Group of American CFL fans travel to Toronto for 100th Grey Cup game
TORONTO - Sue Haddox's love affair with Canadian football began nearly two decades ago, when the league expanded into the U.S. and brought a team to her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.
For a short two years, the Baltimore Stallions played with the CFL, and even took home the 1995 Grey Cup — the only American team to ever do so.
But to the dismay of thousands of fans south of the border, the team was moved back to Canada that year and reincarnated as the Montreal Alouettes.
The move left a trail of broken hearts, including Haddox's, who has travelled to Canada every year since then with a dozen other former Stallions fans to attend the Grey Cup.
"We fell in love with the league, truly," said the vivacious 53-year-old preschool teacher, decked out in the Stallions white and blue colours.
"We feel like we're still a part of it. We enjoy the fans, the games, the excitement of it."
Haddox admits it may be perplexing to Canadians that a group of Americans can be such diehard CFL fans, especially since their city is home to its own NFL franchise, the Baltimore Ravens.
But she says, coming to Canada each year is like coming home to her football family.
"Canada is a great country. The people are wonderful and we've always felt welcome," said Haddox. "All our friends keep telling me we're literally adopted."
Haddox says it's come to a point that CFL fans expect the Baltimore fans to be an unofficial fixture at the Grey Cup festivities.
Always dressed in their jerseys, pins, hats and carrying around a seven-foot high flag with the logo of the team's blue horse, Haddox says they've been embraced as honorary Canadians.
Fellow Baltimore CFL fans Rob Betz and his wife Marie have always felt the love when they come to the Grey Cup. This Sunday will be their fourth championship game, and they have known for more than a year that they weren't going to miss the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup.
And since arriving in Toronto earlier this week, the two have rubbed shoulders with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, Argos head coach Scott Milanovich, members of the Grey Cup Committee and fans from all across Canada.
"You would never get this in the NFL during Super Bowl week. I've made some great friends from all over the country. It's something that we really look forward to," said 47-year-old Betz.
"The NFL is such a big entity whereas the CFL is so much more fan-friendly."
Betz says the difference in rules between the CFL and the NFL also makes Canadian football more fast paced, and a more enjoyable game to watch. It's also easier on the wallet.
It's ironic, he says as an American who rarely misses a regular season CFL game online or on satellite television, but one of the best aspects about the game is that it's not from the U.S.
"One of the things that makes CFL unique is that it's purely Canadian," said Betz.