The Don is The Man

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

It is an autumn ritual in the Canadian Football League: Like it or not, the road to the Grey Cup goes over, around or through Don Matthews.

It's just a fact. The Don rules. His 316 regular season wins as a coach, and a dozen more in the playoffs, are far and away the most in history. He's The Man and don't you forget it. He certainly won't.

Love him or hate him (no, really, there are people who do love Don Matthews. There have to be, right? Okay, maybe not so much on the 'love him' part but you have to respect his record.

The Toronto Argonauts certainly fall into that camp. Since Matthews has coached in six CFL towns, many of the Argos, including their own coaches, have played for and against him. They know to expect a superbly prepared opponent come Sunday when the Argos and Matthews' Alouettes square off in Montreal.

"Don Matthews is certainly one of the best coaches I've ever played under," said Toronto coach Mike Clemons. "He's a great preparer and I have nothing but admiration for him.

"We don't expect to catch them sleeping on anything."

But they might catch one of his minions hiding in a tree filming the Argo practices this week. Toronto has seen no evidence of it, but more than a few teams have complained this year about Alouette staff members filming opposing teams and their coaching staffs.

It's turned into something of a running gag. The Hamilton Ticats even had a promotional evening during a home game against Montreal in which they gave away spy glasses to fans.

"It's fun to poke fun," said Clemons. "This game will be won on the football field but the tales of The Don ... the legend grows as time goes on. And who are we to douse the flames?

"So, instead of dousing it with water, we'll add some fuel and close practice for the rest of the week."

That last bit was a joke. Clemons doesn't fear any Alouette spies. But then again, he doesn't have any of Matthews' Machiavellian qualities.

Good gosh, Clemons is so classy, he's even reconciled in his own mind the horrible officiating error that allowed Als quarterback Anthony Calvillo to score what amounted to be the winning touchdown against the Argos in last year's Eastern final. Calvillo was stripped of the ball by Clifford Ivory a split-second before he entered the end zone but the officials blew the call.

"Yes it was a fumble," says Clemons. "And yes (the Als) did deserve to go to the Grey Cup. My feelings today are the same as they were 10 minutes after the football game. And that is, you have to knock the champ out.

"You don't go into the champ's home field, just like in boxing, and earn a close decision against the champ.

"We didn't play mistake-free football and neither did (the Als) so we shouldn't be expecting the officials to be mistake-free as well.

"We had an opportunity to come back and respond to that within the 60 minutes that are provided. The fact is, they moved the ball 109 and one-half yards and, yes, when you slow the play down on replay, it was a fumble, a difficult call. But it's really not fair to split hairs. Let's just say they won the football game and we have a rematch now."

One of Matthews' moves this week has been to name Canadian Eric Lapointe as his starting tailback ahead of two imports.

"It doesn't surprise me, but it worries me," said Clemons. "We felt like Lapointe was the best back. He plays with a greater level of passion and understanding about what this all means.

"With all due respect to the two first-year backs they have (Autry Denson and Jonas Lewis), I don't think they would play with the same energy and passion around an opportunity to go to the Grey Cup. He understands more what it means. He's also been there."

BEATEN

So, almost, have most of the Argos, beaten two years in a row by The Don. Even in the absence of any bulletin-board fodder coming from the Argo camp, it is safe to assume that the men in double blue want this one badly.

On the other hand, Matthews needs this one just as badly himself. He has alienated almost the entire Montreal press corps and the long knives will be out if he fails to deliver a Grey Cup this season after falling to the Edmonton Eskimos a year ago. He has just about worn out his welcome, not for the first time in his career.

Ironic how the master of the cloak and dagger could be stripped of his cloak to find the dagger lodged between his shoulder blades.


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