Buzz back with Argos

The section-sized banner of Jim Corrigall normally sits in the 500 level, high in the end zone at the place they used to call the SkyDome, with not a person to be found anywhere.

Just not last night.

Maybe not any more.

Corrigall hasn't been this popular since he was starring for the Argos about a quarter-century ago, a time when we lived and breathed Toronto football the way we live and breath Maple Leafs hockey now.

Only last night, the section that always is empty at Argos games wasn't. And the normally abandoned 500 level wasn't. And a meaningless Thursday-night football game between a first-place team and a last-place team, didn't look or sound meaningless at all.

Somewhere, from a better place, Harry Ornest had to be saying: "I'm telling you, Steve, this is a football town."

Poor Harry, who seemed to live forever and still does in my memory, didn't live long enough to witness the rebirth of Argos football. Or whatever this renaissance happens to be.

"I tried to be focussed on the game," Pinball Clemons, the coach, said after this Argos slaughter. "I looked up in the stands. I didn't want to get nostalgic."

But he did.

"It was a warm feeling. I was trying to fight it ... I looked up (during the game) and it was a more special feeling than even those days."

Those days were 15 years ago. The previous time the Argos played a regular season game with a crowd this large. That was Clemons and Darrell K. Smith and Matt Dunigan and Rodney Harding and Reggie Pleasant playing, a sporting lifetime ago. "You get nostalgic," Clemons said.

Then you fast forward to last night. At a place that was a ghost town two seasons back. For a franchise that for too long has been more about yesterday than today, closer to death than life.

Forty-thousand and 85 people paid to watch a game between first and worst. In Toronto. At the Rogers Centre graveyard. On a weeknight. With traffic jams. And all that happened was the Argos clinched first place, some kid kicked a field goal from 50 yards to win a million dollars at halftime, Dave Mann and Uly Curtis were honoured before the game, Leo Cahill gave out a coaching award in the third quarter and in between the Argos and Tiger-Cats rotated which players would get thrown out.

And also, some guy on the JumboTron got down on one knee and asked a young lady to marry him.

All on a Toronto Thursday night, with Argos football alive and kicking, far removed from the life support we have become all too familiar with.

"I think we've created a real buzz," said Adrion Smith, the defensive back who knows of lean Argos days. "I think we might be sneaking into second (among sports teams) in the city. We'll never beat hockey. But we're doing okay."

Not that long ago, this was a stadium deemed unsuitable for the Argos. The owners said that themselves. They promised a new outdoor world and didn't deliver, and oddly, no one seems to care.

In a city where trend is everything, the Argos have become fashionable once again. The stigma that haunted this franchise and maybe their league is gone.

The numbers are up, in the stands, on television, in almost every place where it matters.

All that's missing is the kind of football buzz you hear in an Edmonton or a Regina: The sporting world can't be changed in a day. But still this change defies logic and explanation.

Next up for the Argos at home is the Eastern final, for which they play host.

A sellout -- bite your tongue -- is not out of the question. It might even be expected.

And that would make Jim Corrigall smile -- and in case you can't remember the bad old days, Jim Corrigall never smiled.


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