Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Labour Day Classic-2009

It has not been the best of times lately for the Toronto Argonauts. Prior to their game against Calgary, the media blurb to all die-hard fans indicated that they would be kicking off to the British Columbia Lions. Oops! The note from the team also spelled Stampeders incorrectly. Two for two.

The Argonaut players spent an extra eight minutes on the field preparing for the game last Friday. They headed to the dressing room with 22 minutes left on the countdown clock. That did not give the little minor league football players much time to show their stuff.

Someone had arranged to have the Tim Bits players on the field prior to the game. They ran a few plays, in full gear. They most certainly relished the opportunity to do their thing on the broad expanse of the Rogers Centre field. But to go to all that trouble for six minutes? Hardly worth it.

The Argos were escorted onto the field by a minor football player or two-nice touch. An experience those kids will never forget. We stood for the National Anthem, wincing occasionally, as the brave singer changed the key about five times.

Following the kickoff, we enjoyed a spirited half of two and out. For the most part, it was a kicking duel, and the half ended 3-3. Several friends who watched parts of the game on television at home told me that it was a typical Canadian Football league game, settled in the dying moments of the fourth quarter.

Paul Paddon, retired high school coach from Quinte Secondary, found the game painful. A former collegiate star in Canada and Hec Crighton winner in 1970, he related to me that the Argos desperately need a new focus on offence. “The defence is playing well, but Coach Andrus needs to designate some of the offensive responsibility.” He agreed with me that part of the problem lies in the fact that the coach is still acclimatizing to the Canadian game, and its quirky differences from the American game.

He was roundly criticized for not attempting a field goal in the dying seconds of the game, and even second guessed himself the next day. His quarterback got the ball near the end zone on a “Hail Mary” pass, but it fell short, dropped to the ground, and resulted in yet another Argo loss.

The two gentlemen seated in front of us were not terribly impressed with the Argos tenth consecutive home loss. “We have been season ticket holders since 1960,” they told me. “Far too long,” one of them added. As good armchair quarterbacks, they second-guessed virtually every Argo offensive play from scrimmage. I was reminded of the two elderly critics in the balcony on the Muppets show.

There will be plenty of roster shuffling over the next couple of weeks in the CFL. Players cut from NFL teams will be looking for a pay cheque, and will inevitably bump some current players from the CFL teams. The recently reported signing involves “Pac Man” Jones, a star south of the border who has had his “brushes” with the law. The Blue Bombers may have taken a chance on Jones, likely with baited breath.

This happens every year, and makes it a little difficult for the fans to relate to their favourite teams. No sooner do they become familiar with, and attached to certain key players, than they have moved on to accommodate stars from the south. A couple of years ago, Rickey Williams added a certain flair to the Toronto offense, then returned to the Dolphins. Following a spate of maturity, he has settled in nicely in Miami, recently signing a contract extension, and a retirement date.

The Hamilton Tiger Cats have rebounded this year from several dismal seasons. They are on the road to the playoffs, and continue to put more and more fannies in Ivor Wynne Stadium. Jamall Johnson has been a whirling dervish on defense, tied for the league lead in tackles. With quarterback Quinton Porter on the sidelines last week, Kevin Glenn almost got the job done, losing by a single point to Edmonton.

The Argos head to Hamilton Monday for the annual Labour Day Classic. For the first time in several years, the Ticats are favoured to knock off the Double Blue. The return engagement only four days later in Toronto will also be worth watching. There is an intense rivalry between these two neighbours. There are times when there is a powder keg atmosphere, and the team that racks up the most penalty yards usually ends up with less points on the scoreboard at the final gun.

The Ticats’ Arland Bruce will certainly have the adrenalin flowing for the games against the Argos. He was unceremoniously dumped in the early part of the season by the Boatmen, and would like to remind them he is still playing. There are always half a dozen players on either side who have moved between the two teams, and they always have a little extra spark for the game.

All worth the price of admission.

James Hurst

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