Baby steps for your Argos

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

You will know Toronto is a football town again when someone starts screaming about Michael Bishop being a starting quarterback. You will know Toronto is a football town again when people start wondering whether Pinball Clemons can actually coach.

You will know Toronto is a football town again when general manager Adam Rita gets carved for the contract he handed John Avery and for the phantom additions of NFL washouts R. Jay Soward and Skip Hicks and Rashaam Salaam.

You will know Toronto is a football town again -- if it ever will be -- when you wake up after an Argos defeat, after every defeat, and the mood of the city is entirely grim.

This has been something of a quiet renaissance of a season for the Argonauts, a step back toward life, but only the beginning.

The ownership of the team is stable. A new stadium apparently is on the way. Attendance is up exponentially and, really, there was no other direction it could go.

Those are the tangibles. Those are the smiling realities of the new place the Argos find themselves after so many season of being lost in the wilderness.

The intangible now is the challenge -- finding the way back to the mainstream. There never has been a road map for getting there, or even -- if you follow the Blue Jays model -- for losing your way. But you just know as a sporting entity it is where you most want to be.

Being part of daily conversation again. Being the sporting talk of the town, the water cooler subject, if only in season.

Being relevant.

Not all that long ago that seemed an unlikely and impossible dream. The Argos, playing to a tiny audience just nine times a year, had become niche entertainment in a city with too much niche.

In one brisk year they have gone from nearly dead to quietly breathing.

But they remain just barely visible on the sporting map of this city, neither here nor there. Football is a game that evokes passion from its players and passion from its fans.

Too often, the Argos seem wanting in both areas.

The football part, they can do something about. The public part needs to grow on its own, if it ever will.

The absolute extreme is found down the QEW.

Life begins in Buffalo on the opening Sunday of the NFL season and by the end of four quarters the crazy Bills fans are ready to lynch the quarterback, fire the coach and kill the general manager -- and that's after a win.

By Week 2, it only gets less civil.

Which is why football is so different than any other professional sport.

Hockey, baseball, basketball all have throwaway games. When football it at its best, it is not a nine-game season for the home team but nine events, each of them connected.

And this is where the Argos themselves have been hurt by their league. It is difficult enough to create buzz when you're being suffocated by your own.

The biggest event of every regular season is Labour Day. This year in Hamilton was spectacular entertainment. The Argos played and then didn't play again for 12 days. And they don't play at home again for 22 days.

Whatever opportunity they might have had to convert new fans was beaten down by a CFL schedule that is forever curious.

The symmetry of American football -- a high school game Friday, a college game Saturday, an NFL game Sunday -- forever has been lost on those who schedule the CFL.

It's difficult to build for events on different days when the sports public is so programmed to know where its games are played.

You will know Toronto is a football town again when the game tomorrow in Edmonton becomes the talk of today.

Until then, the Argos can exist but cannot thrive.


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