Baltimore Stallions fans among CFL faithful

Baltimore Stallions fan Ken Saroka (left), originally from Philly and teaching in New Jersey, is...

Baltimore Stallions fan Ken Saroka (left), originally from Philly and teaching in New Jersey, is hugged by Blue Bombers fan David Milliagan of Winnipeg. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:12 PM ET

TORONTO - Ken Saroka has a message for all you Toronto guys resisting the spirit of the Grey Cup and pining for an NFL franchise:

Give your head a shake.

Saroka is a huge CFL fan. But he's not one those crazed cowboy hat or green construction helmet dudes from out west, who you've see weaving through the streets of Toronto this week blowing horns and yelling stuff. (Not that there's anything wrong with that).

Saroka is a Philadelphia guy who currently lives and teaches in New Jersey. And while he's a big supporter of his hometown Eagles, he also believes that the CFL is the bee's knees and can't understand why any football fan in Canada doesn't embrace or celebrate the game, particularly during Grey Cup week.

"I just like the game," said Saroka on Friday, decked out in his Baltimore Stallions gear, including an Elfrid Payton jersey, outside the Eaton Centre. "The game is fun. It's exciting, it's not boring. And most of the games are close, most of the Grey Cup games are exciting -- overtime in '05 in B.C. Last-second field goal in '98 when Mark McLoughlin hit it in Winnipeg. You get to see some exciting football games."

Saroka, 50, is as big a CFL and Grey Cup fan as any Canuck. This week's game at the Rogers Centre will mark his 12th live Grey Cup.

"I started going in '96, and hit 10 in a row, and then got married, had a kid, bought a house," Saroka said. "But I went last year to Vancouver and I'm here in Toronto, so I completed the entire circuit. I've gone to Grey Cups in every (CFL) city."

What brings him back, he said, are the people from across Canada who travel to the Cup every year. The Grey Cup is a celebration of Canadiana and no matter what jersey you where, everybody seems to get along.

"I think what really sold me is when I went up to Hamilton in '96 for Grey Cup, everybody treated us like royalty," he said. "We were Baltimore fans and our team had moved to Montreal and everybody was treating us so well. You get good vibes everywhere you go."

Growing up in the suburbs of Philly, Saroka remembers watching CFL games on independent TV in the area and became familiar with the game. And then when he started teaching at East Brunswick High School, he discovered that one of the school's graduates, punter Josh Miller, was playing with the Baltimore Stallions of the CFL. That hooked him even more. Saroka's such a big fan now that there's is a map in his classroom dedicated to the geography of sports franchises, including the CFL.

His highlight as a CFL fan was when the Stallions were in the league in 1994 and 1995 and made the Grey Cup both years, winning the title in '95 (aka The Wind Bowl) by beating the Calgary Stampeders at Regina's Taylor Field. Baltimore was probably the most successful of all the American-based CFL teams during the brief period of expansion into the U.S., though they eventually moved to Montreal and became the Alouettes after Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell announced that he was moving his NFL team to Baltimore. To this day, Montreal is Saroka's favourite CFL team. There is a small group of hardcore Stallions fans who still attend Grey Cup games.

"It's dwindled a bit over the years, but there's at least four of us here in Toronto," said Saroka, who tries to check out as many local attractions as he can when he's visiting a Grey Cup city.

"I go to the (Grey Cup) fan zones and hospitality rooms, but I also try to see something local, like a minor league or junior hockey team, as well as something historical, something cultural," he said.

One of his stops in T.O. is the Hockey Hall of Fame.

As for Torontonians who covet an NFL team ... Saroka says celebrate your national identity and your league.

"If you want an NFL team, drive to Buffalo," he said.

"The reality is, you have a 50,000-seat stadium and you need a 75,000 seat stadium (for the NFL) and you'd be paying $500 a ticket for an NFL team that's probably a bad team -- that's why they relocated," he added. "Who's going to pony up? Is your Premier going to pony up a billion dollars to build a new stadium? I don't think the province or (federal) government is going to kick in that kind of money."

Saroka would worry that an NFL team in Toronto would eventually kill the Argos and mark the beginning of the end for the CFL, and a wonderful slice of Canadiana would vanish.

"And once you start losing your identity, Ontario will become the 51st state," he said. "And you don't want that. You don't want that."


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