In the 18 years that I have been covering the CFL on TSN, I can't remember a year were all four of the Week 1 matchups to kick of the regular season had so many interesting storylines.
Usually there's the Grey Cup rematch every year that's always an exciting way to start the season. It's the game where the team that lost the Cup and has spent a painful offseason wondering what could have been and gets a chance for revenge against the team that theoretically spent all offseason celebrating.
Also, due to offseason trades and free agency, there's often one other game that is must-see TV, but other than that Week 1 is usually just the beginning of a long season. This year however, all four games have very intriguing and different storylines.
To kick things off on the first Friday Night Football game of 2012, the rebuilt Saskatchewan Roughriders will travel to Hamilton to face the new look Ticats. Both teams will have new head coaches roaming the sideline. Thirty-five-year-old Corey Chamblin will go head to head with former Stampeder and Buffalo Bills assistant coach George Cortez. That should be enough to at least pause while flicking channels - but wait, there's more!
One of the biggest names in free agency in the offseason was slotback Andy Fantuz who - after having a cereal named after him in Saskatchewan - left the prairies to be closer to home in Hamilton and will face his old teammates in Week 1. If that isn't enough, let's not forget that Henry Burris who - after spending the last seven years as the starter in Calgary - lost his job last season to Drew Tate and now begins a new chapter in Steeltown. Burris had a good preseason, but I think there are more than a few football fans interested to see him for first time for real in Hamilton colors.
Game 2 on Friday Night is that Grey Cup rematch that we talked about earlier. As mentioned, the revenge factor is always worth a look, but this year it has a story that relates directly to the game's history. It's fitting in a way that in the year where two teams will compete for the 100th Grey Cup in November, we will kick the season off on the first night where Geroy Simon of the B.C. Lions will be looking to make a little history of his own.
He needs 67 yards to pass Milt Stegall and become the all-time leader in receiving yardage in the league's history. Stegall will be in B.C. on Friday night with Commissioner Mark Cohon, who will stop the game if it happens. Interestingly enough, when Winnipeg halfback Jonathan Hefeny was told this week that the Bombers may want to move him to linebacker, he fought hard with the coaching staff to stay at halfback. And head coach Paul LaPolice granted him his wish. I wonder if it had anything to do with Hefeny wanting the matchup against Simon on Friday night?
If you're putting games on the PVR, make sure you have enough room because on Saturday the Toronto Argonauts will head to Edmonton to play the Eskimos. During most years, this matchup is considered just another game. But it couldn't be bigger this year unless it was the Cup itself. It was the trade that sports fans talked about all winter and Edmonton general manager Eric Tillman has discussed so many times he could likely recite the speech in his sleep.
Ricky Ray to Toronto for Steven Jyles, Grant Shaw and a draft pick.
A trade most football fans see as Ray for Jyles, and don't have to wait at all to see Ray vs. Jyles. It will be an emotional night when Ray enters Commonwealth Stadium from the visitors' entrance for the first time, though I'm sure most Argonaut fans are more interested to see if their new quarterback - working with a new head coach in offensive specialist Scott Milanovich - can finally be an explosive offensive unit, something that has been lacking in Toronto for some time.
Finally, we wrap up Week 1 with Montreal traveling to Calgary to take on the Stampeders with Marc Trestman and John Hufnagel - the longest serving coaches on the circuit. And both have only been head coaches in the CFL since 2008.
Canada Day will begin a new era of Stampeder football, where Drew Tate and Jon Cornish will take over for Henry Burris and Joffery Reynolds and will begin to write their own chapter in team history. It will be quite a test for the young pivot as Tate will begin his first full season as a starter against a man that will be beginning his 19th pro season in Anthony Calvillo. And remember - AC still has Jamel Richardson and Brandon Whitaker in his arsenal. The Stamps should find out exactly where they are as a team after Sunday.
As we kick off the 2012 season this weekend, there are enough storylines to write a book. But enough talk - it's finally time to play some football.