Editor's note: With the NFL's Super Bowl coming to the Bay Area in February, CSNBayArea.com Senior Insider Ray Ratto is in Canada to cover the Grey Cup and see how the other half lives. Bookmark Ray Ratto's Grey Cup blog for complete coverage leading up to Sunday's game.
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA -- The definition of The Spirit Of Edmonton is pretty much whatever you want to make it, but let’s just simplify the process for you. When the band takes a break “so we can wipe up the floor,” well, let’s just say you’ve been given your first hint that you’re not at the Super Bowl.
And the band, Spoiled Rotten of Moncton, NB, whose lead singer looks a dead ringer for comedian Rob Riggle, takes a break “so we can wipe up the floor” because every few songs, the singer yells out, ‘SOCIABLE!” to which all the people in the ballroom throw their hand holding their drink of choice, yell “SOCIABLE!” back and then fire down a couple of ounces. Spillage is generally assured, and sometimes people will miss their mouths fully. It’s the risk they run.
And the floor is wiped down specifically so that, at least in this case, the Edmonton Eskimos cheerleaders can do a routine in which they are mostly thrown into the air at intricately timed intervals like water show dolphins, and you don’t want any wrecks in Turn One because the track is coated in Molson Canadian.
In other words, you are SO not at the Super Bowl now.
The Spirit, or as it is known in Hashtag world, #spirityeg (the “yeg” part is the airport code for Edmonton, and shorthand for the city in general), is one of the staples of the Grey Cup – a three-day event that is interrupted most notably by a Saturday breakfast for 1,000 which according to event organizer Keith Keating, shouting over one of the band’s seemingly limitless decade-old rock anthems, “is often harder to get a ticket to than the game. You haven’t really been to a Grey Cup if you haven’t been to a Spirit of Edmonton breakfast.”
And his predecessor, Bruce Keltie, explained why it’s more than a breakfast.
“We’ve had about 40 Argos fans from Toronto come up to us and say, ‘What can we do to help?’ And all I could tell ‘em was, ‘Start stacking chairs and breaking down tables.’ And they did. That’s why this isn’t just an Edmonton thing.”
Indeed not. The event, which goes back 33 years, is the gathering place for people from all parts of the country, and they wear their origins on their backs. They cheerfully violate the Third Law Of Jerseys – If you’re older than 25, you’re too old to wear one – and customize them with nameplates that are more likely than not to replace favored players of today and yesteryear with testimonials to their own drinking and coital prowess.
What is more noticeable is that all jerseys are found at The Spirit Of Edmonton, from all nine teams. There are fewer from Calgary than anywhere else because Calgary and Edmonton have always had a firemen-and-arsonists relationship that transcends mere national unity, but for some, the availability of beer, a band, a dance hall and no cover charge trumps even regional enmities.
More obvious still is that you don’t find NFL shmata anywhere. No Patriots or Bills, Vikings or Lions, Seahawks or Raiders, not a stitch. Here, there is but one football, and that is the Canadian one – where three downs work better than four, where 12 men are preferable to 11, and where the weather is lauded for its plain mean-spiritedness and regarded as “just another thing.”
The Spirit Of Edmonton has spawned other similar efforts from the other cities’ fans (and not the franchises, as this is entirely a fans’ endeavor), most notably Riderville, the Saskatchewan version thereof, and according to Keltie, they’ve all been done with The Spirit’s blessing and aid. “Except Calgary, because they didn’t want to listen,” he said.
But The Spirit is still the largest, and the one that got shuttled out to the airport again this year because (a) it is the largest and most difficult to find a ballroom large enough, and (b) because the organizers are strident about maintaining control of their own bar rather than cutting the hotel or convention center in on a piece of the action.
The Super Bowl doesn’t have an equivalent, firstly because the Super Bowl wraps everything around the protection and profit of The Shield. Rogue fun is not discouraged, but it is monitored for copyright and proprietary rights protection.
Moreover, fans from cities whose teams didn’t win their conference championships simply don’t go, chastened by the inconvenience and price and ignominy of not being able to front-run with impunity. Rather they end up making their own Spirit Of Edmonton, either at their own home or that of a friend. It’s called “a Super Bowl party,” and the league hasn’t figured a way to regulate those yet.
They aren’t massive like Spirit and its brethren, nor are they all-encompassing. Plus, they doesn’t last a full weekend, let alone whip up bacon and eggs for a thousand right in the middle.
But I think you can probably yell “SOCIABLE!” at an opportune moment and convince your friends to hoist one skyward without the Edmontonians casting a litigious eye and invoking copyright infringement. Just remember to wipe up the floor before the cheerleaders come on.