It's literally all on the line for the Argos

The Argos practice on Friday in preparation for Sunday's 100th Grey Cup in Toronto. Line play, as...

The Argos practice on Friday in preparation for Sunday's 100th Grey Cup in Toronto. Line play, as always, will be key. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI AGENCY)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:45 PM ET

TORONTO - Cut through all the football-ese — from slide protection, to half rolls and naked bootlegs -- and the game can be broken down to the basic fundamental.

Line play.

Establish the line of scrimmage and virtually anything is possible on the field. No play is daunting when holes are opened, when gaps are filled, when a quarterback is allowed to go through his progressions.

The Argos have tinkered, mixed and matched for what seemed to be forever, trying to find the right pieces that would open holes for Chad Kackert to run through and provide the necessary protection for Ricky Ray to deliver the football.

A lot has been made of Toronto's win in Saskatchewan, a victory that assured the Argos a home playoff date for the first time since 2007.

In a hostile environment, in front of rabid fans, the Argos went with a silent count for the whole 60 minutes.

The following week in the season finale, many of the team's starters were told to sit and heal wounds, but a win was nonetheless produced, allowing momentum to build as the playoffs beckoned.

"It's no different than being in a relationship," said starting left tackle Tony Washington. "After a long time, you figure the other person out."

Washington's description aptly applies to his unit, one that has played its most consistent at the most critical juncture.

Breakdowns have unfolded, but Ray has been able to get back on his feet.

More than anything, success Sunday will be based on how well Toronto's offensive line plays. That applies every week, against any opponent, but this game becomes even more magnified.

When the Eskimos came to town, star linebacker J.C. Sherritt was a late scratch with an ankle injury.

The Eskimos bring pressure, but their identity, especially against former teammate Ray, was to play zone, force underneath throws and wrap up. The recipe worked as Edmonton won both regular-season meetings, but it would be the offence's inefficiency that ultimately led to the Esks losing the playoff game.

In Montreal, the Als blitzed on virtually every down, regardless of distance, regardless of the damage that would result if a breakdown in the secondary was allowed to play out.

Ray took his shots, but the line held up, save for one blow that featured John Bowman coming off the edge.

"We're finally gelling," added Washington. "We're finally found the guys to fill in a permanent position."

Washington played for the Stamps and was brought to Toronto to anchor the all-important blind-side position.

When the year began, the Argos experimented with an all-Canadian look in the Montreal model, only to get scratched.

For Washington, it took about five weeks to get his feet settled in a new blocking system. He's now one of the keys as his former team stands in the way of winning a Grey Cup.

"It matters a little knowing I played for that team, giving you that little chip, but the goal is to play great football, regardless of who we're playing," said Washington, who will have his mom and girlfriend in the stands on game day.

"I can't wait to get this thing going. I'm very excited and hopefully we'll be the ones hoisting the Cup."

If Washington and the rest of the O-line holds up, they've got a pretty good chance of helping the franchise win its first Grey Cup since 2004.

Line is always pivotal, but games are often won by great quarterback play.

In Ray, the Argos have a two-time Grey Cup champion who has saved his best for Toronto's recent run.

WATKINS HOPEFUL, BUT REALISTIC

As long as Pat Watkins is able to move around the field without any discomfort, there's always a chance Toronto's all-star corner will suit up for Sunday's Grey Cup.

As long as Watkins feels he won't compromise his team on the CFL's biggest stage, the possibility remains.

But as the countdown to kickoff draws rapidly closer, it's looking as though Watkins will miss his second post-season game in as many weeks, a prospect Watkins must contemplate.

"I'm improving, especially when you consider I couldn't do anything last week," said Watkins. "I'm not where I want to be."

Much like they did in the build-up to last Sunday's East final versus the host Als, the Argos are saying Watkins will again be a game-time decision.

Watkins flew with the team to Montreal, but watched from the Argos bench as rookie Jalil Carter did his job without any noticeable breakdown.

Watkins is mentally preparing to play against Calgary, but ankle he injured two weeks ago in Toronto's semifinal win over Edmonton clearly limits him.

"I'm going to get as close as I can," said Watkins of being 100% healthy, which is almost impossible given the football calendar. "I'm going to have coach make the decision."

At this stage, there's no circumstance that would allow Watkins to risk anything.

