TV focuses on Canada; Football's Cinderella gets to the ball

The Canadian Football League - the Cinderella of the sport - is getting to the US television ball this weekend.

NBC, faced with the US players' strike, is trying to satisfy the American appetite for professional gridiron action by telecasting two Canadian games.

But while disgruntled Cowboy and Steeler fans will recognize the game played Sunday by such as the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos, football Canadian-style may seem confusing to those used to the American variety.

The Canadian field is longer and wider. Teams have 12 players a side (rather than 11). And the rules are different, too.

In Canada the offense is allowed only three downs to advance the ball 10 yards for a first down. This rule means a lot of punting and tends to foster the use of potentially explosive trick maneuvers that can give the game a reckless, improvised appearance. And a team that kicks the ball into the opposing team's end zone is allowed to gain one point if the receiving team fails to run the ball out.

Ironically, however, at least some of the names on the Canadian rosters will ring bells in American minds. For, with a population only one-tenth that of the US, Canadian teams rely heavily on ''imports'' - US players who failed to win an NFL spot, and US coaches. In fact, to keep the game here from being completely dominated by US personnel, each Canadian team is limited to only 15 American players on its 34-man roster.

No one pretends the Canadian version measures up to the NFL. ''It's terrible, '' groaned one of the more disdainful fans. ''The CFL is all a bunch of rejects.''

Thus, some cynics wonder if the moment in the sudden burst of limelight may prove a disaster for the CFL. Canada's players may get ''hooted into oblivion'' if they don't perform well, a journalist jokes. But many other Canadians are delighted with a chance to get Canadian football on US television.

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