North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘CFL

From the Vault: Michael Sam Is A Big Deal (2014)

leave a comment »

Editor’s Note: With today’s news that Michael Sam has signed with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, it seemed like a good time to run this previously unpublished column I wrote for The Good Point back in 2014! It never ran, maybe my take was too hot? I can’t remember why it was rejected. 

On Sunday, the Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins to a ten-day contract. This is the time of year for those: the post-trade deadline, as teams make a push to get into the playoffs. On that level, Collins’ signing isn’t any bigger than, say, Glen Davis signing with the Clippers.


But, for reasons I’m sure you already know, Collins’ signing is much bigger news.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

May 22, 2015 at 11:32 am

Why the Argos win on Sunday matters

leave a comment »

It’s November and everything feels all strange and flipped up. When I listen to the Fan, they’re talking Jays. When I put on TSN, they’re showing basketball. And when I think back to last weekend, I remember the Argonauts defeating the Montreal Alouettes in a road playoff game.

And the biggest news out of Leaf-land? Some guy with far too much money in Barrie paid over $5,300 for something the Leafs took a crap in. You’d think they’d throw in a copy of Game Seven of the 1993 Conference Finals too, if that’s what he was after. Sometimes no real news is the best news.

Remember when Grantland called Toronto the worst sports city in the greater Milky Way Galaxy? How quickly things have changed. On the back of their huge trade, the Jays have positioned themselves as contenders in the crowded AL East. With the play of DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson, the Raptors have shown there’s maybe a future to this crop of youngsters. Without the Leafs playing, Toronto’s other hockey team has been showing up on TV and they’re tearing it up: on Saturday, they beat up on the Hamilton Bulldogs. And Nazem Kadri’s picked up eight points in his past four games. I don’t think the Marlies will ever threaten the Leafs TV ratings, but playing so well on a TV broadcast will certainly help spread the word that there’s good hockey to be seen at the Ricoh at a fraction of the price of a Leafs game. More parking there, too.

But the biggest news of the weekend is about the Argos, that team which keeps getting written off, even by yours truly. When they went into the playoffs, I suggested they had backed into a spot thanks to even worse play by Hamilton and Winnipeg. I noted how they allowed more than they scored through the season’s end. But they beat Edmonton in a fun game, mostly thanks to a crazy second quarter where they scored 31 points and managed to intercept a shovel pass from Edmonton QB Kerry Joseph.

Still, I was a little skeptical after the win: Edmonton wasn’t a great team. They finished in the bottom of the Western Conference and only made the playoffs thanks to lacklustre seasons from Hamilton and Winnipeg. The Montreal Alouettes were a much better 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 crazed Montreal fan screaming and trying to pick fights while people threw plastic horns at him before security stepped in.

There’s been other times. In 2007, Toronto dropped conference final game at home to a surging Winnipeg team. And in 2010, they were blown out by Montreal, 48-17 (I don’t think I wrote about this game). There’s not many good omens to a Toronto/Montreal playoff game. And when Montreal got off to a good start, leading 17-7 near halftime I figured it was over. After all, the Argos scoring to that point looked like this: field goal, rouge, safety and another rouge. They blew a first-and-goal from Montreal’s one-yard line, getting stuffed on three consecutive runs. Not an inspiring first half.

So what happened? How did the Argos turn things on in the second? Their offence started coming together and their defence held Montreal steady: after scoring a touchdown in the second, Montreal was held to one field goal, despite getting into Argo territory multiple times. They got as close as Toronto’s eight yard line, but settled for a field goal. In the fourth quarter alone, they turned the ball over three times. They got really damn close, dropping what would’ve been a game-clinching TD late in the fourth, but just couldn’t do it. The Argos somehow held on, despite the odds and recent history.

It sets up what should be a dream senario for the Argos and their fans. They’re playing Calgary for the Grey Cup on home turf. It’s the 100th Grey Cup, which means there’s going to be pomp and excess on a level only Toronto could really handle without looking crazy. Noted football fiend and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford will probably be at the game in some loud, media-unfriendly capacity. I hope to hell he goes full-Nixon and tries to draw up a play for the Argos.

Toronto’s long been chided for not caring enough about it’s CFL team. There’s probably some truth in that, but one could argue that every Toronto team not named Maple Leafs doesn’t get its proper share of attention. Here’s a chance to change that. Not many teams get to play for the CFL’s title on their home turf. And Toronto hasn’t had a champion in any sport in eight years. Even if you’re not a CFL fan, this weekend is a special one in Toronto sports.

Written by M.

November 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm

What is Yahoo! Sports doing that TSN isn’t?

leave a comment »

When the CFL sold the exclusive broadcast rights to TSN in late 2006, it made the network the undisputed leader for Canadian football coverage. After all, they had all the games. What else was anybody going to do?

