I miss football.
It has been eleven years, eight months, and 261 days since I played my last CFL game. Never once in that time have I regretted my decision to retire, nor have I ever wished that I could make a comeback. I don't miss playing football. Three weeks into the 2014 CFL season, I miss the existence of football...or at least the version of the game that I've spent virtually my entire life watching, playing, and loving.
Absent is the fast pace of the game created by the 20-second play clock. In its place are plodding affairs that often exceed three hours in length and are punctuated by penalty flags and instant replay reviews. The superstar players who had drawn me to the sport growing up have been reduced to sharing the spotlight with the men in striped shirts. The captivating chess match between coaches, which used to be about X's and O's, has instead become about which general is able parlay his complement of replay challenges into the biggest payoff.
Perhaps most disturbing to me is the apparent desire to transform football from a "collision sport" into a "contact sport." I'm not going to lie, nor am I going to apologize. I crave a certain amount of "controlled violence." I enjoy mixed martial arts, don't mind fighting in hockey, and to be blunt, absolutely love big hits on the gridiron. Those hits, and the inherent physical risk associated with them, are part of football...but, in Week 3, the CFL edged perilously close to dressing quarterbacks in red "non-contact" jerseys like the ones they wear in practice. I appreciate that the relatively new concept of player safety is being taken seriously, however, the fine line between "player safety in football" and "rugby played in helmets and shoulder pads" has become a little too blurry for my liking.
My complaint isn't with the league's officials. My beef is with the rules they're being asked to enforce, the standards to which they're being asked to enforce them, and a review system that effectively castrates them in terms of exercising judgment. Where the officials used to be asked to enforce the rules, they have now become slaves to those regulations.
For me, football has always been about the human element – played by humans, coached by humans, officiated by humans, with opportunities for human excellence and human error creating an awesome 60-minute emotional journey. Rules have always been a necessary part of the game but now they too often overshadow the game. Every physical interaction between players is at risk of being deemed "too physical". The cerebral duel between coaches that takes place over 200 painstakingly conceived plays is becoming irrelevant next to the question of "Should he throw his challenge flag?" Every raw emotional reaction to an official's call loses its edge while the play is reviewed. It's just not the same.
Don't get me wrong. The games in Week 3 of the CFL schedule still possessed many of the elements of Canadian football that I've always enjoyed. Thanks to the drama of Julian Feoli-Gudino's game-winning catch, Adarius Bowman's one-handed touchdown grab, Jock Sanders' 121-yard missed field goal return, and Andrew Harris' run for the ages, the game being governed by current CFL rules still offers incredibly entertaining moments...but, man, I sure miss football.