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TORONTO — The wait is over; it’s time to mark your calendars.
A brand new CFL season kicks off June 23rd when the Toronto Argonauts host archival Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the league’s first ever game at renovated BMO Field which will also host the 104th Grey Cup presented by Shaw this November.
From the opening kickoff to homecomings to Labour Day Weekend to the playoff push, this year’s schedule promises many can’t miss matchups and dates.
CFL Kickoff weekend also includes a rematch of the 2015 Grey Cup on Saturday June 25th, when the defending champion Edmonton Eskimos host the Ottawa REDBLACKS, followed by the British Columbia Lions hosting the Calgary Stampeders in the first double header of the season. And the Montreal Alouettes travel to Winnipeg to take on the Blue Bombers on June 24th in the debut of Friday Night Football on TSN and RDS.
When September hits, get caught up in the fiercest rivalries the league has to offer with Mark’s Labour Day Weekend, along with rematches the following week. Turkey and football are synonymous on Thanksgiving Weekend, as eight teams are in action while the Argos and Alouettes host opponents on Thanksgiving Monday.
Then of course there’s the Grey Cup and everything in between, as teams battle for the chance to make the playoffs and ultimately hold that coveted trophy high overhead.
With anticipation mounting, the countdown is on. Here are the top 12 dates to mark down for the 2016 CFL season:
1. The 104th Grey Cup Championship presented by Shaw
BMO Field will be rocking all season in its first year hosting the Argos, but perhaps never more than during the 104th Grey Cup presented by Shaw on Nov. 27, 2016. The event will mark the 48th time Toronto has hosted a Grey Cup, but the first time outdoors since 1982.
The regular season kicks off on June 23 with an age old rivalry between the Argos and Ticats, while three other great matchups follow over the weekend as the road to the Grey Cup truly begins.
The Bombers and Alouettes look to start their road to redemption on the right foot with a matchup in Montreal the following night, while on Sunday a double header kicks off in Edmonton with a Grey Cup rematch before finishing with a Western rivalry between the Stamps and Lions.
3. The first game at BMO Field
The Argos and Ticats renew a great tradition at a brand new venue, as BMO Field plays host to its first CFL game — the first of many for the Toronto Argonauts. It’s the first of three matchups this season between these Southern Ontario rivals, as they’ll meet again for a Labour Day home-and-home.
Among other key storylines, Chad Owens returns to Toronto wearing enemy colours for the first time while former Ticat Brian Bulcke plays his first game against the Ticats in what promises to deliver another historic chapter in one of the CFL’s longest-standing rivalries.
4. Grey Cup rematch
The annual Grey Cup rematch will take place in Edmonton this year, as Henry Burris and the REDBLACKS look for redemption in a rematch against Mike Reilly and the Eskimos. Already a clash between two CFL powerhouses, this opening week matchup features plenty of intrigue as Jason Maas goes from Ottawa to Edmonton to make his head coaching debut.
5. Mark’s Labour Day Weekend
They say the real season starts Labour Day and what a way to kick it off, with five matchups across the board and three of the most exciting rivalries around.
Calgary and Edmonton meet for the first time this season on Mark’s Labour Day Weekend in the Battle of Alberta, almost 10 months after the Eskimos defeated the Stampeders in the Western Final. The Argos and Ticats hope to be battling for the East Division at this time of year as they resume their rivalry in the second of three matchups. And in perhaps the most highly-anticipated matchup of the weekend, Ryan Smith, Weston Dressler and the Bombers visit their former team as their rivalry with the Riders reaches new heights.
6. Dressler, Smith return to Riderville
Speaking of the Riders and Bombers, that matchup between two hated rivals is worth mentioning on its own. Both teams missed the playoffs last season causing major changes all around, from a total bulldozing in Regina to some star-powered additions in Winnipeg.
And if the departures of Ryan Smith and Weston Dressler were enough to shake up all of Riderville? Wait until they return to a familiar sea of Green and White wearing… Blue and Gold. The Labour Day Classic and the rematch in the following week’s Banjo Bowl are games to have circled for all CFL fans this season.
7. A farewell to Mosaic Stadium*
This one gets an asterisk because the Riders could still host a home playoff game by taking one of the top two seeds in the West, but their Week 19 matchup with the BC Lions is the last scheduled home date at Mosaic Stadium.
The Riders are devoting the full season to saying farewell to Mosaic, but on Oct. 29 fans will say one final goodbye to an historic era with a lot of memories in Riderville.
8. Week 20 Triple-Header
With the playoff push in full swing, the regular season concludes with a massive triple-header Saturday on Nov. 5. What will be the busiest day on the CFL calendar is sure to set the stage for the 104th Grey Cup Playoffs.
Montreal-Hamilton, Toronto-Edmonton and Saskatchewan-BC all close out the season in succession as teams jockey for a chance to hoist the Cup.
9. Thanksgiving Weekend
Turkey and football are pretty much synonymous, especially with an exciting Thanksgiving Weekend lineup that includes a double-header on Monday.
The REDBLACKS play host to the Riders on Friday night while on Saturday the Bombers host the Lions in an all-West duel. Then on the holiday Monday, the long weekend kicks off with a matchup between the Esks and Als in Montreal followed by a late-afternoon duel at BMO Field between the Argos and Stampeders.
Family, friends, food, time off work and meaningful CFL football as the playoffs fast approach? This has got to be one of the better weekends on the schedule.
10. Canada Day double-header
What better way to celebrate Canada’s date of birth than with a CFL double-header on Friday Night Football?
The action starts with a home-opener for the Ticats, who return to Tim Hortons Field for the first time in 2016 to take on a new-look BC Lions squad. Then in the second game, the Stampeders and Bombers renew hostilities as Dave Dickenson coaches his first home game for the Stamps against new additions Weston Dressler, Ryan Smith and a Winnipeg team with something to prove.
Expect plenty of fireworks to kick off your Canada Day Weekend.
11. Ticats-REDBLACKS home and home
After playing three times in four weeks, it was a last-minute Greg Ellingson touchdown that sent the REDBLACKS to the Grey Cup and gave them the three-game sweep of their division rival Ticats.
It’s a long time before they meet again after that game, Week 17 in fact — but similar to last year when a two-game, total points series decided the East, a home-and-home between the Ticats and REDBLACKS could define the season for both clubs.
It’s can’t-miss October drama for both of these clubs, who could be once again battling for the division in back to back games. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
12. Long-awaited returns
Chris Jones returns to Edmonton in Week 3… Jason Maas returns to Ottawa in Week 7… Andrew Harris returns to BC in Week 17… Dressler and Smith go back to Riderville Week 11…
After one of the busiest off-seasons in recent memory with the coaching carousel and a high number of elite free agents switching teams, the 2016 schedule offers almost weekly homecomings.
It’s likely Harris gets a warm reception in his return to BC, but after him? All bets are off.