And for the longest time, nobody else did anything. Sure, both The Score and Sportsnet reported on the CFL, just as they did for the other leagues, but neither really went out of their way. The Score has a NFL show, but left the CFL alone. Sportsnet has a CFL columnist, but that’s about it.

After all, it’s TSN’s game, isn’t it?

Leave it to Yahoo to take up the challenge.

On the fifth of this month, they launched The 55-Yard Line, a CFL-specific blog, their latest move in the sports media landscape and their seventeenth sports blog. It also shows they’re not afraid to take on their competitors and that they, unlike the networks, understand what their websites are capable of.

Their huge array of blogs offer an in-depth look at a variety of sports, from the major leagues to high school. From MMA to soccer. And each blog is run differently then the others: the way Ball Don’t Lie is put together is completely different then Puck Daddy or Dr. Saturday.

Why does that matter? It shows that Yahoo is letting their blogs grow organically and develop their own style, voice and audience – and as obvious as it sounds, it’s the audience that determines if a blog is successful.

Down in the states, ESPN found out that lesson the hard way a few years ago. When the network bought  NBA blog TrueHoop, it immediately boosted their online coverage of the NBA above that of all the major competitors. It came prepacked with a loyal readership and a smart and clever editor in Henry Abbott.

After all, Truehoop was, almost from it’s inception, the premier blog for NBA coverage. Indeed, it was winning awards almost right from it’s start. TrueHoop has since expanded to become the centre of ESPN’s online coverage of the NBA; nearly all the network’s NBA writers now contribute content.

ESPN followed the aquisition of TrueHoop by launching Hashmarks, a NFL blog edited by Matt Mosley. Hashmarks lived for a little while but was eventually reformatted into NFL Nation, a group of blogs devoted to each division. Why did Hashmarks fail while Truehoop thrived?

In a 2008 blog post, Dan Shanoff gave three reasons why: it didn’t fit into the NFL blog atmosphere, Matt Mosley’s inexperience in the blogging medium and – most importantly of all – it didn’t have the same credibility TrueHoop did.

Credibility and an audience are things that take time to establish. A daily blog (any, really) has to have readers a reason to check it every day. In it’s short time, Hashmarks was unable to create that kind of niche for itself. Had ESPN given the blog time to establish itself, it may have worked (their MLB blog, Sweet Spot seems to be doing okay). Maybe not.

Back to Canada. Up here, there’s three all-sports networks: The Score, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet. Each has different levels of web presence. TSN’s is the worst, while The Score has the highest profile. Sportsnet is somewhere in the middle, trending downward.

Aside from some entry-level stuff for it’s SportsCentre anchors, TSN offers two original blogs, but has both buried deep within it’s website. One, Tim Chisholm’s NBA blog, is one of the best reads on the site yet TSN does an awful job of promoting it; it’s rarely featured on the front page and it doesn’t have a RSS feed.

Meanwhile, Sportsnet has more blogs – their website lists 27 of them – but their updates are spurious at best. By my count, at least 16 are inactive. One was only updated once. While they have a web presence, it’s not a very strong one.

Leave it to the smallest network to have the strongest presence on the web.

For a network who airs a lot of poker, harness racing and wrestling, The Score has dominated online, with well-written blogs devoted to soccer, the NBA, the NHL, etc.  It’s not anywhere near as developed as Yahoo’s, but it’s the best of the big three. They even offer original podcasts, something even Yahoo! hasn’t attempted with regularity.

Their biggest move came early last year, when they brought in The Basketball Jones, probably the best sports podcast out there, and combined it with a strong stable of writers to create a great NBA blog. They took something not only credibile, but with a big (and international) audience and spun it off into a valuable web asset.

But it’s interesting to note that at least some of the Jones’ growth came at the hands of Yahoo – when Jones co-host J.E. Skeets-edited Ball Don’t Lie, he linked to the video edition of the podcast every day.

So, what does Yahoo do that TSN doesn’t? Besides offer a stronger web presence, they grab talent from elsewhere on the web and apply it, rather then try and retrain old media people who are coming from the worlds of newspapers or television.

It feels like those two things go a long way: they understand both how to write for the web and how people consume on the web. They realize people will read the blog over the day, not just in one burst. They get that people don’t just read by refreshing the webpage, but use RSS readers or social networks like Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook.

There’s a lesson here. The smaller companies, those who can’t complete with networks owned by the cable or satellite companies have adapted and excelled on the net, levelling the playing field, as it were.

Written by M.

September 13, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Keep the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton

with one comment

A few weeks ago, I went to my first Tiger-Cats game, which was a bit of a memorable experience.

