Suiting up for a CFL primer

SARAH GREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Rich Stubler gives his new recruits the once-over with his well-trained eye.

A smile plays on the lips of the Argos' assistant head coach.

He likes what he sees. He sees potential.

Football may be "the last bastion of men's sports," but women are its future, Stubler tells the dozen or so women seated in front of him in the defensive war room at the Argos' practice facility in Mississauga.

"Women created the NFL as we know it today," said Stubler, a longtime coach who is also the team's defensive co-ordinator. "You all can make the CFL what the NFL is."

Welcome to Football 101.

Started last year by the Argos, Football 101 breaks the complex and confusing sport down to basics.

The three-hour sessions -- the $59.95 admission comes with pizza, chicken wings and two tickets to an upcoming game -- are geared toward women.

The teachers are the people who know the game best -- the coach and his players.

Before a recent Football 101 session -- the first of nine hosted by the Argos this year -- this is what I knew about football: It's played with a football. The football is used to score touchdowns. In between, there's a lot of tackling. The rest was a blur of throws, kicks, whistles, penalties and crowd noise. It made as much sense as my tax return.

Stubler starts at the very beginning. He shows a diagram of the field -- a 150-yard monstrosity -- before easing us into scoring, timing and the line of scrimmage.

The women in the class -- many of them members of the Argos' cheerleading and promotions teams on this particular night -- scribble furiously in their notebooks.

His lesson is peppered with anecdotes and tidbits about the game. Did you know a player actually plays just seven minutes a game?

"When your husband says, 'my team's tired,' you can tell him they're just out of shape," he says with a smile.

Stubler has some hi-tech help. He fast-forwards, rewinds and pauses video footage of plays on a giant screen, even catching them at different angles. With the video, the coach introduces the class to the offensive, defensive and special teams, as well as penalties.

Video is a cornerstone of the Argos' game. Linebacker Mike O'Shea, a North Bay native and 13-year CFL veteran, said players spend more time studying videotape than they do practising on the field. O'Shea knows what the opposing team will do even before the ball is snapped.

"It's a little bit more scientific than running around and putting your head into somebody's helmet," said O'Shea, who actually has a degree in science from the University of Guelph. He passes around his Grey Cup ring, allowing the women to feel the weight of the Argos' winning season last year in the palm of their hands.

It's precious metal to O'Shea, who has three championship rings, but nothing compared to seeing his name engraved on the Grey Cup. "That's exactly why I play -- to be part of the history," he says.

With diagrams and a touch of modesty, the players explain their jobs on the field.

"We run a whole lot," said wide receiver Tony Miles.

Standing 6-foot-9 and weighing about 280 pounds, offensive tackle Bernard Williams has the job of protecting star quarterback Damon Allen. "My job is not very glamourous," Williams said. When Allen gets tackled, "you'll usually see me come back, pick him up and tell him I'm sorry."

The lesson ends with a tour of the locker room, where the players' bags were packed for the move to the Rogers Centre for tonight's home opener.

When the Argos hit the field, I may not be able to pick out the halfback, the free safety or a host of other positions. I also can't say why the punt team is called into action, although I now know it makes for exciting play.

What I take away from Football 101 is the enthusiasm Stubler and his players have for the game. They love football and their joy is infectious.

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THE PLAYBOOK

Here's the 101 on Football 101:

- The one-night course teaches women the basics of CFL football, from linebackers to line of scrimmage.

- Taught by assistant head coach and defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler and Argos players, there are six Football 101 sessions this season. The next is July 7.

- Cost is $59.95, which includes pizza -- a football staple -- and two tickets to an upcoming Argos home game.

- There are also two Football 102 sessions this season, where 101 grads can learn more about the rules of the game.

- For more information and to register, go to argonauts.ca.


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