Remember Noel Devine? Jock Sanders? Scooter Berry?
If you are a West Virginia Mountaineers’ fan the names are quite familiar.
The three players are not in the NFL but they are still playing professional football.
They are in Canada in the Canadian Football League.
The trio of former Mountaineers begin another season of pro football as the CFL season begins this weekend.
Devine and the Montreal Alouettes are set to kick off the new season tonight in Winnipeg against the Blue Bombers. Kickoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. tonight and the game will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network.
One of Devine’s Montreal teammates is former WVU player Berry, a defensive tackle.
The other ex-Mountaineer in the CFL is Sanders, a running back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The CFL’s opening weekend continues on Friday night as Hamilton plays at defending Grey Cup champion Toronto and the BC Lions hit the road at Calgary. Then on Saturday, Sanders and the Roughriders play at Edmonton in a 3:30 p.m. game which will be aired on ESPN2.
The Canadian game is different from the American version of football played in the NFL and at the college level.
In the CFL, the field is longer at 110 yards long with two 50-yard lines and a 55-yard, center stripe.
End zones are 20 yards deep instead of the standard 10 yards and the goal posts are on the goal line instead of at the back of the end zone.
Missed field goals can be returned out of the end zone but those that are not the kicking team receives one point. A “single” can also be scored by the kicking team on any touchbacks or kicked balls that go out of the back of the end zone.
With only three downs instead of four and multiple receivers allowed to go in motion, the Canadian game is more wide open than the NFL as teams are much more pass happy. The CFL quarterbacks have to be mobile and backs and receivers tend to be smaller and quicker than their American counterparts.
Offense is usually the name of the game as the defensive lineman have to line up one yard off of the ball by rule in the CFL. Because of this, often times team will go for it on third-and-one plays, even in their own territory. Most of the time, the sticks are moved for a first down.
The Canadian season runs from late June to late November as opposed to the NFL season that spans early September until early February.
The reason is obvious.
With only two domed stadiums in Toronto (Rogers Centre) and Vancouver (BC Place Stadium), playing outdoors in cold climates such as Regina or Calgary in January blizzards are not an option.
The CFL only has eight teams but is adding a ninth in 2014 with the addition of the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks. Ottawa used to have CFL teams known as the Rough Riders and later the Renegades. There is also talk of having a 10th CFL team in the Eastern Maritime Provinces at either Halifax, Nova Scotia or Moncton, N.B.
The league made brief inroads into the United States from 1993-95, bringing teams to such American cities as Baltimore, Sacramento, Shreveport, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Birmingham and Memphis but the experiment was a financial disaster.
The Baltimore Stallions made history in 1995 by beating Doug Flutie and the Calgary Stampeders for the Grey Cup title — the first and only American team to win a CFL crown. But with the NFL soon bringing in the Ravens, the Stallions folded (as well as every other American CFL team) and moved to Montreal to become the latest edition of the Alouettes’ franchise.
There are similarities, too, between American and Canadian football.
In Canada, they have a pair of Thanksgiving football games as well but those are played on the second Monday in October (our Columbus Day) instead of the fourth Thursday in November when Canadians celebrate their holiday.
The league’s players are roughly half American and half Canadian. With only a $4.4 million per team salary cap CFL players usually make far less money than those in the NFL.
By contrast, many top NFL players make much more than that. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, the top earner in the NFL, makes $15 million per season, or more than the salaries of three entire CFL teams combined.
Next to hockey, the CFL is Canada’s second-most popular sport.
Some big-name NFL players got their start in the CFL – most notably quarterbacks Warren Moon and Doug Flutie. Former Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant also coached in Canada.
Devine and Sanders seem to be ready for big things this season.
Devine had eight catches last season for 117 yards for the Alouettes and had 15 kick returns for 297 yards.
Sanders ran with the ball 20 times for 165 yards last season for Saskatchewan and grabbed 28 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown.
Both are looking for breakout seasons this year as both are expected to play more prominent roles with their teams.
