MONCTON — History will be made on Sunday afternoon when the Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos play in Touchdown Atlantic, the first regular season game in the Canadian Football League to be contested at a neutral site.
The citizens in this city of approximately 125,000 have welcomed both teams with open arms (even if the headline on the front page of Saturday’s editions of the Moncton Times & Transcript newspaper simply read ‘Wear double blue tomorrow’) and the enthusiasm has convinced many observers that this town is ready to have a CFL team on a full-time basis.
The game itself is the final act in the week-long festivities, and both teams want to give fans something to remember.
Unfortunately, there’s plenty of potential for the Argos and Eskimos to limp off the field, having shared the role of party pooper.
The Argos, one game above .500 at 6-5, are last in the league in offence, and the Eskimos, at 2-9 the embarrassed owners of the worst record in the league, are seventh. Toronto’s defence? Worst in the league. Edmonton? Seventh.
Argos head coach Jim Barker said his team is “approaching this as the biggest game of the year for us.” His counterpart, Eskimos head coach Richie Hall, called it a “must-win.”
That doesn’t mean it will be easy on the eyes for the 20,000 fans in the stands. Both sides are praying the game brings to mind, from an excitement standpoint, the 29-28 victory by the Argos in Edmonton on Aug. 6, when Toronto scored the winning touchdown in the final minute on a one-yard plunge by Cory Boyd. The Argos had a 12-point lead at the half but blew it before a 14-play, 94-yard drive capped by Boyd’s touchdown ensured a win.
“Hopefully, it’s not an ugly one,” Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray said after the teams completed their walk-throughs at the soggy Stade Moncton 2010 Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
If there’s a boost for the Argos, it will be in the form of a healthy stable of receivers. But if the finger on quarterback Cleo Lemon’s throwing hand doesn’t co-operate (Barker indicated the pinky is bothering Lemon), it won’t matter who is running routes for Toronto.
Although Lemon might resort to wearing a glove on his hand and is coming off just a 90-yard throwing performance against Winnipeg,
for Argos slotback Jeremaine Copeland, the thought of a low-scoring game didn’t sit well.
“These fans have been dying and screaming for a team to come here and right now they are behind us,” Copeland said. “Everywhere we go, we see it. They are Argo-crazy. We have no choice but to try for big numbers.”
Every time he fields the football, the Argos’ Chad Owens has the talent to score a touchdown. He led the CFL with 1,992 combined yards heading into the weekend, nearly 600 more than the next closest player. Hall acknowledged his defenders will have to give Owens special attention, but the Argos want to be less predictable.
“We can’t think Chad Owens is going to do it for us every week,” cornerback Byron Parker said. “We need all three phases to win. We are out here representing the CFL and Toronto, and you want to put on a show.”
If the Argos win, they will equal their amount of victories from the past two seasons combined. And they would further solidify a playoff spot. To that end, Barker doesn’t care how the game is won, as long as it is.
“In this league, you just don’t know,” Barker said. “When you think the game is going to a little more high-scoring, the defences step up. Special teams are going to be a big part. All that matters is that the Double Blue finishes with more points than the Green and Gold.”