Argo-Ticat rivalry opens CFL season

Adriano Belli (right) of the Toronto Argonauts clowns around with one of his coaches this week...

Adriano Belli (right) of the Toronto Argonauts clowns around with one of his coaches this week prior to the opener against Hamilton. (MICHAEL PEAKE/SUN MEDIA)

, Last Updated: 11:47 PM ET

HAMILTON - For the moment, Argonaut fans are prepared to let coach Bart Andrus get used to CFL rules; they’ll be patient as Kerry Joseph breaks in new receivers and backs and they won’t fret whether Juston Medlock or Eddie Johnson does the kicking.

But lose Wednesday night to their QEW rivals the Tiger-Cats and the job of selling the ‘new’ Argos gets much harder. Any recovery by the Boatmen from last season’s 4-14 debacle must start with winning the season’s series with Hamilton.

Defensive tackle Adriano Belli got right into the spirit Tuesday at Ivor Wynne Stadium, wearing a skin tight “I (heart) T.O.” t-shirt for the cameras.

“I love it when old ladies throw stuff at me,” Belli said of the reception the Argos always get coming in and out of the players’ tunnel. “We had a pretty crappy season, but we beat the Tiger- Cats and that’s all that matters.”

Andrus, making his CFL regular-season debut Wednesday night, said he received “a taste” of the Steeltown -- Hogtown feud during last week’s exhibition game, a 27-17 Toronto win at Ivor Wynne.

“As a coach, your biggest rival is whatever team is on the other side,” he began. “But when I was at Montana State and playing Montana there were no fence sitters. With Tennessee (Titans) it was Pittsburgh when they were in our division, then Houston and definitely Jacksonville. When I was in Amsterdam (NFL Europe) it was any team from Germany.

“You have Notre Dame - USC, Michigan - Ohio State...this is my first CFL game, it’s a rivalry and it’s great.”

Hamilton counterpart Marcel Bellefeuille has more on the line, trying to win at home and rebound from a season that was somehow worse than Toronto’s, 3-15 and a loss to the Argos on Labour Day. But he’s right to say that the Ti-Cats must start thinking big.

“It needs to go beyond Toronto and work its way west,” Bellefeuille said. “We need to do well in inter-conference games, but we must have some (continuity) every week.”

Perhaps he’s seen a very revealing statistic that his team is 0-7 in games immediately following a victory or tie against the Argos, going back to September of 2001.

Across the field, the Joseph hype has died down considerably from a year ago when it seemed the Argos had guaranteed a trip to the Grey Cup by acquiring the CFL player of the year from the champion Roughriders. But the quarterback’s completion rate and touchdown passes both dropped in double blue, and he almost doubled his interceptions.

This year, he starts Week 1 without having to look over his shoulder at the departed Michael Bishop on the Toronto bench.

“It feels good to come off the field and just have to answer questions about the team, because this is not about Kerry Joseph,” the QB said. “(General manager) Adam Rita and (assistant) Greg Mohns did a good job in the off-season. They’ve put the pieces in place. They gave us a chance and all you want is a chance.”

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NO STARTER NAMED YET

Hamilton coach Marcel Bellefeuille won’t commit to starting quarterback Kevin Glenn or Quinton Porter before game time, while Argonauts coach Bart Andrus said likewise on how he uses either rookie punter/kickers Juston Medlock and Eddie Johnson.

One thing is for sure, however, that Andrus doesn’t want some of the inexperienced long snappers on his roster complicating the situation after mixed results in pre-season. So the Argos brought 15-year CFLer Randy Srochenski out of retirement for the time being.

CAT SCRATCH FEVER

Argo defensive lineman Adriano Belli was asked if he had a preference for facing Glenn or Porter tonight.

“They both look cute in their uniforms,” ex-Ti-Cat Belli joked. “Hopefully, we can get them a little dirty.”

In a more serious vein, Belli said his team would have to steer clear of penalties in the charged atmosphere of their first game.

WINNING BACK FANS

Wednesday night’s game is not expected to be a sellout at 29,600-seat Ivor Wynne Stadium as fans take a wait-and-see approach to a team that has one winning record the past seven years.

But Bellefeuille promises better things in his first full year after taking over from Charlie Taaffe.

“We’ve talked about three things; play fast, play smart and play with passion, aggressive passion,” the coach says. “It’s a lot easier said than done. The first two concern the heart, the other concerns the mind.

“Our room is different. (General manager) Bob O’Billovich and I talked about bringing in five or six veterans. Our (younger players) need to be around guys who’ve been there. Five of our eight coaches have been in the Grey Cup.”

COMMAND PERFORMANCE

Wednesday night will be the regular-season debut of the CFL’s Toronto command centre -- a war room similar to what the NHL and NFL have to review disputed calls. Jake Ireland, who just retired after a 30-year career as on-field referee, will be in charge of making the call, armed with a series of high definition TV angles.

“It will be faster and they’ll have half the answer at the command centre before the challenge flag is thrown,” Bellefeuille said.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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