"I'm a bigger player than that," he said. "As much as I would like to be part of what's going to take place on Sunday, I understand the situation."

Watkins became an extra set of eyes for the players in Montreal and plans on doing the same Sunday, in the event he can't play.

"If anyone has a question, naturally I'm going to answer it and provide my input, but I never try to impose myself," he said. "I thought Jalil played great. He's a heck of an athlete and I'm not worried about him."

Watkins started in the secondary when the Argos twice beat the Stamps during the regular season, a series Watkins says holds no meaning Sunday.

"They are much improved," he said. "(Maurice) Price has really made a name for himself."

HYPE GROWING

In the world of three-down football, where every penny must be accounted for, doling out extra cash for a pair of tickets to the big game becomes an exercise in budget stretching.

It's often overlooked, but it bears repeating as the countdown to Sunday's Grey Cup draws nearer, but a practice roster player will earn $500 a week, which is slightly less than the cost of a prime-time seat at Rogers Centre.

To the casual fan, the game will be best experienced at home or some watering hole.

To those in the corporate world, ticket brokers become the most viable option.

And that's where a man such as Ervil DiGiusto comes in.

The Toronto native has been president of StarOneTickets.com since 1983, one of the most trusted and well connected ticket brokers in the business.

DiGiusto was selling pennants on Yonge Street back in 1983 when the Argos ended a 32-year title drought, a win that triggered one of the best parties Toronto has seen.

The amount to watch the Argos beat the Lions some 30 years wouldn't even get one a parking spot for this year's historic game.

According to DiGiusto, business has been "solid" for this year's event, enhanced by the local team being in the game and the surrounding buzz around the occasion.

"From the perspective of local interest, it's been normal," DiGiusto said. "When it comes to the corporate world, they want to be part of this experience.

"It's great for the city, for tourism. Right from the hop (Monday), there's been interest. A lot has to do with the hype, the likes of which we've never seen. By having the VIA Rail train go across country, the CFL brought the grass roots to the people, from B.C. to Atlantic Canada. It was authentic and people are excited."

As of Friday, DiGiusto said tickets for Sunday's game were going from a low of $500 to a high of $1,000.

For the true sporting/entertainment aficionado, visitors to Toronto could have caught the Who performing at the ACC, the Raptors and of course the 100th Grey Cup.

WEBB KEY COG IN ARGOS MACHINE

Danny Webb has been around the Argos so long, the team should one day erect a statue that bears his resemblance.

Without Webb and his equipment staff, the unsung heroes behind any pro football team, virtually nothing gets done in Argoland.

On Sunday, Webb will celebrate a birthday.

"Don't worry how old," said the quick-witted Webb. "One hundred."

Webb joined the Argos in 1985.

"It was a summer job and I've been here ever since."

Two years later, the Argos played in the Grey Cup, a game for the ages in B.C. that was won by Edmonton.

For Webb, Sunday's Grey Cup will be his sixth, first at home and an occasion to reflect on the past title runs.

In 1991, he had to ensure the players were properly fitted to deal with the cold in Winnipeg.

"We were prepared for the players, the winter gear and all that stuff," said Webb. "I get a call at the last minute from John Candy saying he wanted to make sure himself, Wayne (Gretzky) and Bruce (McNall) were looked after on the sidelines.

"Instead of being up in a cushy box, John, of course, convinced the other two to stand along the sidelines. We had to make arrangements at the last minute to get them bundled up as well."

Then came the snow game in Hamilton in 1996.

"I'm always leery about the weather, but when I woke up that day, it was beautiful," recalled Webb.

When he arrived at Ivor Wynne six hours prior to kickoff, Webb said the weather was ideal. He was then notified of the snow.

"It was game on," he said. "We tested out shoes before the team bus arrived. By the time kickoff came, warm-up, I knew exactly the shoes we were going to wear and that's what everybody did well."

The Argos would beat the Eskimos.

For Webb and the Argos, Grey Cup week this week is no different from their season. They've bounced around, first at U of T, then to Rogers Centre, before having to vacate the facility to accommodate Friday night's Vanier Cup.

"We'll set up shop (Saturday) morning and be ready to roll," said Webb.

In the CFL, no one rolls or knows how to react better than Webb.


Videos

Photos