CFL deletes Labour Day tradition

Toronto Sun columnist Steve Buffery, wearing the Clemons' sweater, bravely walks through a section...

Toronto Sun columnist Steve Buffery, wearing the Clemons' sweater, bravely walks through a section of Ticat fans at Ivor Wynne Stadium during last year's Labour Day game. The CFL broke with tradition this year, and canceled the game. (MARK O'NEILL/QMI Agency)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:46 PM ET

This is the week the Canadian Football League commits a grievous sin.

This is the week it shoots itself in the foot. Again. Everyone knows the CFL lives in a parallel universe foreign to the rest of humanity north of the 49th Parallel. But it beggars belief why they so often have to go and prove it.

Like this Saturday. CFL decision makers have the Argonauts playing Hamilton in what comes as close as it gets this year to the traditional Labour Day Classic. I know, itís August.

But this is the CFL. They canít count to September, without a scoreboard. Or, so it sometimes appears.

Failing to schedule the Argonauts in Hamilton has to be one of the biggest bonehead marketing moves since the invention of the San Antonio Texans.

Sports fans are enamoured of tradition.

Tradition beckons fans thousands of miles to experience Fenway Park or to sit on an ice flow more commonly known as Lambeau Field.

Tradition keeps the Indianapolis 500 alive while open-wheel racing was dying. Tradition is watching the Grey Cup on TV, even when you havenít seen another game all year and canít tell the players without a lineup printed off the internet. Not that I would specifically know about that ... but, Iím just saying.

Tradition is buying a hot dog at a ball game, even though everyone already knows they hold the culinary delight of rolled up sawdust on a bed of ketchup.

And, tradition is sitting on a butt-worn wooden bench at Ivor Wynne at the dawn of September, watching the Ticats ring the Argosí bells as a warm-up for when school bells ring. Since 1995, the Ticats have an 8-6-1 edge in games and it is probably more a tradition for Hamilton, than Toronto, fans. But this is the one game on the calendar that still draws provincial-wide media attention. It is special for the players, too, most of those who have experienced the atmosphere say it is the biggest game of the year this side of the Grey Cup.

Tradition is, perhaps, the reason this league still lives in the hearts of oft-absent fans. And, now the league has killed a part of that last vestige that can still bring fans back to the park. At least for this year, itís not happening.

With less than 15,000 fans showing up for Argonautsí games, the CFL is already irrelevant for far too many sports fans in the GTA. In Toronto only big-league sells. Itís why the Marlies are an afterthought and itís why junior hockey has spent the past 30 years playing to family and girl friends. It is why a half dozen soccer leagues have failed and the CFL, to be honest, simply isnít viewed by many as major league.

And, now, the league has just handed them another reason to feel that way.

Dumb.

Leave it up to the CFL to believe it is the only earthly institution which can actually change the Gregorian calendar and move the hype surrounding the Argos/Ticats on Labour Day.

The Alouettes and Ticats may be in a battle for first place, and the Argos may be losing face at 1-5, but come Labour Day, Hamilton fans only get worked up when Stevie Baggs hits someone and they bleed Double Blue.

Itís tradition.

No team can engender animosity in a Hamilton fan like the Argonauts. Or vice-versa.

The Labour Day Classic was, in a league desperate for headlines and publicity, the one CFL event that might yet make urban cottage-lovers consider giving up a weekend kissing up to a bass.

Instead, for the first time since 1995, the closest fans of the Argonauts and Ticats will have to getting on a good hate is this weekend. It just isnít the same. When the 2011 schedule was first released fans reacted angrily, lighting up Twitter and chat room bulletin boards.

You know the feeling; like when youíre a kid and someone steals your lollipop, or your Triple Scoop has just been down-sized to a single scoop courtesy of the family pooch. Gut-punched.

No Labour Day Classic?

Next thing you know theyíll be telling us thereís no Easter Bunny.

There is an official explanation. And, isnít there always with this stuff. When the CFL released the 2011 schedule, it reasoned that a competitive imbalance would occur if the Argos played in Hamilton on Labour Day, as it wouldíve been the Argosí sixth road game in nine games.

In retrospect, considering the way the Argos have been playing, letting them get out of town wouldíve been doing them a favour. But, I digress.

Bottom line is that the leagueís failure to get the Argos into Hamilton on Labour Day is like telling a kid that this year thereís no Christmas.

It just shouldnít happen. Period.

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca


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