really be. From an execution standpoint this could be a disaster, which could actually lead to a slew of exciting moments if players blow their individual assignments.

It will be hard to blame them, considering this will be the first game for these two teams in well over 600 days. Will the blocking and route running be crisp? How will the timing be for the respective quarterbacks? We are entering uncharted territory here. From a timing perspective I’d rather kick back and watch Willie Jefferson scare opposing quarterbacks and Andrew Harris tear up the Tiger-Cats (again) on a beautiful summer night than wait until their final home game, played at night on Nov. 6. I have no idea if Hamilton will be out for revenge as the Grey Cup loss is such a distant memory but I’m excited nonetheless.

Non-football highlights: It’s the summer, I want as much nature as I can get but let’s get a mix of experiences. Before we head to our next destination, we’ll do some camping at Grand Beach Provincial Park overlooking Lake Winnipeg. Then hit the Lakeview Hotel in Gimli, because I can handle only so much time in a tent. As for the city, I have always wanted to spend an afternoon at the Forks Market and checking out the Canadian Museum for Human Rights seems like a must visit.

Ryker Mathews was brought in from Hamilton to help keep BC QB Michael Reilly upright in 2021. His work with the Ticats suggests he should be up to the task (Geoff Robins/CFL.ca)

Thursday Aug. 12: BC at Calgary

Football-related highlights: We get to see Calgary’s special-edition retro jerseys. Is it possible to think they are cool looking and also proclaim that Bo Levi Mitchell looks like an old-fashioned box of popcorn? As someone who did a whole series on the history of CFL uniforms I’m all good for all things that celebrate Calgary football from 1948 to 1952, which coincides with the only undefeated team in CFL history, the 1948 squad.

From a Stampeders perspective my attention will be all over Mitchell’s relationship with his receivers. After losing 2,524 yards and 20 touchdowns with the departures of Reggie Begelton and Eric Rodgers, players like Kamar Jordan, Markeith Ambles, Hergy Mayala and Josh Huff have some mighty big cleats to fill.

On the Lions side of the field, I’m going full football hipster as I focus on their shiny new offensive tackle, Ryker Matthews. The guy was a stud in Hamilton and his job will be to help keep Michael Reilly comfortable. The Lions’ league-high 58 sacks allowed absolutely contributed to Reilly leading the league in interceptions.

Non-football highlights: I recently spent time in Calgary, so a couple highlights through the eyes of a tourist who was there for just three days but absolutely loved it. Start the day with a good jog around the Bow River, but honestly there are a number of great trails. Wander around Stephen Avenue, a long downtown corridor that is completely pedestrian friendly and is lined with every assortment of restaurant, then crash at the Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire which is a close walk from the downtown core. This is not a paid endorsement for them, but after a year of little business they are more than ready for a spike in activity and could not have been more polite. Finally, check out the River Café, where the ribeye steaks go down well with the view of Prince’s Island Park.

A summertime battle between the Ticats and Riders will let Shaq Evans and Brandon Banks try to stake their claim as top receiver in the CFL (CFL PHOTO – MATT SMITH)

Saturday Aug. 14: Hamilton at Saskatchewan

Football-related highlights: In a 10-day span we get to watch the best team in the East twice. Even better, we should be in for a treat as we can have front row seats for Shaq Evans vs. Brandon Banks. Yes, technically they will not be on the field at the same time but you know they’re going to want to outdo one another as they battle for the title of best receiver in the game.

Evans went off in 2019 for over 1,300 yards while Banks won MOP. Hamilton allowed the fewest passing touchdowns and was first in fewest points allowed. But with the retirement of Delvin Breaux, look for the receiver who led the CFL in yards per catch and receptions of 30 or more yards to have his way on this glorious night of football in Regina.

Non-football highlights: You wouldn’t think you would have an interest in visiting the RCMP Heritage Centre but then I read an overview. The responsible side of my brain says the history of Canada’s first police force may in fact be interesting. BUT then I discovered there is a driving simulator where “you’ll get behind the wheel of a police car and try your hand at tracking down crime.”

