Outside the Toronto Rock lacrosse team, there hasn’t been much to cheer about on the Toronto sports landscape in recent years. But every once in a while the Argonauts give the city something to celebrate.
There is no secret the Toronto Maple Leafs and Stanley Cup celebrations have been distant strange for 45 years. The Toronto Raptors have been the victors in only one playoff series, and that was back in 2001.
The Toronto Blue Jays are just shy of two decades from their last playoff appearance. Forget about Toronto FC. They haven’t even sniffed the MLS post-season in six years of existence. In fact, without the Toronto Rock and its six lacrosse titles in 12 years there hasn’t been much to cheer for in the City of Losers.
Every once in a while, however, the Toronto Argonauts make their mark. They’re eight years removed from their last Grey Cup win, but for the second time in three years they advanced to the CFL East final in Montreal against the Alouettes after a solid 42-26 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on Sunday.
Too bad only 25,792 showed up at the Rogers Centre to watch the triumph.
“It would be something to be able to play the Grey Cup at home two weeks from now and see what happens with what type of support we would gain if we’re in that game,” Argos defensive lineman Adriano Belli said afterwards. “We have a tremendous obstacle in front of us with [Alouettes quarterback] Anthony Calvillo and Co.
Belli, a Toronto native, remarked that he sees tremendous support around the league for the CFL, just not in the Big Smoke. Maybe if the Argos can continue their winning ways and earn a victory at home in the 100th Grey Cup would help alter the passing interest the CFL has become in his hometown.
“The rest of Canada embraces the CFL,” the 35-year-old said. “You see it in Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan. It’s a part of our Canadian heritage. I grew up in a generation in which it wasn’t necessarily a part of the sports teams you cheered for or followed.
“I feel it’s part of my duty, as a kid who has played in this league 10 years, to get Torontonians on board supporting this. The Toronto Argonauts are the oldest professional sports team in North America. We need to be proud of that.
“Don’t jump ship to the NFL and say it’s a better product. It’s a different product. Our game is more exciting. Our cheerleaders are better looking. And there is no doubt whatsoever our defensive linemen are much better looking.”
Argonauts fullback Jeff Johnson, also 35, wasn’t even a football fan when he was a kid. He cheered for the Leafs, even though “they were lousy.” The Blue Jays also were a hot ticket item in his sports world back then.
Hooked on football
But then he was persuaded to stop playing volleyball and try football while he was in Grade 12 for head coach Hank Spencer at Etobicoke Collegiate. Johnson scored five times in his first game and was hooked.
“I wish I would have known sooner how much I would enjoy this game,” said Johnson, whose three-year-old son Justice was sitting in his locker munching on a slice of pizza. Justice, his five-year-old sister Maya and one-year-old brother Lincoln will be CFL fans for life because of their dad.
Johnson wished more than 26,000 fans were in attendance to watch the big win.
“Yeah, but those who came got a good show and now they know what to expect,” Johnson said. “A win was what the city’s sports scene needs right now, especially with the 100th Grey Cup here in two weeks.”
“You always want more fans at your games,” Toronto offensive lineman Jeff Keeping added. “We want 35,000. This city is so big. We could use more fans. But we got energy from this crowd. You see that all the time in places like Saskatchewan.”
The 30-year-old Keeping is a diehard sports nut. He played AAA midget hockey in Markham and even was called up for a couple games with the local junior team, the Markham Waxers. He even closely watches the lacrosse landscape because he has a buddy, Chris McElroy, who used to play for the Rock and now suits up for the Washington Stealth.
For now, it’s only a winning atmosphere in Toronto and a breath of fresh air from those other teams like the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors and FC.
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CBC | Sports News