Spirals on 33rd Street


Get ready for the Rouge. And the Grey Cup. And the 55-yard line. The Canadian Football League is about to arrive.

Baltimore has never seen a football game quite like it. Faster and quicker than the National Football League. More passing and far more scoring. No 6-3 doldrums in this league. And no 320-pound monsters, either. This league opts for a longer and wider playing surface, requiring teams to employ scatbacks, scrambling quarterbacks, jackrabbit receivers and smaller defensive lineman with the speed and stamina to keep up with them.

Welcome to the CFL. Baltimore hasn't had a pro football team to cheer about for a decade. The Colts are still mourned and missed. But the 1990s could be the decade of the CFL. Just as the Colts transported the NFL into the big-time sports league with that dramatic 1958 sudden-death victory over the Giants ("Ameche scores! Ameche scores! The Colts are the world's champions!"), Baltimore's new team could lift the CFL into American prominence and a juicy network television contract.

This could be the start of something grand.

But for that to occur, Baltimore's sports fans must turn out in droves to support the newest home team. And with the same kind of fanaticism that made Baltimore known coast to coast.

It will take some time, though. We're not used to a football season that begins in the blazing heat of early July and concludes with the Grey Cup just after Thanksgiving (before the worst of the harsh Canadian winter). We don't know the CFL stars, many of whom learned their football north of the border. The single-point Rouge, while exciting, remains a mystery to many Americans. The team names are new and confusing -- Rough Riders (Ottawa), Roughriders (Saskatchewan), Tiger-Cats (Hamilton), Eskimos (Edmonton), Blue Bombers (Winnipeg), Gold Miners (Sacramento) and tonight's opponents, the Argonauts (Toronto).

Still, this is an exciting brand of football. Team owner Jim Speros has pumped several million dollars into this effort, including a substantial makeover of dilapidated Memorial Stadium. For a town that was once addicted to pro football, this could be just the prescription to heal those festering Irsay-inflicted wounds and get us back on our feet cheering -- and into the front-ranks of American cities leading the CFL into a new, dynamic North American Football League.

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