It's game on in Steeltown

BILL LANKHOF, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

HAMILTON -- The Hamilton Ticats and Toronto Argonauts talked a pretty good game yesterday.

Here's hoping at least one of them gets around to actually playing one.

"I've set a Grey Cup goal. And, it starts tomorrow," said Ticats' Quinton Porter, who as a CFL quarterback still hasn't been allowed to take off the training wheels. Such optimism on the eve of the CFL opener was running at epidemic porportion at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

"This is the CFL boys, anything can happen. You can go from a four-win season to a championship season. That's our focus," said Argonauts' lineman Adriano Belli.

Of course, Sarah Pallin's focus was to become American vice-president and we all know how well that worked out. But, with the new season approaching there was none of this taking it one game at a time. None of that rebuilding and it'd be great to get back to .500 or have a winning season again, maybe get a playoff game, or just play some football that doesn't scare away their fans.

Nope. These guys were talkin' smack. As in Belli noting how cute the Ticats look in their uniforms and that it's too bad he's gonna have to mess 'em up.

Usually that kind of talk doesn't happen until after someone's been sipping the champers from Lord Grey's mug. OK, Belli is doing the rivalry thing -- someone has to light the fireworks on this Canada Day. But reality says between them the Argonauts and Ticats won just seven games last year; discount the games they played against each other and that's four wins in 33 games against the rest of the CFL.

"Pretty (crappy)," admitted Belli. A rare moment of candor amidst unrequited optimism.

Not exactly records to foretell of Grey Cup candidates. But both clubs underwent major changes in the off-season. Hamilton has a new receiving corps led by Prechae Rodriguez and added veterans like Dan Goodspeed and Otis Floyd. "This is a different team. No celebrities. No stars," said Porter. "Last year guys sometimes were concerned about the wrong things. When guys start to worry about what's happening outside the lines or about what's going to happen with this player or that player that's when problems happen."

So gone are Jesse Lumsden and Casey Printers. "If there's one big difference it's that guys are just focused on their job. That's what makes a team successful," said Porter.

Toronto rebuilt its offensive line, brought in Bart Andrus with his NFL coaching experience and hopes veterans like Belli and quarterback Kerry Joseph can provide the glue to piece it all together.

"It's no different than any other Game 1. When the lights go on, you want to win," said Joseph.

But, there is a difference.

Truth is neither team can afford to lose Game 1, even in the forgiving CFL East Division. For either team a defeat would conjure up too many bad memories. The Argos lost their last nine games last year. They haven't won a home game since Sept. 1 and lost two of three to Hamilton. Lose tonight, and with games against Saskatchewan and Calgary, they could be facing an 0-3 start.

Hamilton is 2-21 in June-July games since 2005. Three of the next four games are against Montreal and B.C. None gimmes. Lose tonight and it's bad karma for fans who will go back to thinking they've seen this soap opera before.

Even that wasn't enough to stop yesterday's goodwill train of thought. Kevin Glenn looked at the 0-2 pre-season and noted the Ticats have a reputation of winning in preseason, then failing once it counts. "At least, we've got that monkey off our back."

Glenn is the new steadying force at quarterback. "(The) Grey Cup is a very realistic goal. It'll be a rough road and nobody is saying it will be easy ... but you have to believe." Of course Glenn, obtained from Winnipeg, has yet to experience the nuclear winter that has become Hamilton football. And, 24 hours before the game, the Ticats hadn't announced their No. 1 quarterback and the Argos still had two kickers on a roster built for one.

Just wondering: Do Grey Cup champions have those kind of questions? On game day?

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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