T.O. tickets tough to find

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

Justin Phillips spotted a teammate hanging outside the locker-room and darted towards him for an important question.

It was too late. His tickets for Friday's game were already going to Tristan Black.

Phillips wasted no time heading back inside McMahon Stadium headquarters to find someone else to ask the same question.

When a CFL team makes a trip to the Big Smoke, there is a mad dash for former Torontonians to get extra ducats, and it's no different with the Calgary Stampeders.

"Usually, I try to take care of the ordeal before I even get down there, so I don't have any distractions," said Phillips, a Wilfred Laurier product whose family lives in nearby Waterloo, Ont.

For many years, the prevailing theory as to why the Stamps (and other CFL teams) would have trouble playing in SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) was the excitement of performing in front of friends and family in Toronto.

Being the biggest city in Canada means everyone knows someone in the Centre of the Universe, so the road trip to T.O. becomes more than just a football game.

The night before is usually a chance to catch up with someone for dinner, and there is less time to mentally focus on the task at hand.

Before last season's 44-16 victory, the Stampeders had lost seven straight times in Toronto.

Phillips is making his second trip, and he's learned how to eliminate those outside distractions.

"My parents aren't coming down until game day," Phillips said. "I will see them during the game and after. I've done it that way the past two years.

"My parents know how I get, and I'm no fun when I'm focused and working hard to get ready. It's all about playing well, so they leave me alone now."

Black, a Toronto native, is making his first appearance at the Rogers Centre and is dealing with plenty of anxiety about it.

The 25-year-old rookie linebacker realizes how lucky he is to be making the trip.

Not only was Black a scratch for the past three games, but he can see the plight of teammate Mike Labinjo.

Labinjo has been hurt just before the trip to Toronto the past two years and is still waiting for his first hometown visit as a CFL player.

"This is good timing," Black said. "Maybe they are throwing me a bone so I can go back to my hometown, but I'm glad to be back. I just want to worry about playing. It's not so much the one game. Going back, I want to show everybody I can get on the roster and stay on it the rest of the year. I want to show my teammates I can do it. Every game, you get a bit of jitters, but this one a bit more."

Just like last year's trip, Cody Pickett is the Argos starting quarterback, having replaced Kerry Joseph.

The Stamps defence made his life miserable a year ago when he made back-to-back starts, both against the eventual Grey Cup champs. He didn't face anyone else as a starter the rest of the season.

"That was around the time when we sparked and went on a roll," Phillips said. "We need to have the same type of success this year and get back on that roll."

Veteran Stamps right tackle Jeff Pilon, whose wife is from Toronto, played seven seasons before finally winning in the Big Smoke last year.

He doesn't quite believe the distraction theory.

"Make of it what you want," Pilon said. "If we knew that was the deal completely, we would cut family off and make them buy their own tickets.

"It's a tough place to go. It's a long trip, a big crowd in a big stadium. It's a hard place to play."


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