It was the first CFL game I’ve attended in person in nearly three decades

Michael TaubeThe Canadian Football League’s 2022 regular season is over. The Edmonton Elks had a bye week. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat the BC Lions 24-9 on Oct. 28. Three final games were played on Oct. 29: the Calgary Stampeders beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 36-10, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat the Ottawa Redblacks 23-16 and the Montreal Alouettes beat the Toronto Argonauts 38-33.

I was in the stands watching the latter contest.

This was the first CFL game I’ve attended in person in nearly three decades. It wasn’t related to factors like cost or laziness. I simply stopped watching Canadian football for many years, other than Grey Cup games, and became rather critical of the product as compared to the National Football League.

I finally made “peace” with the CFL after the 104th Grey Cup. “By looking at the CFL as a stand-alone entity, and removing any sort of unnecessary side-by-side comparison to the NFL,” as I wrote in my Oct. 17, 2017, Troy Media syndicated column, I gained “a brand-new appreciation for the Canadian game.”

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This brings me to the Argos-Als game. Here are some first-hand observations.

You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect Saturday to go watch football. The sky was a stunning shade of blue. The weather was warm and sunny. Considering the fact that it was only two days until Halloween, which has rained fairly consistently in recent years (as any child or parent will tell you), it was a pleasant change of pace.

I attended BMO Field’s official opening in May 2007 when I worked for the Conservatives. The box I sat in is still there, but the stadium has grown and improved exponentially. Getting there has become quite simple. Driving is one option, which I’ve done in the past for Exhibition Stadium and attending other events at the Argos’s home turf. Public transit takes you right into the stadium and leaves you mere footsteps from the front gates. That seemed like the better way, if you’ll pardon the pun – and it was.

Attendance for the final regular season game was 13,155. It was the team’s second-highest number all season (14,963 came out to see the Aug. 26 Argos-Ticats game) and well ahead of the average attendance for the previous seven Toronto-based home games (11,834). The Argos were part of this year’s Touchdown Atlantic series, and beat the Roughriders 30-24 on July 16 as the “home team” at Raymond Field in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. That’s not included in my overall tally, however.

The concession stands were busy. Plenty of beer, sausages, hot dogs, nachos, fries, soft drinks and bags of peanuts were consumed. Sales of t-shirts, sweaters, toques, caps and even a cowbell or two happened in clear view. Prices have escalated, but that’s to be expected at any modern sporting event. Even the sausage and soft drink I purchased at a hot dog cart just outside the stadium cost me $11, which is well above anything you pay in the city. C’est la vie.

Ticket prices, on the other hand, were quite reasonable. I sat in the 100 level, just a few rows up from the end zone and close to an exit. Total cost per ticket? $28.50, including fees. Very fair and far less than going to see most of the other Toronto-based teams.

Defining the average CFL fan is a fascinating study. National pride is one consistent component. Patriotic is a relevant descriptor, especially during the national anthem and honouring a member of Canada’s military. Friendly, welcoming and gregarious in plenty of instances. Enthusiastic about the CFL. Loyal to the Canadian brand of football. And, unlike some of our American cousins, a light bit of competitiveness mixed with a grandiose amount of good-natured fun.

What about the game itself?

It was a high-scoring affair with memorable touchdowns, a few sloppy moments and tons of penalties. The Als led 21-7 at one point and looked like they would win in a cakewalk. Yet the Argos fought back to tie things up at 28-28 and had some chances to take it at the very end.

Every type of score was accounted for in this wild shootout, other than a rouge. Many first-string players sat on the bench since the two teams were already playoff-bound. Argos backup quarterback Chad Kelly, the nephew former Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly, had a solid game. He went 23-35 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Dominique Davis of the Als went 13-14 for 166 yards, two touchdowns (including a 53-yarder to rookie receiver Cole Spieker) and an interception. He also set a team record with 13 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a season.

Montreal ended the season at 9-9 and in second place in the East Division, while East-leading Toronto finished at 11-7. They could meet again in the playoffs.

My current plan is to attend two CFL games in 2023. Will the sights, sounds and play on the field be as entertaining as the Argos-Als match-up? I certainly hope so!

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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