Devine had a successful career at West Virginia. He rushed for 627 yards as a freshman and ended the season with 1,316 all-purpose yards. In the 2008 Fiesta Bowl (a 48-28 win by West Virginia over Oklahoma), Devine had a 65-yard TD run, the longest run by a WVU player in the school’s bowl history.
Devine rushed for 1,289 yards for WVU in 2008 and then ran for 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2009. He added another 934 yards in 2010 and closed out his West Virginia career with 4,315 yards and 29 TDs. This is his second season with Montreal.
Sanders played for WVU from 2007-10 and closed out with 1,980 yards receiving, 14 touchdowns and another 622 yards rushing on the ground.
This is the second year for Sanders with the Roughriders. He played for the BC Lions in 2011.
Avon Cobourne, another former WVU Mountaineer, is currently a free agent after being released by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats back in February. He played eight seasons in the CFL with Montreal and Hamilton from 2006-13.
CFL on TV
The Canadian Football League will be showcased this season on U.S. television with 14 regular-season games, the Eastern and Western Final, and the Grey Cup championship game on NBC Sports Network, the CFL announced last week.
“We’re very pleased to partner again this year with NBC Sports Network to deliver our high-scoring and exciting brand of football to our fans south of the border,” said Michael Copeland, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Canadian Football League. “It’s important for our league and has a significant impact on player recruitment, and gives fans an opportunity to follow some of their former favorite collegiate players.”
NBC Sports Network will kick off its CFL broadcast schedule with the opening game of the 2013 CFL season, featuring the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hosting the Montreal Alouettes in their brand new stadium, Investors Group Field. It will follow the league right up to Grey Cup Sunday, which will take place this year in Regina, Saskatchewan on Sunday, November 24.
“We are excited to be partnering again with the CFL, and to present its fast-paced and tradition-rich brand of football on NBC Sports Network,” said Mike Perman, Vice President, Programming, NBC Sports Group.
All CFL games are broadcast in Canada on TSN, with additional games available in French on RDS and RDS2. Every CFL game not carried by NBC Sports Network or ESPN2 will be streamed live over the internet on ESPN3.com.
“We’re looking forward to a very exciting season, and welcome our many American friends along for what will be a great ride,” Copeland said.
Here is the full NBC Sports Network CFL Schedule: (All times ET)
Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 9 p.m. - Montreal/Winnipeg
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. – BC/Toronto
Friday, August 2, 2013 at 9 p.m. – Hamilton/Edmonton
Monday, August 5, 2013 at 7 p.m. – Winnipeg/BC
Friday August 9, 2013 at 9 p.m. – Saskatchewan/Calgary
Thursday August 22, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. – BC/Montreal
Monday September 2, 2013 at 5 p.m. – Edmonton/Calgary
Tuesday September 3, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. – Montreal/Toronto
Friday September 6, 2013 at 9 p.m. – Calgary/Edmonton
Friday September 27, 2013 at 10:30 p.m. – BC/Winnipeg
Monday October 14, 2013 at 12 a.m. (10/16) – Toronto/Hamilton
Friday October 18, 2013 at 12 a.m. (10/19) – Calgary/Edmonton
Thursday October 24, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. – Winnipeg/Toronto
Friday November 1, 2013 at 12 a.m. (11/2) – Montreal/Toronto
Sunday November 17, 2013 Time TBD at 11 p.m.– Eastern Final
Sunday November 17, 2013 at 12 a.m. (11/19) – Western Final
Sunday November 24, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. – 101st Grey Cup in Regina, Saskatchewan
ESPN2 is also airing five CFL games this season.
They are as follows:
Saturday, June 29, 3:30 p.m. — Saskatchewan at Edmonton
Thursday, July 4, 7 p.m. — Winnepeg at Montreal
Saturday, July 13, 9:30 p.m. — British Columbia at Edmonton
Saturday, July 20, 7 p.m. — Montreal at Calgary
Thursday, July 25, 7:30 p.m. — Edmonton at Montreal