By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Nov. 26) – Oddly enough, in a city where champions come to die, there is life today.
The first major-league conquest in Toronto since 2004 may not have been captured by the most popular team in town – just as it wasn’t back then. Winning all the marbles in an eight-team league seems like a modest accomplishment until you remember the Toronto Argonauts did not lift the Grey Cup for 31 years in a nine-team league (1952-1983).
Since the club that matters most in this city last reigned supreme (Maple Leafs of 1967, in case you need reminding), there have been eight major professional championships. Argos have won six – their latest on Sunday in the 100th Grey Cup at Rogers Centre – and the Blue Jays have won twice. Again, that’s Argonauts winning the Canadian Football League title six times in the past 29 years after one time in the previous 31.
Does it matter to you? It certainly should.
An Argo fan in this city has much in common with a gay person: while there is nothing at all to be ashamed of – or to feel guilty about – many will stay in the closet. To paraphrase Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian folk-singing icon who performed at Rogers Centre on Sunday, there was a time in this fair land when Argo affection flourished. It was all the rage to be zealous about the Double Blue. Then, along came Major League Baseball and the National Football League monolith. Suddenly, rooting for the Argos as a young sports fan in this city became a closely guarded secret. Betting with your pals (or bookie) on Sunday football in the U.S. was a badge of honor. Only TV numbers north of the border proved otherwise, as they should once again.
It is likely the 100th Grey Cup on Sunday (Argonauts defeated Calgary Stampeders, 35-22) will rank as the second-most-viewed sporting event in Canadian television history – behind only the hockey gold-medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics. That’s just a guess, but probably a good one. Most TV viewers might even admit they watched the game. The numbers will trounce any Super Bowl audience recorded in this country.
So, you know what? It’s okay to be a fan of the Argonauts – and the CFL. You can come out of the closet at any time. Trust me, you really can.
THE TORONTO STAR FELT NO SHAME IN PLASTERING ARGONAUTS GREY CUP TRIUMPH ALL OVER ITS FRONT PAGE TODAY… NOR DID ANY OTHER LOCAL NEWSPAPER.
MONDAY THOUGHTS: Living through the 1970’s as a football fan here in Toronto felt much like a hockey fan does today. The mere notion of playing for a championship – let alone winning – was so unimaginably foreign. It’s why I’ll never forget that moment in November 1983 at Vancouver when the Argos finally broke their three-decades-long famine and lifted the Grey Cup for the first time in my life. I was at B.C. Place on that Sunday afternoon. I was 24 years old… By the way, I also remember sitting at the foot of my parents’ bed as an eight-year-old on May 2, 1967 when George Armstrong scored the final goal of the pre-expansion era in the NHL and lifted the Stanley Cup on behalf of the Maple Leafs. Question is: Will I live to see it happen again?… Allow me, please, to crow for a moment. In my predictions for the CFL Eastern Final and the Grey Cup – as recorded in previous blogs here – I was off by a total of nine points. Eastern Final prediction: 27-24 Argos over Montreal. Actual score: 27-20 Argos over Montreal. Grey Cup prediction: 34-26 Argos over Calgary. Actual score: 35-22 Argos over Calgary. Thank you… Argos have wasted no time in attempting to capitalize on their Grey Cup title. A full-page ad in the Toronto Sun this morning urges fans to pony up for 2013 season tickets. It might be worth making the call. If the team stays together – and extends the contract of general manager Jim Barker – it could win a second championship next November in Regina… Understandably, the CFL pored all of its resources, imagination and fervor into planning for the 100th Grey Cup here in town. How does it make next year’s event in Saskatchewan feel half as important? If the Roughriders are in the championship game, the league won’t have to worry. If not, it could be a challenge… You’ve read it here and I’ll repeat: Dontrelle Inman (University of Virginia) is the best deep threat of any Argonaut receiver since Darrell K. Smith 20 years ago and Terry Greer 30 years ago. If he stays healthy; is not wooed back to the NFL (Barker signed him after a season on the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars), and has a quarterback like Ricky Ray that can get him the ball, Inman could break innumerable team records… It was great to see Doug Flutie on the sidelines during the Grey Cup. He quarterbacked the Stampeders to the 1992 CFL title and the Argonauts to back-to-back triumphs in 1996-97. In the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Flutie joined the TSN broadcast crew of Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor. His analysis and zeal were enchanting. No better player has ever pulled on a CFL jersey. And, no Argonaut teams were more dominant than in ’96 and ’97. In 46 games with Flutie at the helm (pre-season, regular season and playoffs), Argos were 40-6… Leafs GM Brian Burke took the high road after Sunday’s football game. To his 116,811 followers, Burke Tweeted: “Congratulations to Jim Barker and the Toronto Argonauts on their Grey Cup championship”…
FULL-PAGE ADVERTISEMENT (ABOVE) IN TODAY’S TORONTO SUN. GOOD TIMING?
