Magic moments from Moncton?

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

HALIFAX -- The idea of making the Canadian Football League a coast-to-coast entity has always been an appealing one to most fans from coast to coast.

But it seemed everybody else in Canada has wanted Halifax in the league more than Halifax itself.

And it's always been Halifax. Until now.

Tuesday 309 km from here in Moncton Touchdown Atlantic touched down in a big way.

The long-awaited birth of the Maritime Schooners or Atlantic Storm isn't going to happen in a day, but this may be the day looked back upon as the official birthday of a football franchise.

It was announced earlier this year that the league had purchased the Toronto Argos' home game against the Edmonton Eskimos on Sept. 26. The intention was playing a first-ever CFL regular season game as a first step toward finally creating a franchise for the Maritimes.

But yesterday was the official kickoff.

"There's unbelievable excitement here," said Eskimos CEO Rick LeLacheur who showed up with French-speaking offensive lineman Patrick Kabongo in tow. "I'm going away pleased that we're participating in this.

"They're holding the IAAF World Junior track-and-field championships here this summer and expanding the stadium to 20,500 for that event and the football game makes sense," said the man who headed the organizing committee for the Edmonton 2001 IAAF world athletics.

"They really have a big picture view of turning Moncton into the entertainment capital of Atlantic Canada. Did you know the largest Rolling Stones concert in North America was held at Magnetic Hill here?"

LeLacheur says the Eskimos, who will play the Alouettes in Montreal on the same trip, expect a very similar atmosphere for the game in the new Stade Moncton on the campus of Universite de Moncton.

"They're going to make this like a mini-Grey Cup, blocking off streets downtown and planning Grey Cup-type events.

"The Spirit of Edmonton is looking at trying to find a way to bringing their set-up out here and the Saskatchewan Roughriders are trying to bring their Rider Pride group out as well."

The Moncton organizers -- which include former CFL executive Brent Scrimshaw, now with Atlantic Lotto -- are focusing on the entire region and turning the game into an annual event leading to the establishment of a team here.

Kabongo is going to visit the legislature in Fredericton and to a function in Saint John as well. The Argos brought president Bob Nicholson and player Adriano Belli to the event, with Belli scheduled to visit Halifax Wednesday, as well.

"We met with a contingent from Prince Edward Island which wants us to hold a practice over there and have a big barbecue after the practice. The P.E.I. guys are as excited as the Moncton guys," said LeLacheur.

Moncton makes more sense geographically if you ignore Halifax having the largest population (370,000) this side of Quebec City with Moncton a distant second at 125,000.

Moncton is 172 km to Charlottetown. Halifax is 356.

Moncton is 182 km from Fredericton. Halifax is 415.

Moncton is 152 km from Saint John. Halifax is 424.

You've gotta want it. And Moncton wants it.

At the press conference, Kabongo said he believes all his teammates are already excited about a very special game on the schedule.

"It's going to be a great atmosphere to play in a football game that counts in a new and exciting setting in front of a whole new group of fans," said Kabongo.

How many lobsters do you figure an entire Edmonton Eskimos football team might eat at a single setting?


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