The Canadian Football League playoff feast is still a couple of weeks away but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Argonauts are planning to pass around a tasty plate of pigskin hors d'oeuvres tomorrow night.
"It's late October," said Argo coach Michael Clemons yesterday, waxing poetic. "The weather is fresh outside, the leaves are beginning to turn, we're playing our arch-rival, two games before the playoffs to decide who hosts the playoff game.
"The playoffs don't get any more intense than this game will be. This is what football is all about."
It is also a time of year when the gamesmanship is almost as important as the games and Clemons is playing it coy as far as his starting quarterback is concerned for a game that may decide second and third place in the CFL East. The second-place finisher will host the Eastern semi-final.
It would seem somewhat apparent that veteran Damon Allen, who returned from a broken leg last week in Calgary and played well, will be at quarterback tomorrow at the SkyDome, but Clemons wasn't tipping his hand.
What pleases him most is that he actually has two healthy quarterbacks to choose from. It is the lack of a two-pronged threat that has hindered the Argos the past two years in the playoffs. In Allen's absence since August, Michael Bishop has stepped up and delivered some winning performances, earning the confidence of his teammates and coach.
But, let's face it. At 41 years old and after 20 years in the league, you want the CFL's all-time passing leader at the controls in a crucial game. Stretched end to end, Allen's 64,000 career passing yards amount to about 60 kilometres, enough to extend from the SkyDome to Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton.
And that's a trip the Argos would like to avoid in the first round of the playoffs.
"To have two guys who have started games in the same year and both of them have winning records is a huge advantage for us," said Clemons. "We haven't had that here in many years. It's a real testament to the guys around them. We've played great defence and have had solid special teams all year long."
Each of those quarterbacks presents very different problems for any defensive coach who must prepare to face them. That pleases Clemons.
"It's fire and ice,' he said. "Michael is strong. He can throw the ball a country mile. He can run, not just around people, but through them. And that's the fire.
"And the ice, obviously, is the elder statesman who is cool under pressure. You've heard the expression, 'having ice water in your veins.' He came back in (at Calgary) and it looked like he had never missed a down. He was 19 of 23 and the two interceptions he had were very close to touchdowns.
"Having that combination, the way they complement each other, you have to prepare for them differently. They're different types of players. One guy likes to be on the move a lot, the other likes to sit in the pocket a little more."
The complementary nature of the two quarterbacks also affords Clemons the opportunity to change the pace of the game if he chooses.
"Exactly," he said, "and that's why we say we won't be surprised if both of them play as they did a week ago. Our intention is that the starter will play most of the game. This is not an experimental game. But we won't be afraid to use both of them."
Despite his age and experience, Allen retains the chill of anticipation as the most important games appear on the horizon.
"When it starts getting cold, you know it's playoff time and the great players rise to those occasions," he said. "That's what you play for. You look forward to those times."
Similarly, he has been around the block enough times to know there is plenty of room for two talented quarterbacks in the locker room of a potential championship team.
"It pushes both of us. I told Michael when he was starting and I was injured that it was going to take both of us. It takes a whole football team to win a championship and that includes both of us. We can do it together. I've done it together with other quarterbacks and when you win a championship, you all get rings."