The Buffalo Bills defense has clearly improved since the early weeks of the NFL season, when it was demolished by the New York Jets, San Francisco and New England. But, the Buffalo ‘D’ still cannot come up with a timely stop. Late in Sunday’s game at Indianapolis, the Colts began a series inside their five-yard line. One first down later, quarterback Andrew Luck was able to run out the clock. Bills lost, 20-13 and are dead and gone at 4-7… Rant of the week by Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star, covering the 1-10 Chiefs: The man who can do no right is trying to explain why everything is going so wrong. He must know this is a fool’s errand. Romeo Crennel is not crazy. He is not stupid. But when the coach of the sport’s worst team stands in front of reporters and cameras and his boss to explain a 10th loss in 11 games, well, this is not Crennel’s finest moment. “I thought our guys played a good football game,” he says about a team that is now on track for the first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft with a roster many picked to make the playoffs. “I thought it was better today,” he says of an offense that gained 264 yards, somewhere around the 15th percentile of production for NFL teams this year. “We were still in the game until the end,” he says of a $1 billion franchise that plays in perhaps the most cutthroat and bottom-line league in American sports. This is what happens when a thoughtful man becomes the face of a disaster that just lost 17-9 to the Broncos, a game he knows his team could’ve won. One of the narratives of this rotten garbage season is that the Chiefs have been unlucky. That, you know, if not for a turnover here or there (their season total of 32 is comfortably the worst in football), they’d be much better. Well, the Chiefs had just one turnover in each of their last three games and lost all of them… And this from Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News: Chan Gailey is plain desperate now. After another afternoon of dubious play-calling, the Bills coach walked into the losing locker room and played the only card he had left in the deck. He compared them to the defending Super Bowl champions. “I told our players our goal now is to get to 7-7,” Gailey said Sunday after a 20-13 loss to the Colts. “That’s where the world champions were last year. That’s our goal. We’ve got to get to 7-7 and see where everything sits.” Uh, Chan. Put the card away. You’re embarrassing yourself. Look around the dressing room. That’s not the Giants. That’s not Eli Manning over there. That defense, it’s not the one that took down Tom Brady and the Pats here last February at Lucas Oil Stadium. And you’re not Tom Coughlin, by the way… Toronto Raptors have certainly improved over last season, when they were awful. This year, they are just good enough to lose, though a 3-11 record after 14 games is somewhat deceiving. Raptors played perennial power San Antonio even through nearly two overtime periods at Air Canada Centre on Sunday before losing, 111-106. They’ve been hammered only once – 107-89 at Boston. Eight of their losses have been by single digits. But, the Raps cannot afford a 2-for-19 shooting calamity from their big man – Andrea Bargnani – as on Sunday… Absolutely love the Bridgestone commercial in which Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty is asked to take a slap-shot with a special puck made from the same material as the company’s vaunted winter tire. Doughty winds up and leans into the shot. The “puck” travels 10 feet before screeching to an abrupt halt. Doughty looks confused and frustrated so he tries again. Same result… Though union decertification was the flavor of the week in the NHL lockout, it’s difficult to comprehend league lawyers getting blind-sided by the threat. It was used as a tactic in the recent NBA and NFL labor skirmishes. Bob Batterman of the New York law firm Proskauer Rose has been the NHL’s outside counsel during all three lockouts. He’s a fairly sharp dude. Something tells me neither Batterman nor commissioner Gary Bettman have lost sleep over the decertification chatter… Los Angeles may not have a team in the NFL, but there is no shortage of football interest in southern California. On Saturday night, USC and UCLA both played at home – the Los Angeles Coliseum and Rose Bowl separated by only nine nautical miles. A total of 161,835 fans attended the USC/Notre Dame and UCLA/Stanford games – 93,607 at the Coliseum; 68,228 in Pasadena…
LOS ANGELES COLISEUM (LEFT) WAS FILLED TO CAPACITY ON SATURDAY NIGHT FOR THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL SHOWDOWN BETWEEN USC AND NOTRE DAME WHILE ANOTHER LARGE CROWD WATCHED UCLA AND STANFORD (RIGHT) AT THE ROSE BOWL IN PASADENA.