Also, as we are in the heart of CFL country, I’m going to want to take in a game and wouldn’t you know, the Argonauts are playing Winnipeg on Friday so we’ll check out the Canadian Brewhouse and see what the locals get angrier about: Us rooting for Toronto or for Winnipeg. I checked the menu and Friday’s daily special is Prime Rib. Works for me.

Greg Ellingson is just one dangerous weapon in Edmonton’s receiving corps. Along with Derel Walker and Armanti Edwards, the trio could shine in 2021 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Thursday Aug. 19: Edmonton at BC 

Football-related highlights: I guarantee you someone will be open every time Trevor Harris drops back to pass! If all are healthy you won’t find a better trio of targets than Greg Ellingson, Derel Walker and Armanti Edwards. Could his be the first game a player scores a touchdown and their celebration includes dunking an Oreo in milk in the middle of a front flip? Come on, Shai Ross, let’s see you do that incredible feat in game action!

On the other side, I want to see what kind of season Kwaku Boateng could unleash on the league. He has always been a productive member of Edmonton’s defensive line but with Almondo Sewell gone the responsibilities will be heightened on this 26-year-old all-star in the making.

Non-football highlights: Did you really think I was going to go through this entire column without mentioning wine? After leaving Regina we’re immediately making a beeline to the Okanagan Valley to visit a whole bunch of tasty wineries dotting the shores of Okanagan Valley. From there, it is a two hour drive south towards the border where we reach the Osoyoos region. The view will be spectacular and the wines from this area are perfect to dispel the outdated myth that Canadian red wine isn’t big and bold enough. In honour of Edmonton’s new team name we’re going to drink a meaty Okanagan Syrah with an Elk burger. Go Elks!

If you’re not too tired or broke from the Western CFL road trip then you may as well hop on board for Part II. Take a week off to rest, recover and possibly eat a salad before we head on over to the Eastern Time Zone.

REDBLACKS return man Devonte Dedmon will try to out-duel Lucky Whitehead and Chris Rainey in a late-summer meeting in Ottawa against the Lions (Walter Tychnowicz/CFL.ca)

Saturday Aug. 28: BC at Ottawa

Football-related highlights: The only game of the season where I’m excited about touchdowns because it means kick returns are a-coming and I’m rooting for poor offensive play to lead to double digit punting from both sides. We get Chris Rainey and Lucky Whitehead for the Lions waging return yardage war against the soon to be next Pinball Clemons, Devonte Dedmon from the REDBLACKS!

Also, I better see a stirring video tribute for ex-Ottawa head coach Rich Campbell, even with him wearing BC Lions’ colours. The first coach for Ottawa helped lead the team to three East Division titles, three trips to the Grey Cup and the 2016 Grey Cup title.

Non-football highlights: My last trip before COVID was in February of 2020. I was such a bad Canadian at the time that I had never seen any of the works by the Group of Seven. I always thought it was so much hype but wandering around the National Gallery of Canada I was blown away by it all.

I wish I was smart enough to deliver the proper adjectives describing their brush strokes but I’ll just give you my review at that moment: “Damn, they can paint!” This trip will include a return to this gallery then the ByWard Market for wherever we can get a table at. My last wine recommendation (I promise): do yourself a favour and make a quick trip to Gatineau and visit the wine bar Soif Bar à Vin. I know that sounds wildly pretentious but the owner, Véronique Rivest has zero snobbery in her and has a pure love of wine that she loves to share.

As Canadians we should be proud of Véronique, who is one of the most decorated Sommeliers in Canadian history representing our country with distinction in so many foreign wine competitions.

Monday Sept. 6: Toronto at Hamilton

Football-related highlights: Time for a heaping slice of normalcy, as we are once again a part of the Labour Day Classic at Tim Hortons Field. I can’t wait to drink spiked Jello shots being sold by questionable individuals in far off parking lots! I want to hear Simoni Lawrence taunting the Argonauts sideline. I’m so curious about who will be starting at quarterback at this time, for both teams! And just what will the state of the Tiger-Cats offensive line look like without Ryker Matthews and a 38-year-old Chris Van Zeyl going up against Charleston Hughes, Odell Willis, Cordarro Law and Drake Nevis?

