By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Nov. 12) – Whether or not you, as a Toronto sports fan, pay attention to the Canadian Football League, there is no denying that the Argonauts are adept at taking advantage of a hockey void in this town. Back in 2004, Argos breezed past Hamilton and Montreal to play B.C. Lions in the Grey Cup at Ottawa. A 27-19 victory yielded Toronto its first title since back-to-back CFL championships in 1996-97.
Fast-forward eight years and we have have a repeat scenario.
As in 2004, an easy, home-field triumph in the regional semifinal (42-26 over Edmonton) has Argos headed to Olympic Stadium in Montreal for the Eastern Conference title match and a spot in the Grey Cup game – this time, to be played in their own backyard. The 100th version of the Canadian football championship takes place at Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto on Nov. 25. And, guess what: the home team will be on the field.
FANS OF TORONTO ARGONAUTS SHOW THEIR COLORS PRIOR TO 2004 GREY CUP GAME AT LANSDOWNE PARK IN OTTAWA. ARGOS WOULD DEFEAT B.C. LIONS, 27-19, IN MIDST OF THE LAST NHL LOCKOUT.
Unless the Montreal Alouettes have been playing possum all season, they are largely a shell of the team that has dominated the CFL for the past decade. With the momentum of three consecutive wins; with quarterback Ricky Ray performing superbly, and with the incentive of vying for the league championship at home, Argos should be able to subdue the Alouettes. The lone caveat, of course, is the enduring potential for ageless wonder Anthony Calvillo to pick apart the Toronto defense, as he has done innumerable times. But, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
What the Argos must hope for is B.C. getting knocked off at home by Calgary in the Western Conference final. As well as Toronto has played since Ray returned from injury late in the season, I am not confident the Argo defense can stop Lions’ quarterback Travis Lulay. But, first things first.
There is no hockey right now – a circumstance the Argos clearly relish.
WEEKEND NOTES: It was one of the most reviling displays I have ever seen while watching football at any level: Mississippi State defensive back Jonthan Banks absolutely ripping into teammate Matthew Wells on the sideline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana Saturday night. The 27th-ranked Bulldogs were en route to a 37-17 pasting by No. 7 LSU when Matthews was beaten for a late-second quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Zach Mettenberger to wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Matthews did make a coverage mistake, lining up too close to scrimmage and allowing Landry to get behind him. You could see, on television, he was feeling pretty lousy about it. That’s when Banks stormed off the field like a buffoon and lit into his teammate…
ESPN IMAGES OF JONTHAN BANKS LAMBASTING TEAMMATE MATTHEW WELLS AFTER COVERAGE MISTAKE SATURDAY NIGHT IN BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA.
Though I enjoy watching NCAA football, I don’t know much about Banks. What I do know is he wouldn’t be dressing for my team – not after such a boorish reaction in public to a teammate’s error. There is no room for that in amateur sport… I remember something even more churlish, but played out in front of only a few unfortunate souls – myself included. Jerry Koosman, a pitcher on the 1969 New York Mets championship team, played for Minnesota Twins in the late-70’s. After a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at old Exhibition Stadium, Koosman walked toward baseball writer Alison Gordon of the Toronto Star. As he approached the female scribe in the visiting clubhouse, he fondled his naked scrotum. “So, Alison, whad’ya think?” Koosman asked. Thankfully, Gordon had seen it all in her career. She rolled her eyes and said “Oh Jerry!” before walking away. I nearly fainted… Long-suffering fans of the Buffalo Bills continue to erroneously point the finger at quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Is he the second-coming of Tom Brady? No. Will he throw an untimely interception? Yes. But, when does the appalling Buffalo defense provide him even the slightest margin for error? As good as Jim Kelly was in the Bills’ Super Bowl years, he had Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan, Darryl Talley and others stifling the opposition. Kelly’s teams weren’t giving up an average of 31.7 points per game. Fitzpatrick nearly led the Bills to a colossal upset of New England on Sunday. He was picked off in the Patriots’ end zone in the final minute with Buffalo trailing by six. But, he also completed 