A bizarre spectacle took place Thursday night, as 22,000 fans at Winnipeg’s IG Field took in what could barely be described as a game of American football between the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders.
The stadium normally hosts the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, and the previous Thursday had hosted a CFL game before reconfiguring the field to NFL specifications. Due to difficulties with the patches of turf where the CFL’s goalposts were removed, NFL officials were forced to shorten the playing field to 80 yards for the Packers-Raiders contest, put the end zones at each of the ten-yard lines, and remove kickoffs altogether.
It begs the question: Why did they bother?
Neither team has their next preseason game until Thursday, August 29th. The grounds crew at IG Field had at least another day, maybe two, to fix the potholes in the stadium before the teams needed to go their separate ways. The Blue Bombers would not have been a concern, as their next home game is not for another nine days.
Even if the problem were truly unfixable, there would have been no shame in outright cancelling the game. Neither team would have stood to lose very much. Sure, the Packers and Raiders’ second- and third-stringers gained some experience from this game, but hardly anyone gained from the experience of this farce other than a funny story to tell their grandchildren.
Yes, some Canadian NFL fans would have been very disappointed, but many were disappointed anyway due to the absence of major attractions such Aaron Rodgers, who would not have played even if the game had taken place on a normal 100-yard field. Frankly, postponement or cancellation would have spared them.
It’s not like there hasn’t been a precedent for this happening before. In August 2001, a very similar situation took place before a preseason game at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium between the Eagles and the Ravens. There, the Vet’s infamous artificial turf (which had just been redone for their co-tenants, the Phillies) was in such a patchy and uneven state that both teams refused to take the field, and the game was outright canceled.
While this whole situation seems funny on the surface, this fiasco may have seriously hurt the image of the NFL in Canada. This is the first time the league has played north of the border since 2013, and this isn’t exactly a good look, especially in a year that has seen a Canadian franchise take home a rare title in another league.
Both the NFL and the managers of IG Field have to shoulder equal responsibility for this mess – the NFL for foolishly going ahead with the game, and especially the stadium for not taking adequate time to prepare the field in the week prior.