Gridiron Football has taken shape in two different formats: American Football and Canadian Football. While the two takes on the game of football are similar, there are some key differences.
Canadian Football is about eight years older than its southern counterpart, first being played in 1861. American Football, first played in 1869, gradually created interest over the years before exploding in popularity after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. They both began as amateur collegiate competitions.
Players have crossed back and forth between the two versions of the game. Warren Moon is among the greatest to play both versions of gridiron football and is the only player to earn a spot in both Halls of Fame.
Key Takeaways: American Football vs. Canadian Football
Here are some key takeaways on the two styles of professional football in North America.
- The Canadian Football League is older than the Super Bowl.
- The CFL experimented with adding teams in the United States in the 1990s, but after some initial interest from the American audience, it was apparent that the interest had dissipated.
- While most NFL games are on Sundays, the CFL spreads out games between Thursday to Sunday.
- The CFL and NFL have used the same sized football since 2018 when the CFL made their football smaller to the same size as the NFL.
- The NFL is slightly more popular than the CFL in Canada, with 20% of Canadians watching the NFL closely and 17% saying they watch the CFL closely.
How is Canadian Football different than American Football?
Canadian Football and American Football have some major differences. Here are some of the most significant differences between the two.
- The CFL has 12 players on the field per team; American Football only allows 11. The extra player in the CFL is usually placed in the backfield.
- CFL fields are 150 yards long by 65 yards wide. American Football fields are 120 yards long by 53.3 yards wide. CFL fields have 20-yard end zones, while the NFL has an end zone depth of 10 yards. See American Football Field Dimensions.
- The field goal posts in the CFL are located at the goal line rather than American Football field goal posts in the back of the end zone.
- There are three downs per possession in the CFL. American Football allows four downs per possession.
- The defensive team must be a minimum of one yard behind the line of scrimmage in the CFL, allowing for run plays to be much more effective. American Football allows the defensive team to get as close to the line of scrimmage as they can without being offside.
- The CFL also operates with a 20-second play clock versus a 40-second play clock in the NFL. This forces play to move at a much quicker pace.
- CFL gives each team two timeouts throughout the duration of an entire game. The NFL gives teams three timeouts each half.
See the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
What is a rouge?
A rouge is a point given in CFL during specific circumstances. If a receiving team fails to return the ball out of their end zone during a punt or missed field goal attempt, then the kicking team is awarded a rouge point. If the kicking team, during a punt or missed field goal attempt, kicks it through the end zone without being touched, then they are awarded a rouge point.
The word “rouge” means red in French. Some think the name is derived from early referees using a red signal to signify that a ball carrier did not exit the end zone, meaning a rouge had been scored.
Where to watch the CFL in the United States?
The CFL will broadcast 34 live games of the 2023 season across the United States on CBS Sports Network. All games not broadcast on CBS Sports Network’s platforms are available to stream through CFL+.
When is the CFL season?
All nine CFL teams play an 18-game regular season schedule from June until October, with playoffs running until late November. See How many games in an NFL season? The 2023 CFL regular season started on June 8 and will end on October 28. The playoffs run from November 4 until the Grey Cup championship game on November 19.
What is the Grey Cup?
The Grey Cup is the Super Bowl of Canadian Football. It is the championship game typically played on the last Sunday of November. The Grey Cup is nearly six decades older than the Super Bowl, with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues winning the first three Canadian Football championships.
Who is the best CFL team?
The reigning champion of the CFL is the Toronto Argonauts, claiming their record 18th Grey Cup title in 2022. The Argonauts have made it to the championship game 24 times and only lost on six occasions.
Below are the teams with the most Grey Cup titles.
- Toronto Argonauts: 18
- Edmonton Eskimos/Elks: 14
- Winnipeg Blue Bombers: 12
- Ottawa Rough Riders (defunct): 9
- Calgary Stampeders: 8
- Hamilton Tiger-Cats: 8
Have the CFL and NFL ever played each other?
There were a series of 10 games between CFL and American Football (pre-AFL NFL merger) teams between 1941 and 1961. They were played in August or September and hosted by the Canadian team as a midseason exhibition game and a preseason warmup for NFL teams.
American teams won eight of the ten matchups, but the Columbus Bullies lost the first-ever matchup in 1941 in Canada against the Winnipeg Tiger-Cats 19-12. Columbus rallied the next two years to beat the Blue Bombers to start a streak of eight straight wins for American teams. That streak came to an end with the conclusion of the interleague series when the Buffalo Bills lost to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 38-21 in 1961.
It is unlikely that interleague exhibitions will return anytime soon. The CFL is a tiny minnow compared to the NFL, which wasn’t the case in 1961 before the NFL exploded after merging. Scheduling issues and collective bargaining agreements have put restrictions on these interleague matchups.
Can Americans play in the CFL?
It is quite popular for Americans to head North to play Canadian Football. Just as hockey teams are often stacked with Canadian players, Canadian Football teams are often stacked with American players.
The CFL has implemented guidelines – called the Game Rule Ratio – to regulate the number of players that can dress for games. Of the 45 players allowed to dress for a game, three can be quarterbacks of any background, and 21 must be Canadian. There can be no more than 19 American players, and must be one global player not from the United States or Canada.
There is no shortage of players who have crossed the border to play in the CFL. Some have gone to extend their careers while others have gone to try and establish a professional playing career. Here are some of the most notable names, including a handful of Heisman Trophy winners.
- Warren Moon
- Doug Flutie
- Joe Theismann
- Johnny Manziel
- Jeff Garcia
- Troy Smith
- Cameron Wake
- Eric Crouch
- Johnny Rodgers
- Ricky Williams
- Joe Horn
- Rashaan Salaam
See Funny Football Jokes.
Players who won a Super Bowl and Grey Cup
It’s been almost a decade since anyone has won a championship in both the United States and Canada throughout a career. Here is the list of players who have achieved the feat.
- Barry Wilburn — Super Bowl 1988; Grey Cup 1994
- Bobby Singh — Super Bowl 1999; Grey Cup 2006
- Harald Hasselbach — Super Bowl 1997; Grey Cup 1992
- Daniel Federkeil — Super Bowl 2007; Grey Cup 2014
- Brandon Browner — Super Bowl 2013; Super Bowl 2014; Grey Cup 2008
- Terry Greer — Super Bowl 1989; Super Bowl 1990; Grey Cup 1983
- Tyrone Williams — Super Bowl 1993; Super Bowl 1994; Grey Cup 1996
- Tim Jessie — Super Bowl 1987; Grey Cup 1988
- Andre Rison — Super Bowl 1997; Grey Cup 2004
- Alvin Walton — Super Bowl 1987; Super Bowl 1991; Grey Cup 1995
- Josh Miller — Super Bowl 2005; Grey Cup 1995
- OJ Brigance — Super Bowl 2001; Grey Cup 1995
By Nathan Dunn
Nathan is a sportswriter based in Kansas City, Missouri.
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