We’re a Bush League Sports Town

TORONTO (June 10) — Maybe the Argos can offer to pay Uber fare. Or, gas and depreciation.

Anything, in fact, that might allow at least one of Toronto’s three daily newspapers to assign a reporter to BMO Field. Way, way down there… by the southern edge of town. Quite easily located, as evidenced by games involving Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. Lots of bright red seats. If walking and you miss the stadium, stop when you hit water. Then pull a U–turn. When all else fails, turn to WAZE. It really isn’t difficult to find. For Heaven’s sake, there must be a way to transport a member of the local sports media to the Canadian National Exhibition.

Heck, I remember visiting the press box a couple of years ago during an Argos game. There was veteran Canadian Football League scribe Frank Ziccarelli of the Toronto Sun, now writing about everything but the Argos. Or, so it seems. Next to Zic was my old Leafs traveling pal, Mark Zwolinski, of the Toronto Star. Zorro was playin’ out the string before accepting a buyout from the paper. Yes, only two local reporters… but two more than were evidently on hand for the Argonauts 2024 season opener, Sunday night, against the B.C. Lions. Thank goodness for Dan Ralph of The Canadian Press. Or, there would be no written account of the best football game at BMO in many a year: the Argonauts rebounding from a 20–6 second quarter deficit to reel off a 29–7 edge the rest of the way for a 35–27 upset victory. As of 1:30 this afternoon, the Sun, the Star and the Globe and Mail were still running Ralph’s account of the match. Indicating, the newspapers were too lazy and cheap to assign a staff writer.

Which was bush league to the max.


VIEW FROM MY SEASON TICKETS IN SEC. 225 OF THE WEST STANDS AT BMO FIELD. IT WAS A PERFECT NIGHT FOR FOOTBALL; ALMOST AUTUMN–LIKE WITH A COOL BREEZE OFF THE LAKE.

I can vaguely understand a travel ban in these appalling economic times for the print industry. The Sun does not even staff Maple Leafs road games anymore, while the Star went to perhaps one–third of the away schedule last season. In my years covering the Leafs (1994–2010) — and well beforehand — every game, no matter where, had a writer on hand from at least the Star and Sun, with the Globe not quite as dedicated, but still staffing road matches in the eastern and central time zones. Reporters following the Leafs traveled everywhere the team played; to any corner of the Earth. I trekked along with the club to London UK, Stockholm, Helsinki… and all points, of course, in North America. So, yeah, the pandemic showed sports editors that games far away could be covered adequately off television. But, the Argonauts didn’t play in Vancouver on Sunday. The B.C. Lions came here. It’s difficult to fathom travel restrictions now including the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway.

Yeah, I know… it’s the Argos.

They remain a distant fourth (maybe sixth) in the local sports pecking order, behind the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and, perhaps, even Toronto FC and the new women’s hockey club that once filled Scotiabank Arena last winter. But, c’mon. The Argonauts have been around forever; the oldest professional team in the city. The same team that nearly sold out BMO Field for what became a disastrous Eastern playoff game last November. That and the suspension of the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, quarterback Chad Kelly, reduced Sunday’s audience to merely 12,767, or half of which bought tickets for the Montreal playoff clash. Still, it was 12,766 more than the occupants of the press box. Again, you’d think someone with a media credential could hobble down to the CNE.

The Sun and Star each staffed a charity event on Sunday organized by Max Domi, who confirmed he’s talked with the Leafs about a new contract. Of course, had Domi gone into the woods for a emergency bowel movement, media would follow. He’s a hockey player. I get it. More people will read about Max than about the Argonauts. But, it still doesn’t explain why the season opener, at home, for one of our major sports teams, could not be staffed. On an otherwise–quiet Sunday night with the Blue Jays in Oakland and no other local team in action. I haven’t a clue what is happening at the Sun, once the runaway best sports newspaper in Canada. There was a time when sports editor Bill Pierce would have sent his football writer to Ho Chi Minh City for an Argos game. He also had a budget.


Still, for the Sun to not assign a writer all the way downtown on Sunday was inexplicable.

The Star is even more of a mystery. Staff writer Gilbert Ngabo penned an advance to the Argos–Lions opener on Thursday. But, he didn’t cover the game. Since when are practices more important? None of it makes sense.

In the 3 p.m. hour today, the Star and the Globe picked up Dan Ralph’s follow–up story on Ka’Deem Carey, the former Calgary running back who performed solidly in his Argos debut (16 carries for 65 yards; another 40 yards receiving). Carey is the feature back replacing the departed (in free agency, to Saskatchewan) A.J. Ouellette.

The Sun, at 6:25 p.m., was still running Ralph’s game story from last night. Incredible.

As for the match, it was a sizable and unexpected triumph by the Argos, who seemed lost in the second quarter. B.C. reeled off 20 points in less than eight minutes. With a 20–6 lead, the Lions had the ball at the Toronto 30. Another touchdown and a 27–6 advantage would have salted the result by halftime. But, a pass over the middle from Vernon Adams Jr. was intercepted by Argos defensive back DaShaun Amos at the Toronto 23 with 5:43 left.

It was the turning point of the game.

The Argos scored 29 of the final 36 points to come back in grand style.