27 of 40 pass attempts for 337 yards – 100 yards more than Brady. With any defensive support, the Bills would have won by 10 points… Like many of us observing the NHL lockout, I waver between hope for a settlement and fear the entire season will be canceled. After the latest round of animosity between the owners and players, I am unhappily leaning toward the latter once again… I’ve said it many times: No matter how intransigent the owners may be, the players are losing way more in this squabble. Few current NHLers will experience financial distress at any point in their lives, even if earnings are diminished. But, no player can recover time in a brief career. It’s the Catch-22 that is always encountered by athletes in labor unrest… My friend Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun posed a question in his weekend notes column about the greatest Maple Leafs player of all time. There is no way to objectively provide an answer. How can I, for example, conclude that Mats Sundin was a more valuable asset than Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, Turk Broda, Max Bentley or any other Leaf before my time? To base a decision solely on career numbers is also impractical. My formula would definitely include players that have won the Stanley Cup. Hockey is neither tennis nor golf – it is a team sport like football, baseball and basketball. Individuals merely contribute to broader success, though some more than others. In that realm – and during my lifetime – I would pick Dave Keon as the greatest Leaf. He was an essential component of all four Stanley Cup teams in the 1960’s and he performed at a high level in all situations: at even-strength; on the powerplay and – most significantly – as a penalty killer. It earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1967 when Leafs last won the NHL title. No. 14, therefore, gets my nod. Does that make him a better choice than Johnny Bower, Tim Horton or Frank Mahovlich? You may not think so, but I do…
DAVE KEON – GREATEST ALL-TIME LEAF – WASHES FACE WITH CHAMPAGNE ON MAY 2, 1967, MOMENTS AFTER THE CLUB’S LAST STANLEY CUP VICTORY. PHOTO GRACED COVER OF THE MAY 3 TORONTO TELEGRAM.
Sundin is the Leafs all-time scoring leader and one of the classiest people to ever represent our city. But, the trade Cliff Fletcher pulled off to acquire him from Quebec in 1994 was pure misfortune. The Nordiques twice won the Stanley Cup after re-locating to Denver and who knows what the club may have accomplished with Sundin joining Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy? Big Mats will thank the Leafs in his Hall of Fame induction speech Monday night. The question is: for what?… Given the current hockey mess, a good laugh comes in rather handy. And, few people provide a more welcoming perspective than Sean McIndoe – poo-bah of the zany website Down Goes Brown. Sean’s book: THE BEST OF DOWN GOES BROWN (John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.) features the delightful humor he’s become known for. I got a particular chuckle out of an entry in the chapter entitled “A Brief History of Mats Sundin.” McIndoe writes MAY 4, 2004: Despite a dramatic tying goal from their captain late in the third period of Game 6, the Leafs suffer a series-ending overtime defeat to the Philadelphia Flyers. After the game, a disappointed but determined Sundin vows to never again lose a playoff game in Toronto. Fans of the Leafs are well aware the club hasn’t appeared in a single post-season game since May 4, 2004, when Jeremy Roenick of the Flyers scored an elimination goal on Ed Belfour. Pick up Sean’s book; it is well-worth the $19.95 CAD price… I agree with those who say neither Gary Bettman nor Donald Fehr should attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Not because they aren’t worthy of being there. Just so they will not create a distraction and even briefly deflect the spotlight from the four honorees: Sundin, Sakic, Adam Oates and Pavel Bure. Their presence in this crazed hockey market would automatically engender media focus… Surviving members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins broke out the bubbly again on Sunday when the NFL’s lone unbeaten team – Atlanta Falcons – was upended in New Orleans. Though New England went 16-0 in the 2007 season, it lost the Super Bowl to New York Giants. The ’72 Dolphins (14-0 in regular season; Super Bowl triumph over Washington) remain the lone club to have an unblemished mark from beginning to end. And players from that team are hoping their record is never equaled.
SEAN McINDOE’S HILARIOUS BOOK, NOW ON THE SHELVES.
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