North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

A final memo from the Ugly Seats: “It was a drag…"

with one comment

“This monkey’s gone to heaven…This monkey’s gone to heaven” – The Pixies

Ye gods, what a way to be spending a grey, dark and cloudy November day. The wind is strong and cold this morning, and the vibes are weird and ugly… Sitting here in my parent’s kitchen, drinking black coffee and listening to The Pixies, just trying to think and get a grip…

I’m going to Toronto today for the CFL Eastern Finals (Brought to you by Scotiabank) and hoping to forget all the madness going on down there. Never mind that repulsive story about the witness getting killed at his friends funeral, never mind David Miller and his gang of cohorts, never mind any of that madness. Today I am a Spectator, an ugly fool with a wallet full of money, a head full of bad craziness and no real morals at all – perfect for the attendance of Richard Nixon’s favorite pastime, Pro Football.

“This ain’t no holiday, no, no / But it always turns out this way…” – The Pixies

Sitting next to me is an ugly reminder of just where we are in this year of 2005 – Hunter S Thompson no longer lives in that fortified house, he’s dead. And George W Bush, love him or hate him, is just months away from being a Lame Duck President, with many of his key aids and advisors under investigation… And the “Right Honorable” Paul Martin? He, and his party, are sitting alone as the Gomery Commission paints him as the new Nixon of Canadian politics, as it were. But hey, when you deal with Quebec it gets really heavy, really fast. This provides a segue, of a sort, to the main topic at hand…

Today, at 3pm, the Toronto Argonauts will face off against the Montreal Alouettes for the Eastern Championship and the passage to the Grey Cup. In another year, this could have been taken as a metaphor, perhaps, but this year it is just a grudge match. This is the fourth year that these teams have faced each other in these finals, and they’ve developed a sense of hatred that few teams can match, a heavy, ugly sense of hate… And why not? This is, after all, football. If it wasn’t hateful, angry and violent then perhaps something went wrong… Besides, this if the Playoffs, to boot. Its winner takes all, here, with the loser going home with the stench of defeat hanging around their necks like an albatross. This is it; there’s no second chances now, no do-overs, no mulligan shots. This is it for one team, the end of the road.

Gang warfare is on the tips of everybody’s tongue in Toronto these days, with a witness to the murder of his best friend killed at that very friends funeral. The city is apparently, according to major media outlets, full of anger and rage over the senseless violence – football should be the last thing on any reasonable person’s mind. Indeed, as I neared the city traffic looked as if it was all coming back to the city after a long weekend away from the bloodshed, but they all appeared to be heading not to the Rogers Centre, but away from the downtown, off to the suburbs. Well…Toronto is a hockey town, make no mistake about it. Just ask any fan of the Toronto Raptors or of the Toronto Blue Jays.

But the Argonauts of Toronto are almost a different beast altogether. They have been around for decades now, winning the Grey Cup 15 times, ranking them with such luminaries as the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Celtics. And today, at 3pm, they go into battle with the same team that they did last year at this time, and the year before that and the year before that. And Toronto loves them for it – just like they loved the Blue Jays in the early 1990s. It’s a brief, albeit strong, love from fair-weather fans…

This ‘Pro-line’ Betting guide sitting on my lap is all but impenetrable. There is no spread, no favorite mentioned, only a jumble of letters and numbers, all meaning nothing to me. Or to my father, for that matter: He’s spent the last few minutes calling it a game meant to “Separate the fools from their money”. I try to butt in, but to no avail. “Trust me, M, I know these things”.

The sky is a hazy blue hue as we get stuck in traffic near a Porto Rican church off to my left on the 401. The traffic is think and unmoving and the radio explodes with news about shootings and parades and over 41,100 tickets sold to the Argos game. And the Raptors, winless in their first nine, get barely a mention.

“Kill your mortgage” – Sign seen on light post in downtown Toronto

The rats of the sky are out in full force down by the core of the city, flying haphazard through the streets like a crazed kamikaze pilot, darting from shadow to shadow. But in this town, the word shadow means very little: Even though it’s all sun out, the streets are dark, with all the light blocked out by the buildings. The only way to see if it’s daylight outside is stand and look up, like a fool, 90 degrees – leaving you open to have yr wallet and keys and personal identification stolen like a fool.

No parking, no space, no room to breathe – the streets are immobile, like a no-fee parking lot where everybody has their cars running. They’re lined up as far as the eye can see, way down to the end of this street, right up to where an ambulance is parked and flashing like a children’s toy. The sidewalks are a sea of faces that you have to flow with by yr own will, or you’ll get dragged back by them… There’s a man on the corner, dressed in a large foam rubber suit covered with anti-police and pro-drug expressions of thought, handing out a badly Xeroxed newsletter… a sleeping bearded man, lying on his side with an upside-down hat full of loose assorted change… a flock of Asian women, dressed smartly in business suits, conversing sharply in some foreign tongue… This is the Pulse of this City; it’s people flowing like blood amongst the still-unmoving cars.

