TORONTO - Long after many of his teammates had changed, showered and departed the visitor’s locker room at Molson Stadium in Montreal on Sunday night, Adriano Belli sat in his stall, clad in all of his sweaty equipment.
The Argonauts had just laid a thumping to the tune of 30-4 on the Montreal Alouettes to end the regular season and Belli, bleeding from a knuckle and a scrape on his knee, was asked about the playoff game this Sunday at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats.
“We’re playing our arch-rival, going into a hostile environment, they have our number this year and there would be nothing better than erasing those three losses by kicking their ass at home,” Belli said.
“There isn’t a guy in this room who doesn’t think we can’t win the Grey Cup. In a league like this, anything can happen.”
The Argos won nine games, tripling their post-game celebrations of a year ago, but none of the victories involved beating the Tiger-Cats. The Boatmen had become used to getting the better of their QEW rivals in recent years, but in one of those CFL anomalies, the Ticats were the only team the Argos did not beat during the regular season. Falling four times in one year to the same team would be embarrassing.
Let’s hope head coach Jim Barker and his players don’t put much stock in deja vu. The most recent playoff game between the clubs at Ivor Wynne was in 1999. Like this year, Barker was the Argos coach, the Boatmen were 9-9 and they headed to Hamilton for the East semifinal. They were soundly beaten 26-7.
In their only post-season meeting since, the Argos won 24-6 in the division semi at the Rogers Centre in 2004.
One weird outcome of both games — the winner went on to win the Grey Cup. And neither team has won it since.
But the past is the past, and what happened years ago has no bearing on what will go down at Ivor Wynne in five days.
No, the truer comparison comes from what occurred between the Argos and Ticats in 2010. Hamilton won all three by a combined score of 74-28, marking the first time since 2001 that it swept the season series from Toronto. The Ticats’ first two wins could have gone in the Argos’ favour if not for some critical turnovers, but the final triumph, a 30-3 shellacking at the Rogers Centre on Oct. 15, is the one that should have Barker concerned.
Running back Cory Boyd, who like so many of his teammates will be back on the active roster on Sunday, was held to 26 yards on 11 carries and the offence as a whole was bad, completing only 13 first downs. From top to bottom, it was the Argos’ worst game of the season, and they were stunningly flat.
At least one small question has emerged from the romp over the Alouettes — backup quarterback Dalton Bell moved the offence fairly fluidly, and Barker now knows he can turn to Bell if, say, Cleo Lemon is struggling at half time.
Whatever transpires, the Argos will prepare this week with the idea that they’re not in this for a one-game-only appearance. Barker has them believing, as Belli said, that they can win games steadily in November.
“This is what you spend 10, 11 months of your life training for,” guard Taylor Robertson said. “It’s something we want badly and it’s something we are ready for. We’ll get back to work on Wednesday and get ready for Hamilton. It’s a three-game season. This is it. It could be over on Sunday or we could be coming back (to Montreal for the East final). It’s all on the line.”