Truth be told, Hamilton’s kind of a rough town. My buddy E and I made a wrong turn off the QEW and ended up taking a back way through the city, snaking through the downtown as we tried to find Ivor Wynne. We passed sketchy looking bars, boarded up buildings and more then a few skullets. And we eventually found the place.

And damn, what a venue.

Ivor Wynne is old, it’s beyond outdated and it’s amazing in ways I had no idea stadiums could be. It’s smack dab in the middle of a residential area, bordered by a school and a bunch of houses. There are no overpriced bars nearby and no $20-an-hour lots. Hell, there’s no lots really at all – most people pay $10 or so to park on a lawn. You just walk right up into the stadium through a few gates. It’s great.

Basically, it’s the anti-Toronto.

Inside, the fans are something else. Raw, passionate, vocal, probably drunk. There were furry hats, foam claws and chanting, always chanting. Some dopes tried to start the wave; it didn’t catch on. Here’s a small sampling of the customized jerseys I saw:

  • Eat em raw
  • Argos Suck
  • Toronto Sucks
  • Pigskin Pete (although he’s some kind of mascot, so maybe he doesn’t count)
  • CFL Rocks

Add to these a huge wack of old jerseys, some looking close to 30 years old, that almost every fan seemed to wear. While there was a tent that sold a few Ti-Cats thing at the stadium, it was pretty obvious that most of these fans had worn them for years. There were a few that looked pressed and cleaned and others that had been worn so much the colours and numbers had faded. Those that didn’t have a jersey wore some variation of the Ti-Cats yellow-and-black scheme.

I didn’t see a single person in a business suit. I didn’t see anybody spend the game on a blackberry. I didn’t see any of the corporate stuff I seem to always see in Toronto.

It was really a tremendous crowd, easily one of the best I’ve ever been been a part of.

And it would be a real shame if they lost their team.

There’s been a bit of talk lately about the Tiger-Cats moving from Hamilton. Ivor Wynne is old, and while it’s not altogether without charm, it lacks the modern immediacies owners would like. There’s seats only on two sides, really; the luxury boxes are few and look fairly small; the seats are all wooden benches; so forth and so on.

Which means the team – and owner Bob Young, in particular – are prepared to move the team to a city willing to bend over backwards for them.

It’s not that the Hammer isn’t building them a new stadium. They are, actually – the city is planning to build a new stadium to be used for the 2015 Pan Am games – but it doesn’t meet the exacting demands of the Cats ownership.

One report suggested that Young wants the new stadium closer to highways, on the mountain. Hamilton city council has voted to start building at a west harbour site.

Another report says that the issue has quickly became political, with terms like “pro-city” being thrown around, as mayoral rivals come out of the woodwork and argue for capitulation.

It really seems like the fight is going to other levels. It doesn’t seem to be so much a sports topic any longer as it does inside baseball, an extension of old grudges. Which is certainly a shame.

This wouldn’t be as bad if the owners wasn’t so vocal about moving the team and cities weren’t making it known how much they’d like the team. There’s been offers from Oshawa to Quebec City to Moncton, New Brunswick.

I have been to all of those cities and lived in Oshawa for three years. They are all good towns, but have nothing approaching the level I saw in Hamilton. In the Hammer, the fans were loud, great and made the game a hell of an experience. I’m used to Toronto crowds that tend to only get loud for T-Shirts, free pizza or, occasionally, Vince Carter. Their fans are really something.

And while I can’t say I’m a fan of the Ti-Cats, I can’t imagine how this must feel: not only is their owner talking about moving the team, not only has council chosen a spot Young has repeatedly said he doesn’t want, but other cities are openly trying to court your team.

Don’t forget, Hamilton isn’t really a place with a lot going for it. It’s still a blue collar town; from where I sat at Ivor Wynne, I could see the smokestacks over at the steel mills where I imagine most of the people in attendance knew somebody working or worked there themselves. I got the impression that for a lot of fans, going to football games was something they did once in a while, a way to blow off steam and let go after a long workweek.

But then, isn’t that what most sports really are? They’re about being entertained, having fun and not having to worry about paychecks or rent or bills. They’re not supposted to be about stadium arguements or hearing pleas from afar luring your team away.

Which is something I think is being lost in the arguments. The fans are there and probably always will. It doesn’t matter where the new stadium is. They will find a way there. They already find a way to their current one, where parking is on lawns (don’t worry about the flowers, pull up a little further ahead) and the seats are benches in a stadium almost as old as time itself.

The Ti-Cats are one of the oldest professional teams in North America and have some of the best fans in pro sports. It would be a shame if the city of Hamilton lost them both over municipal politics.

Written by M.

August 21, 2010 at 11:35 am

Posted in cfl, football

Tagged with , ,

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