TORONTO (Nov. 13) — I was up overnight with major indigestion… from eating a giant bowl of my own words.
In a blog earlier this week (https://bit.ly/2YvNBMy), I suggested the Toronto Argonauts would likely be exposed by the Hamilton Tiger–Cats in their first–place showdown at BMO Field. Turns out, the only elements exposed on Friday night were my ignorance and prematurity. In no way did I believe the Argos has this type of game in them. Even if the club was unbeaten on home field, which continued with a 31–12 demolition of the Hamiltonians. Thereby ensuring top spot in the East Division of the Canadian Football League and a playoff bye into the regional final, here in town, on Dec. 5. What remains of the regular schedule is a meaningless game on Tuesday night, at BMO Field, against Edmonton — rescheduled from August when COVID–19 went through the Elks roster.
It offers some personal symmetry, 50 years in the making.
When my father purchased Argos season tickets for the 1971 season at the old CNE Stadium, the club finished first in the East with a 10–4 record. I bought season tickets this year for me and my son, Shane. If the Argos defeat Edmonton on Tuesday, they’ll finish first in the East with a 10–4 record. Kind of neat, when you think about it.
EARLY IN FRIDAY NIGHT’S GAME: THE VIEW FROM OUR SEASON TICKETS IN SEC. 225 OF BMO FIELD.
The 2021 Argonauts saved their best all–round performance for their most important match. The defense was absolutely superb, giving up yards chiefly when the game was out of reach. And, quarterback McLeod Bethel–Thompson made only one mistake, forcing the ball into coverage on a Tiger–Cat blitz for an early interception. Otherwise, he played his cleanest game of the season, connecting sharply on short passes and wasting the ball when his receivers were covered. Bethel–Thompson is a journeyman. I’m still not convinced the Argos can win the Grey Cup with him under center. But, he sure plays well against Hamilton. A strong second half on Thanksgiving Night at Tim Hortons Field allowed Boris Bede to kick a 51–yard field goal with no time left to provide Toronto a 24–23 victory. And, a strong overall performance by Bethel–Thompson helped to lock up first place on Friday.
Many more thousands of people follow the Argos closely and fervently than make the effort to attend home games. Viewership numbers on TSN are solid and an Argos–related column in one of the local newspapers spawns an avalanche of commentary and reaction. In some ways, I can’t blame football fans for preferring to stay home and watch on TV. If you live anywhere north of Highway 401, getting to and from the Canadian National Exhibition is a major pain–in–the–ass. My drive from Thornhill took nearly 90 minutes on Friday night.
Traffic bunched up for two kilometers on the southbound 427 transitioning to the eastbound QEW/Gardiner combo… and I crawled, bumper–to–bumper, all the way to the Lakeshore Blvd. exit closest to the CNE. It was horrible. After the game, some idiot made the decision to close the first entrance from the CNE to the westbound Gardiner off Lakeshore, even though the highway was wide open. A police car blocked the on–ramp, forcing drivers to continue crawling along Lakeshore Blvd. for another seven kilometers. It made absolutely no sense, but was typical of our city. So, yeah, it’s hell getting to and from BMO Field for football games, even if the venue is the best since the old stadium on the Exhibition grounds (1959–74) prior to renovation for baseball. The Argos played at SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) from 1989 to 2015. It was cavernous and unfriendly with terrible sight lines. But, also, directly on the Toronto Transit Commission subway line — an easy, 15–minute walk from Union Station.
Friday night’s gathering was 10,851. What I love about attending Argo games is that the crowd sounded like 50,851. Those that elect to struggle in Toronto gridlock are crazy and loud… elements that increase commensurate to beer sales throughout the match. Friday’s audience was, by far, the liveliest of the season, with several hundred demoralized Tiger–Cat supporters gathered near the south end zone. What I also love about the game? There is no professional sports creature on Earth quite like a Canadian Football League athlete. Shane and I stood alongside the corridor in which the Hamilton players returned to their dressing room after the match. These were behemoths that had just been whipped by a storied rival in the most–crucial 60 minutes of the season.
Still, every Hamilton player slapped hands with rooters reaching down from the first row of seats that had traveled from Steeltown. Those that lined the fence en route to the dressing room were personally thanked by many of the visiting players for making the trip. I’ve never witnessed that in any sports league or venue. It was heartwarming.
Also heartwarming? Listening to expressive and spirited callers on a radio post–game show. The Argos make no–such effort. But, CHML–900 in Hamilton, the forever voice of the Tiger–Cats, still airs The Fifth Quarter, with my old pal Rick Zamperin. I listened to the show on my way home in the car. There were so many impassioned callers waiting on the line that Rick extended the program from 11:30 to midnight. It brought back memories from my earliest years as a Toronto football fan. Calling the CFTR–680 post–game show in 1970 and gabbing with the legendary Argo quarterback Joe Kroll, who sat alongside ex–Argos lineman Mike Wadsworth. The Hamilton fans, on Friday, were sharply critical of head coach Orlondo Steinauer and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli; particularly for the club’s early game–plan of trying to beat the Argos with deep passes. The home club would not be denied, defensively, and was far–more methodical when possessing the ball. It was wonderful hearing truly devoted CFL fans on Rick’s post–game show. The Grey Cup is in Hamilton this year (on Dec. 12). The last time the Tiger–Cats hosted the CFL final was 25 years ago, in 1996, when Doug Flutie and the Argos defeated Edmonton in a high–scoring thriller played on a snow–covered field. You know the Steeltowners want anything but another visit by the Argos for the championship match this season. Hamilton will need to get past Montreal in the East semifinal; then the Argos at BMO Field, to preclude the Double Blue from invading black–and–gold territory once again.
Now, to find that bottle of Tums.
BMO Field, cleared out after Friday’s night’s game, site of the CFL East Final on Dec. 5.