Non-football highlights: For this part of the road-trip I’m going to channel my inner college student, as I went to McMaster University back in the day when the internet was dial up and Tom Cruise was still sane. We’re going to bounce around Hess Street before the game, then back to the Westdale area to toast the return of the CFL at the Snooty Fox. Will we look like narcs drinking at a bar populated by university students? Yes, but frankly I don’t care. The next day I will convince the rest of my road trip group to go hiking in Dundas Valley Trail and check out Sherman Falls to help get rid of the stereotype that Hamilton is still some sort of industrial wasteland.

Playing against arch-rival Hamilton at home at BMO Field in the Labour Day rematch, the stage is set for a big performance from hometown linebacker Henoc Muamba ((Dominick Gravel/Montreal Alouettes))

Friday Sept. 10: Hamilton at Toronto

Football-related highlights: I always enjoy the Labour Day Classic rematch; it can be a nasty affair depending on how the previous game went down. By this point of the season I will be genuinely wondering about the physical state of so many of those famous Argo names signed in the off-season.

Charleston Hughes, Cordarro Law and Odell Willis have all had wonderful careers and there is no reason why they don’t have a couple more high-end seasons left in them but their average age is 35 so the possibility of bodies breaking down has to be considered. As for Canadian content, I’m expecting only big things from the additions of Henoc Muamba, who won the 2019 Most Outstanding Canadian award and Camron Judge, the runner-up. By Week 6 there better be some sort of cool nickname for this duo as they dispense “Canadian Justice” on running backs all across the league.

Non-football highlights: I did some research and the day before the game we’re going to do something no one has done in over 500 days: Go to a full-blown concert. My Chemical Romance is performing at Scotiabank Arena on the Thursday. After the game we’re going to make our way to Liberty Village, which is a short walk from BMO Field and try to squeeze into whatever bars are open.  Or better yet the morning of the game head over to Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, also in Liberty Village, and treat yourself to the best blueberry pancakes this city has to offer.

On Saturday if we’re feeling adventurous, we shall test our nerves at the CN Tower Edgewalk or if we want to keep our feet on the ground, rent some bikes and make a day of it on the Toronto Islands. Finally, no day is complete without a quick trip to one of the best people watching patios in Toronto, the Black Bull. Their house specialty is cheeseburgers, French fries and beer … see I’m not just some sort of snooty wine person. Do we have time to hit Canada’s Wonderland before we head out to Montreal?

Saturday Sept. 18: BC at Montreal

Football-related highlights: At this stage of the trip it is the mid-point of the 2021 season and I know I am not alone in wondering about the growth of Vernon Adams Jr. We all know his 2019 numbers: Just under 4,000 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns and tying the league lead with 12 scores on the ground. More importantly, as a starter he guided the Alouettes to a 10-5 record and it’s his leadership skills that we’ll be watching on Saturday night.

It was Adams during COVID who dropped $20,000 to fly in his teammates to his home in Seattle to work on passing drills. He flew back to Montreal in mid-June to get his quarantine period out of the way as soon as possible so he would be ready for training camp. I’m pumped to go all football nerd and study his body language in the huddle and on the sidelines, or his demeanour if his team is down in the fourth quarter. Adams checks all the boxes you want to see from your franchise quarterback. I can’t wait to watch him in person.

Non-football highlights: What better place to end this three-week CFL odyssey than in Montreal! No point overthinking how we will spend our time. The days and non-game nights will be filled with the sights, sounds and crazy atmosphere that can only be found on Rue St. Catherine, Rue Crescent and because we’re a classy group there shall be a great deal of time exploring Old Montreal. Our timing is impeccable as the Montreal Jazz Festival is taking place at the same time. A perfect slice of Canadiana to end this perfect CFL inspired “revenge” road trip.

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