Bring on the Ticats

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

Hundreds have preceded Bashir Levingston in the familar double-blue of the Toronto Argonauts and hundreds will follow him.

The one thing that binds them all is a dislike for black and gold. Few of this town's football mercenaries even had a vague inkling before they got here of the depth and breadth of the harsh emotions that run between the Argos and the Hamilton Tiger Cats. But all of them, like Levingston, who grew up in California, learn very quickly.

"I want to beat Hamilton every time I play them," said Levingston yesterday.

And he has.

"When I've been on the field, we've never lost to Hamilton and I want to continue that streak. My first year, we played them on Labor day and lost, but I didn't play that game. That's the only regular-season game we've lost to them since I've been here.

"I want to keep that streak alive."

Okay, so it's not exactly Ripken-esque. Levingston has been with the Argos for the better part of three seasons. Since Hamilton beat Toronto 22-14 on Labor day, 2002, the Argos have not lost in eight meetings.

But, hey, who's counting, besides everybody?

"The fans get into it, the players get into it so, yeah, I'm into that rivalry," said Levingston. "I want them to go home disappointed."

If past performances mean anything, Levingston will do his part to make that happen Friday night at the SkyDome when the Ticats come calling for the CFL Eastern semi-final. The largest football crowd in many years is anticipated for the game.

Levingston's two touchdown returns two weeks ago in a second-place showdown against Hamilton were part of Toronto's shock and awe first quarter, when they scored 28 points. He ran back the opening kickoff 97 yards, then later returned a missed field-goal attempt 115 yards to make it 28-0.

Toronto would need some heroics from others later in the game to hammer out a 38-31 victory, making Levingston's early contributions even more important.

"If they want to kick it to me, I'll be ready," said Levingston. "Either way, I plan on having another good day, but that's the way I feel before every game."

CRAZY

It takes a special kind of person to want to run back kicks in the CFL. The words 'off his rocker' come to mind. Argo coach Michael Clemons did it for a decade in the CFL, so he has a unique appreciation for the job.

"The very nature of having 12 guys come at you who are all good size and in good shape but in a bad mood, facilitates creativity," said Clemons.

"It's mostly instinct but it's also having that feeling inside that every time you touch the ball, you want to score," said Levingston. "Some people go back there just because they were told to, not because they like it."

Levingston likes it. He likes it a lot. And his special skill will have a bearing on how Hamilton prepares for Friday's game. How and where the Ticats place their punts and kickoffs will have a bearing on the outcome.

"They know me and what I can do," said Levingston. "Nothing's changed. I'm sure they're going to be aware I'm back there but there's only so much they can do. They have to kick the ball off and if they kick a field goal and miss, well, I'll be there. And on punts, they can kick to the sidelines if they want but they're giving up field position.

"And if they do decide to (kick deep to Levingston), I'll make them pay again."

There is also the matter of Levingston's sidekick, Arland Bruce, a very dangerous returner himself. He has run back two punts for touchdowns and has averaged 24 yards per kickoff return.

The Ticats will have to choose their poison.

"In a playoff game, you can't afford to give up tons of field position," said Clemons. "So they have to kick the ball and then run and cover it.

TAKING THE RISK

"From their standpoint, the odds of him running one back against them again are fairly small. He has five (TD returns) on the year, so that's one every three or four games. They can't sacrifice field position the whole game for the sake of him maybe returning one."

Perhaps that's true. Or perhaps it's just Clemons thinking like a return man, looking for an edge in the latest chapter of the CFL's most heated rivalry.


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