With Argos winning the Grey Cup and the Blue Jays gorging their roster, do you think Burke feels compelled to pull off a major transaction once the lockout ends? He would say “no” with his hand on a Bible. But, I’m not convinced. One thing Burke has done while running the Leafs is acquire “name” talent: Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Joffrey Lupul. Though the moves haven’t yet paid off, Burke covets established players. Is Roberto Luongo his next target? I say yes. What I cannot tell you is when… My son, Shane, 16 years old next week, hardly knows a thing about the NFL but is a rabid Argo fan (and a happy one today). This football city needs more like him, in the same age demographic… Looked at Sportsnet and TSN webpages this morning. There wasn’t a single lockout reference in their main or sub-headlines. Amen to that… Toronto Marlies of the AHL (Leafs top affiliate) went to the Calder Cup final last spring but aren’t exactly tearing it up in the standings early this season. Marlies are a pedestrian 9-8-1 and have lost three straight… Had Sunday’s Grey Cup been played at old Exhibition Stadium, fans would have endured snow and freezing rain. Though Rogers Centre is a bit of a mausoleum with the retractable roof closed, it was comfortable for players, officials and 53,208 watching from the stands… For the record, it was 19 years, one month and two days between Toronto championships on home turf – from Joe Carter’s walk-off home-run that decided the World Series (Oct. 23, 1993) to Sunday’s Argonaut victory… Every time I watch the Grey Cup, I think of my late friend, mentor and dinner-companion Jim Proudfoot. The legendary Toronto Star columnist has been gone for more than 11 years. I still miss him… Can’t help but chuckle at the running count atop the Leafs-related website wewantacup.com. As of 11:10 this morning, it was 3,128 days, 12 hours and 10 minutes since Jeremy Roenick ended the Leafs last playoff game with an overtime goal at Air Canada Centre – May 4, 2004… Interesting to watch as Bettman is called an “idiot” and a “cancer” by NHL players, yet not a single owner driving the lockout bus utters even a syllable in defense of the commissioner. Is that part of the gag-order imposed on league executives by Bettman or are they simply embarrassed to have taken such a destructive stance? Either possibility is conceivable… With no talks planned between owners and players, it is implausible that the NHL will start up in mid-December. Barring further negotiation – and some much-needed traction – more cuts to the schedule will occur by the middle of next week. Once we’re into January, the margin for salvaging an abbreviated season will become dangerously narrow… We live in a strange world. Israel and Hamas can negotiate temporary peace but the NHL owners and players cannot… TSN anchor Jay Onrait is one of my favorite people in the media business but his “Mo-vember” mustache should come with a “viewer discretion is advised” warning. Young children, in particular, could be scarred for life.
CHEEKY INSERT AT BOTTOM OF TORONTO SUN GREY CUP PHOTO TODAY.
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