CFL offers different football elements

What is it like to play in the Canadian Football League? There are a lot of similarities to American football, but also many key differences.

The most visual difference is the field is 110 yards long and 65 yards wide in Canada, compared to 100 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide in the this country. Plus, the end zones are 20 yards deep.

From a strategic standpoint, teams have only three downs to make a first down in Canada instead of four in the U.S., which is a huge difference.

This area has not had many players who went on to play in the CFL. Altoona’s Julian Howsare currently plays there. Back in 1985, Hollidaysburg product Jim Merritts, who played collegiately at West Virginia, played four games for the Toronto Argonauts.

“It was a pretty interesting game.” Merritts, who also played in the NFL and USFL, said of his time in the CFL. “It’s three downs and you’re out. It’s a different game. The field’s a little bigger, not much. Everybody always made fun of the field.

“The thing that always interested me about the game is you can really lose a game quick up there because you can’t burn the clock out. In the United States, if you have all your timeouts, you can burn two or three minutes off the clock and keep the other team from getting the ball. Up there they have different rules where they can eat you up.

“The motions in the backfield, they’re constantly moving. You have to be set before they snap the ball (in the NFL). They can have everybody in the backfield can run and start moving, so from a defensive lineman standpoint, you’re looking around going, ‘What’s going on?’ It’s crazy.”

Howsare mentioned how there’s a lot more field to cover as a defensive player and that everything is fast paced in the CFL.

“For a defensive lineman, you always had to keep your weight down,” Merritts said. “You almost had to be like marine lean up there because you had to be on your horse every play. … You have to be able to move. You can push the castle, but you have to be able to get around it, too. You start cutting weight just so you could get your speed up a little bit.”

Merritts played against Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Doug Flutie in college and knew he would have success in the CFL, which Flutie certainly did.

“I thought he would be a hell raiser in Canada, and he was,” Merritts said. “He’s got that 65-yard field to work on, and if he gets out around you, you’re done. So from a scrambling standpoint, your work’s cut out for you.”

The players in the CFL are “the top 1 percent out of the NCAA,” Merritts said, because the league has great talent at every position.

“There’s a lot of skill players there that are unbelievable,” Merritts said.

And the Canadian football fans?

“They love their game,” Merritts said. “They’re very prideful. They’re very loyal, very passionate toward the game.”