Huddling Up: The Inside Story of the Canadian Football League
Robert Barney was Professor of Physical Education at the University of Western Ontario in London.
Whereas ice hockey captures more attention from far and writer alike than does any other sport existing in Canadian society, professional football qualifies as a strong runner-up, at least from the point of view of fan preoccupation. Oddly though, as truly “national” as the CFL (Canadian Football League) is, as long as its roots have existed historically (about half a century), and as glorious as its culminating spectacle is each year (the Grey Cup), Canadian professional football (indeed, football at any level in Canada) has received very little attention and effort of a literary nature — except, of course, from newsprint journalists in their day-to-day treatment of the sport. There have been very few exceptions, the most notable being Frank Cosentino’s historical analysis Canadian Football: The Grey Cup Years (Toronto: Musson Book Co., 1969). Of lesser and narrower quality are J. Sullivan’s Grey Cup History (Toronto: Pagurian Press, 1970) and R. Neilson’s Garney Henley: A Gentleman and a Tiger (Hamilton: Potlatch Publications, 1972). Now, joining the above-mentioned works is Jeffrey Goodman’s Huddling Up, an analysis which focuses on developments in the CFL over its past 25 years, or those years from the time (1958) that the long history of the Grey Cup and of professional football in Canada finally evolved into what we know today as the Canadian Football League. Goodman, a former sports and feature writer with The Globe and Mail, has organized his book in such a way as to devote a chapter to each team in the CFL, eastern and western, first giving fleet attention to each club’s early history, and then concentrating on the perspectives of ownership, management, better known players, successes and setbacks, and controversial issues. Further chapters in Goodman’s work devote attention, in a very elementary sense, to such issues as: 1) the attempted invasion of the CFL by American-owned and -based football clubs, 2) the American player import rule, 3) “recruiting Canadian,” 4) league expansion, and 5) the Grey Cup spectacle/festival. Of particular interest, perhaps, is Goodman’s short chapter on two of the League’s superstars of the 1970s — Mack Herron (an unordinary superstar) and Johnny Rodgers (who wanted only to be an ordinary superstar).
Goodman’s thesis that “the CFL means more to Canada, as a country, than the NFL, as a corporation, means emotionally to Americans” falls short of being proven, much less argued from a solid factual base. This is partly because of Goodman’s own personal emotion and partly because of the type of data and data-gathering technique used in “putting the book together.” From a research point of view, Goodman depended on taped interviews with players, coaches, management, and ownership officials; study of old newspaper files; and players’ responses to questionnaires prepared by the author. Although such a design and approach can be judged as being far from ideal in the preparation of what was intended to be a semi-historical work, nevertheless, the personal insights, biases, and reactions of such folks as Bassett, Ballard, Cahill, Gaudaur, and people of their ilk, do have a way of capturing the attention of the reader. Goodman’s writing style and perspective are both sterile and superficial, but when one considers that little enough of note has been written about Canadian professional football, then even contributions with obvious shortcomings are greeted with some degree of enthusiasm. Huddling Up should be read by all those whose autumn preoccupation is professional football and whose later November Grey Cup weekend takes on the character of a spiritual holiday.