Argos' home fires burn

Damon Allen, Argo quarterback walks hand in hand  the length of the field with teammates at the end...

Damon Allen, Argo quarterback walks hand in hand the length of the field with teammates at the end of practice. The Argos took a team picture and walked through plays at the Rogers centre. (SUN/Craig Robertson)

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:01 PM ET

The road to the Grey Cup for the Argos goes through the Montreal Alouettes again, but this time it happens at home.

In the biggest game that will be played at the Rogers Centre this year, the Argos play host to the Als, with the winner going to the Grey Cup a week today in Vancouver.

Argos president Keith Pelley said yesterday the team is expecting a crowd of between 42,000 and 43,000 today's 3 p.m. kickoff, but didn't rule out filling up the maximum capacity of 44,700 for this setup.

It would be one of the biggest turnouts for a Canadian Football League game since the Argos began playing in their current stadium in 1989. The most recent time these two teams met in a divisional final in the dome was in 1997, and the game attracted a crowd of just more than 32,000.

The head coach of the Argos that day was Don Matthews, now head coach of the Als. The Argos' winning touchdown was caught by their current head coach, Pinball Clemons.

The Argos advanced to last year's Grey Cup by defeating the Als for the first time in the three consecutive years the teams met in the division final. All of the games happened in Montreal. But this year, the Argos earned the right to host the game by finishing first in the East and winning the season series against the Als, who beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 30-14 last Sunday in Montreal.

The Argos are 3 1/2-point favourites.

"What is critical for us -- and what we did talk about at the beginning of the year -- is gaining home-field advantage and to have the opportunity for the road to the Grey Cup to come through Toronto," Clemons said yesterday. "It was part of our mandate. We talked about last year going through the back door and we said this year we wanted to come through the front.

"We really put an emphasis on trying to win home-field advantage and now it is important that we have that work to our advantage. It's all for naught if we're not successful."

Argos quarterback Damon Allen, who is expected to be named the Canadian Football League's most outstanding player after throwing for more than 5,000 yards for the first time in his career, is confident hie team will succeed.

"So often throughout my career, I've had those feelings on the team I've been on," said the 21-year veteran. "All week we've had great preparation. We've prepared for everything they want to bring at us. The only thing left is to actually to play the game. You have a lot of respect for the team you're playing against. Obviously you have to be at your best. Everybody has to be at their best."

The Argos have not played in 15 days and, for some, including Allen who did not suit up in the regular-season finale because they were resting various injuries, the waiting has been like an eternity.

"I'm itching to get on the field," slotback Arland Bruce said. "We're here to play football, and to not be playing for three weeks, you're like a little kid. You're just anxious to get back out there.

"It's special to play here. It's well-deserved. The guys have put in time and that time has paid off."


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