The Rogers Centre – Formerly the Skydome – sits at the base of the CN Tower and not too far from the Air Canada Centre. It’s a building that in it’s short existence (Since 1989) has housed 3 major sports teams: The Toronto Blue Jays (1989 – Current), the Toronto Argonauts (1989- current, with a 2007 move pending) and the Toronto Raptors (1995 – 1999) but make no mistake – it’s a baseball building first and foremost. Even during a football game, from the 500 level – as high as it goes – one can still make out a ghostly outline of the baseball diamond. The pennants that hang all year correspond to the Jays, from their 1985 AL East championship to their 1993 World Series win… the ‘honor deck’ has names of such famed players as George Bell, Joe Carter and the like, while the Argonauts honor roll only cover seats temporarily…

It’s up by these covered seats, in the 500 Deck, where the people sit at the same level as the lighting rigs; where they sit unsupervised, drinking heavily, acting weirdly and yelling randomly… This is where the College frat boys sit, where the irate fans sit, where you can see the game without being seen yourself… This is the Ugly Seats.

By the end of the Third Quarter the outcome of the game was sadly apparent – Montreal possessed the lead as Toronto fumbled or was intercepted seemingly every time they had the ball. Just down a few rows from me sat two lonely Montreal fans, cheering and screaming wildly whenever their team did something, from scoring to making a tackle to calling a timeout. The other people in my section would scream and throw food at them, but their spirits never dampened, they were the winners here and they knew it…

“Did… Did you not see the game? (Maniacal Laughter)” – Montreal fan, replying to slanderous insults

By the end of the game, the Ugly Seats were a horrible mess of drunken fans, bad vibes and some solitary man taping the game on his portable Sony Handi-Cam for reasons known only to him. Children next to me were weeping openly, tossing their inflatable ‘noise sticks’ down into the fast-empting seats in the level below… the only moment of joy, for these people, was when some punk kid threw down a large plastic horn, injuring a fan in the 100 level critically as the security looked panicked, but was unable to find out who threw the offending horn. In a complete contrast, however, the two Montreal fans were almost insane with joy, laughing and cheering and engaging in drink as their team marched off the field victorious… This is it, I remember thinking, a chance to see this violence that Toronto has become famous for in recent years…

The game ended not with a bang, but with a kneel of the Quarterback, as Montreal ran out the clock – a 17 point lead all but assured victory for them at any point in the 4th quarter. And despite, or perhaps because of, the loss there was no violence in the stadium, none of this rage and anger that I had heard so much about, only a bitter sense of sorrow. The fans were bummed out, too lost in a depressed stupor to do much else then wander back to their cars slowly. As we got outside, there was not a person who was remotely happy; everyone was shuffling as fast as they could to their cars in silence. Where at halftime there was a roar of Argo fans, all of them chanting in unison, there was now a stone-like stillness.

But where was this violence I has so much about? Did it even exist? Every day, it now seems, I hear about Toronto being a hotbed of gang warfare, with violent murders every day of the year. Yet, on this night of disappointment, there was no sense of anger, let alone any violence, only a vague sense of bitterness and resentment.

“It was a drag…” – Caller on Mojo 640AM

It was a scant few blocks away, on this same day, that the Toronto Raptors faced the Miami Heat – a team that was only an established winner, but ranked among the top teams in the NBA. And when the formerly winless Raptors managed to win, it went almost unnoticed among the population. It was barely mentioned on the radio, and was not mentioned in the Rogers Centre at all. In a town that managed to sell out every hockey game from the 1950’s until 1998, it is almost unsurprising that basketball, a game that is slowly losing popularity in Toronto, is all but unnoticed by the masses.

It hasn’t been all that long since the Raptors first played in the NBA along with that other Canadian team, the Vancouver Grizzlies… however, Vancouver proved to be a horrible town for basketball, with one player allegedly crying when they drafted him… But that is not a story for now, however. This is a story about Toronto and a team that may not be here in 10 years – and that we may not even notice their absence.

Toronto is a large place, cold most of the year… there are four major sports franchises here, and almost the same number of professional hockey teams (The Maple Leafs of the NHL, the Marlies of the AHL, the Majors of the OHL), so it’s not exactly outside the whelm of possibility that both Basketball and Football can go unnoticed in what is, and what has always been, a hockey town. True, the Argos brought in over 41,000 people today – but once it looked grim, they vanished into the ether, fast as their legs would take them…

Written by M.

November 26, 2005 at 5:38 pm

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] team and they’ve done the Argos in during the playoffs before. One of my first posts here was a dispatch from an Argos/Alouettes playoff game in 2005: the Argos blew a first half lead and lost while people in the upper deck went insane. I remember a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: