A Look at the North American Sports Fabric with Hockey and Football

Hockey rules Canada and football the United States. The facts, of course, help to support this reality. Which sport has a bigger impact on its country though? I would submit hockey captivates and occupies the Canadian sports fan more than football does an American. At the same time, it is also interesting to note how football had a common thread between the two countries. The origin of football is a shared sports story between Canada and the United States.

The first documented football game in Canada was played in Toronto in 1861. It was first played in 1868 in Quebec. By 1909, the Grey Cup was introduced as a reward to the champion of the Rugby Football Championship. The Grey Cup has been a Canadian tradition ever since and its awarded to the CFL (Canadian Football League) Champion. In 1874, a football team from McGill University visited Harvard to play two exhibition games. The key result of this match up was the fact that McGill played a hybrid game of soccer and rugby while Harvard played a form of soccer. Harvard won the first game 3-0 playing Harvard rules and the second game was 0-0 playing McGill rules. Characteristics such as running with the ball and tackling which became the hallmarks of football were spread by an enthusiastic Harvard squad to other Ivy League schools.

Interestingly, football in Canada preceded hockey which played its first organized game in 1875. In 1888, Lord Stanley of Preston donated a trophy to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. By 1917, the Stanley Cup was awarded to the champion of the National Hockey League and is widely considered to be the most recognized trophy, in addition to being the oldest, in pro sports. The Grey Cup happens to be the second oldest. In any event, it was hockey that was to capture the attention, hearts and minds of Canadians.

By contrast, the first inter-collegiate football game in the U.S. was played in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton and the first professional game in 1875. American pro football went through many changes and began with the American Professional Football Association in 1920. The APFA changed its name to the National Football league in 1922. The NFL withstood many viable rival leagues early on. The first was the All-America football conference from 1946 to 1949. Later, and more significantly, the AFL was created in 1960 and soon merged with the NFL later in the decade. The NFL, at the height of its popularity, had to battle yet another well orchestrated league in the USFL but this too was defeated by the NFL. Today, the NFL rules the football world.

Baseball, for its part, up until the 1960s transcended American sports. First played in 1865, baseball organized its first league - National League in 1876. The World Series was first played in 1903 between the winner of the NL and the American League (AL) founded in 1901.

With this, it is time for some observations. First, one may wonder why Canada had an early impact on all of North America's pro sports (including basketball). The reason is simple. Britain still had a major influence on Canadian society during this time. British Majors and Generals stationed in Canada were always developing or on the look out for new games. Athletics was considered an important element in creating a soldier and a gentleman. Much of what was played was at the amateur level.

Second, football had to take on hockey in Canada and baseball in the U.S. This is where the two countries go their separate ways. While football is a popular game in Canada, it could never seriously rival hockey. In the beginning, this was the case with the U.S also only baseball ruled. Things took a sudden change by the time the 1960s rolled around. While key championship games in the 1950s had laid the foundation, football began to run wild in the 60s. Ever since then, even with baseball's push in the mid-70s, football has become America's game while baseball remained a pass time. A different America with different dynamics shrugged off baseball and moved on.

Third, football is indeed the most popular game in the U.S.and it has found a resurgence in Canada since the 1990's. However, no sport means so much to a country like hockey does to Canada (not mention scores of soccer nations. England, Brazil and Italy in particular take it to another level). Hockey has come to represent the achievements and failures of a rustic society. Hockey affects the Canadian psyche that football and baseball only wished it could. America, after all, still has the NBA and NASCAR - so their attention is divided.

More importantly, baseball and football do not have international tournaments that pit nations against other nations. Football remains, despite being played in Mexico and Japan now, a two country sport. Baseball never mobilized itself to create a meaningful tournament that brought Cuba, Japan, Canada and other relevant countries. Hockey did. This is what made the sport so important. Especially during the Cold War. There are four major international tournaments and all have Canadians riveted.

There you have it. A somewhat long look at two countries and 2 sports. The point of the argument was that football managed to wrestle the American sports fan away from baseball to become its most dominant sport in a highly competitive market. Not so with the Canadian fan where hockey continues to wield a magnetic power on an entire nation.

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