Football is returning to McMahon Stadium this summer.
The Calgary Stampeders are back.
The schedule won’t be released until Tuesday, and there are lots of details that still need to be ironed-out on things — such as capacity restrictions — but the most important takeaway from Monday morning’s CFL Board of Governors meeting is pretty simple: Football is coming back on Aug. 5.
“Yeah, guys are excited,” said Stampeders defensive back Jamar Wall. “If you’re not excited, you might need to just go ahead and retire right now. A year-and-change of not having football and you’re not excited? There may be other problems we need to discuss.”
In terms of what the 2021 CFL season will look like, there are still more questions than answers. That’s likely to change over the next couple days, though, as the league office reveals its schedule.
What we know, so far, is this:
The season will kickoff on Aug. 5. The Grey Cup will go down on Dec. 12 in Hamilton, Ont.
Training camps will begin on July 10, and the early-season schedule will likely be played primarily in Western Canadian markets, where there are fewer COVID-19 restrictions than in Ontario.
Commissioner Randy Ambrosie told reporters on a media call that the league will keep its traditional East-West divisional format and that the current plan is to stick with the usual six-team playoff format — although there is some flexibility to change that.
“The schedule’s coming out in a day or so, so it’s probably best that I don’t shed any light that might be misinformation,” said Stampeders president/GM John Hufnagel. “I think you can use some common sense — that’s what we have to follow — so I’d expect there will be some football at McMahon in August.
“Obviously, the more people that get vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to normalcy. Once the schedule is released, the ticket office will reach out to fans. We need to find out what kind of capacity we can have, that way we’re not confusing the season ticket-holders if we’re restricted.”
When Alberta premier Jason Kenney first revealed the province’s COVID-19 reopening plan in late May, he said all restrictions would be lifted once 70% of people aged 12-or-over had received their first vaccine.
Asked specifically what that would mean for the province’s two professional football teams, Kenney said the Stampeders and Edmonton Elks could have full capacity at their stadiums as early as two weeks after the province hit the 70% vaccine threshold.
Whether or not the Stamps push forward with trying to have full capacity is unclear, as of Monday afternoon.
What is clear, though, is that there’s a genuine excitement around McMahon Stadium for the first time in a long time. The facility hosted the 107th Grey Cup in late November of 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant that not a single down of CFL football has been played since.
“Over the past month, and especially the last month, I’ve been approached by so many people saying, ‘Are we going to be playing? Are we going to be playing?'” Hufnagel said. “I’m thrilled for our fans. I’m thrilled for our players, and I appreciate the players’ association coming to an agreement on an amended (collective bargaining agreement) to move us forward, and I’m excited about our football club.
“I’m very excited. A lot of hard work has been put forth leading up to today and the decision. I’m so pleased for everyone who enjoys the game of football.”
CLOSE TO SET
While there hasn’t been any actual football played since 2019, the Stampeders — and every other CFL team — kept themselves busy signing players and preparing for a season they always hoped would happen.
That means that nobody should be expecting a sudden rush of signings in the coming weeks. The training camp roster is largely good to go.
“Our roster is, I’d say, 98% set,” Hufnagel said. “There’s always room to make an adjustment or two, but the hoops that the players have to contend with … if you’re a traveller, you’ll have to quarantine, so we have to make some decisions here, or final decisions, within the next 10 days.”