Atlantic Canada feels it's ready for CFL team

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

HALIFAX -- The pre-season game tomorrow night between the Argos and the Tiger-Cats here at Huskies Stadium will feel a little like the Grey Cup in the summer.

While the game has been named Touchdown Atlantic and is being viewed as kind of a precursor for a possible Canadian Football League franchise, it likely will turn out to be a big event.

Even the entire 50-member Argos Old Faithful Club will be on hand.

"It's just a party," club member David Knott said yesterday. "We want to start out the season in Halifax and end our season Vancouver (for the Grey Cup)."

CFL commissioner Tom Wright indicated recently that tomorrow's pre-season game is as much about broadening the league's brand into Atlantic Canada as it is about testing the market for possible expansion. A local group, which has billed itself as the Halifax Explosion, is the driving force behind the game.

"I think Halifax can support a franchise and this will show people that it can," Blake Nill, the head coach of the Saint Mary's Huskies, who play at Huskies Stadium, said. "This is going to be a really intimate type of event here because the stands are close. The people are very excited about it and I think this is going to be a big step in showing the CFL we could support a program if they wanted to bring a franchise in here."

The game will be played in front of an expected audience of more than 10,000 -- roughly triple the stadium's capacity -- because of the addition of temporary seating. While that may seem small by CFL standards, Nill is of the opinion it is perfect for tomorrow's game and believes the stadium could be retrofitted at some point to accommodate 20,000.

'TREMENDOUS EVENT'

"I don't think you could put a stadium up before the franchise comes in," Nill said. "I just can't see someone going through the expense of building one and (trying to get government assistance), but I think you could run the franchise through this facility. Adjustments would have to be made, but I look at the atmosphere at McGill Stadium (where the Montreal Alouettes play with a maximum capacity of some 20,000) and I think it would really catch on quick. You're going to see it (tomorrow night). It's going to be a tremendous event."

Argos offensive assistant coach Perry Marchese, who quarterbacked Saint Mary's for four years and has been inundated with requests for tickets by friends, is ecstatic about returning to his former university for a pro game.

"I'm not surprised it's sold out," he said. "It's a great sports city and a great football city. I don't know about the stadium issue -- that's an issue for the CFL -- but the city would support it. It's a sports town. The junior hockey team has been first or second in attendance. The city always supports the university sports."


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