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#TBT: Berman, LaPlaca recall vintage CFL; Wingo explains today’s three-down football

A Canadian Football League pamphlet explaining the rules of the league distributed by ESPN in 1981.
A Canadian Football League pamphlet, distributed by ESPN in 1981, explains the rules of the league.

The 2015 Canadian Football League (CFL) regular season kicks off today with the Ottawa REDBLACKS taking on the Montreal Alouettes (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET).

ESPN’s season-long exclusive coverage in the U.S. will include 89 games in all, culminating with the 103rd Grey Cup in late November.

 A page from ESPN's 1981 CFL primer guide.
A page from ESPN’s 1981 CFL primer guide.

ESPN’s coverage of the CFL goes back 35 years to the network’s first game telecast on July 9, 1980 between the Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts. In this week’s #TBT, two original ESPNers discuss what the league has meant to ESPN.

“It was professional football on ESPN,” recalls longtime NFL host Chris Berman, who has always been a CFL enthusiast. “We were a long way from the NFL at the time and this was legitimate football that began in the summer.

“Having games on two nights a week was a big deal for us,” he said. “It was a very good bit of programming for ESPN to have and I have remained a fan of the CFL because of that coverage, and I feel that others who watched in the ’80s have remained fans as well.”

With the CFL game differing in many ways from the NFL, ESPN offered a rules pamphlet created by the CFL (see photo above) to help fans learn the intricacies of the Canadian game.

“The rules were made to speed up the game and create more scoring,” said ESPN’s Senior Vice President, Communications, Chris LaPlaca. “In 1981, all 7,500 pamphlets were spoken for within a week. In 1982, we offered 10,000 more. It was an early indicator for the company that people cared and were watching.”

In that same spirit – albeit with some modern technology – ESPN created a CFL 101 video (below) for this season voiced by NFL Live host Trey Wingo that helps fans get a better understanding of CFL rules.

CFL Rules 101 from ESPNFrontRow on Vimeo