Though Adams Jr. is expected to vie for outstanding player honors this season, most eyes were on Cameron Dukes, the Toronto quarterback subbing for the suspended Kelly. He looked awful in the Lions’ second–quarter uprising (once fumbling for a B.C. touchdown), but Dukes settled down and led the Boatmen to 10 catch–up points before the half. He tossed three scoring passes and kept his quick feet moving in the pocket, where the club’s veteran offensive line offered good protection. Clearly, Dukes learned a trick or two while backing up Kelly, last year, as the Boatmen tied a league record by winning 16 regular–season games. Adams Jr. had a more difficult night while attempting to elude the Toronto defensive front, which recorded five sacks. Particularly impressive was Jake Ceresna, the tackle obtained in mid–January from Edmonton for Canadian slotback Kurleigh Gittens Jr.

On the flip side, veteran kicker Lirim Hajrullahu won’t be employed long if he keeps missing converts. He had two flubs on Sunday night, including one on the final touchdown, which kept the B.C. ventilator running. Briefly.

So, Dan Ralph, please allow yours truly to post a second submission about the football opener at the CNE:

 
AS I WAS HEADING TO MY SEATS, I RAN INTO GERRY STERNBERG, WHO PLAYED FOR THE ARGOS IN MY FIRST LIVE CFL GAME: SEP. 20, 1969 (AGAINST OTTAWA) AT OLD CNE STADIUM. GERRY AND MIKE EBEN RETURNED PUNTS FOR LEO CAHILL THAT NIGHT. TODAY, GERRY IS 81 (HE LOOKS 61) AND ATTENDED SUNDAY’S MATCH WITH HIS WIFE IN THE ARGONAUTS ALUMNI BOX AT BMO FIELD.


THE WEATHER WAS ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTFUL BY THE LAKESHORE, AS TORONTO QUARTERBACK CAMERON DUKES ALLAYED SOME FEAR WITH A TERRIFIC OPENING–NIGHT PERFORMANCE STANDING IN FOR KELLY. DUKES, WHO BACKED UP KELLY DURING THE RECORD–TYING, 16–2 SEASON A YEAR AGO, TOSSED THREE TOUCHDOWN PASSES AGAINST THE FAVORED LIONS.

 
WITH LESS THAN TWO MINUTES REMAINING IN THE FIRST HALF, THE LIONS HAD A COMMANDING LEAD, AS EVIDENCED (TOP–LEFT) BY THE SCOREBOARD BESIDE THE LIBERTY VILLAGE CONDOS. BUT, DUKES LED THE ARGOS TO 10 CATCH–UP POINTS AND A FAR–SLIMMER DEFICIT AT THE BREAK.

 
ARGOS’ STAFF BLOCKING THE DEFENSIVE SIGNALS WITH CARDBOARD LOGOS DIDN’T KNOW UP FROM DOWN IN THE SECOND QUARTER; THE CLUB YIELDING 20 QUICK POINTS. BUT, THE PICTURE WAS BRIGHTER FOR THE BOATMEN BY THE TIME THE SUN SET OVER THE CNE GROUNDS.


B.C. COACH RICK CAMPBELL ERRED LATE IN THE GAME. WITH HIS CLUB TRAILING, 29–27, AND STILL MORE THAN 90 SECONDS LEFT (TWO LIFETIMES IN THE CFL), HE ORDERED ADAMS JR. TO PASS ON THIRD DOWN (ABOVE) FROM THE LIONS ONE–YARD LINE. THE BALL FELL INCOMPLETE AND TORONTO SALTED THE VICTORY WHEN DUKES SCORED ON A QUARTERBACK KEEPER. I SAID AT THE TIME THAT CAMPBELL SHOULD HAVE PUNTED. NOR HAVE I CHANGED MY OPINION.

 
YUP, THE ARGOS STOPPED ‘EM. IN THE FINAL MINUTE OF THE GAME. FOR A COLOSSAL WIN.


ON THE WAY HOME, WE PASSED THE ARGOS’ FORMER LAIR (1989–2015), PEEKING THROUGH GIRDERS OF THE GARDINER EXPRESSWAY. NEXT UP IS THE EDMONTON ELKS, AT BMO FIELD, A WEEK SATURDAY (JUNE 22). WITH LOTS OF FORMER ARGOS COMING BACK.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

5 comments on “We’re a Bush League Sports Town

  1. I caught Zach Hyman’s TSN interview – Gawd Damn! That guy’s a leader. It’s a shame Dubas didn’t retain him at the bargain bid price he signed for in Edmonton.
    I chuckled at Zach as I was listening to his interview. From his perspective, they (Oilers) have the Panthers exactly where they want them. To Zach’s credit, I see his point. Bobrovsky has been the difference-maker thus far in the series.
    I have this feeling that Zach’s going to take over the series – hope I am right.
    If Zach’s trajectory continues he’ll score 60 goals next year.

  2. Jesus Howie. You’re at the games anyway, they might as well float you a few bucks to write on them. You could be your very own CP service.
    You knew the Argos were dead when the Chad Kelly incident came to light. Had that same situation occurred on the Leafs, Raptors or to a lesser extent, the Jays, this city would have melted down. Management would have been torched for the way they handed it, yet Pinball pretty much got a free pass. Imagine Auston Matthews suspended half a season for sexual harassment. I don’t have the words to describe it. Yes crickets over the Argos. The CFL in Toronto is sadly, done.

  3. Good to see Gerry…we played Junior Football together…both of us Pass Receivers & D Backs…I had an Argo tryout a year after he made the club but didn’t make it…Pinball promised me an Argo jersey but so far, no luck…I guess he has other things on his mind…LOL ! #;)

  4. I thought it was a great game as well Howard (watching on TSN). Cameron rebounded nicely. I don’t think those big cards were for blocking purposes, rather so players could make out the signals against a white backdrop as opposed to trying to pick out from the crowd. Enjoyed all 4 games this weekend – CFL football has a lot to offer, wish more people would get onboard.

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