One fascinating season in store

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

On what wasn't just another training camp play -- on just another training camp day -- Ricky Williams took a pitch to the short side of the field and suddenly the possibilities seemed endless.

Without any place to go, he ran somewhere.

Without any hole, he found one.

And in one brief moment on his first day of his first and only season as an Argo, Williams left a dashing but indelible mark on breathless onlookers: This may be only one season for Williams in Toronto but this is going to be one fascinating season.

His talent is that extreme -- more than anything on his first day as an Argo, that became the message.

This may be the most unusual arrangement in sporting history -- a one-year contract for a banished NFL player with no chance for a second season here -- but the initial glimpse of Williams in double blue all but silences whatever ethical arguments, contradictory as they may be, that have surrounded this story from the beginning.

One glance at Williams, one handshake, one interview, and you are left the way Pinball Clemons has been left, believing in the man, believing in his talent, believing that Toronto never has had a football player like him before.

"He's as authentic as I've seen," Clemons said.

And when would this kind of opportunity -- to sign a legitimate NFL star still in his prime no matter how muddy the circumstances -- ever come about again?

You make the deal, you roll the dice, and in this case, you don't even have to plug your nose or hold your breath. You just know this is going to work.

You just know this is one of those investments where the return is all but guaranteed.

Normally, at 9 o'clock on a Monday morning, the Argos begin practice on the secluded field at Erindale College to a crowd of about three. Five on a busy day.

But yesterday, media lined one side of the field, school kids lined the other side, and training camp took on a carnival atmosphere for the first time in maybe 15 years. "It's pretty electric," a surprisingly distracted Clemons said. "It's fun to see the excitement. You probably have to go back to '91 to see anything like this.'

Pinball goes back to 1991. People may not remember that he was the CFL's most outstanding player in 1990, and in the off-season, he played spectator to the Argos' shocking signing of an apparent first draft pick, Rocket Ismail. If anyone understands what it is to be John Avery today and be somewhat displaced, it is Pinball. But if anyone is appreciative of the skills of the game, having witnessed them in Ismail way back, and yesterday in Williams, it is also the multi-dimensional coach.

When asked how Williams did yesterday, Clemons answered: "He looked like he was running all right." He said it with as straight a face as possible.

When asked how he thinks Williams will do in games, Clemons played down the signing as much as is humanly possible: "What I think and what happens can be two different things. We're all interested to see what happens."

GET THE BALL

Or to quote offensive co-ordinator Kent Austin, when asked how often Williams would get the ball: "I'm not an idiot, okay?"

Williams, for the most part, said more with his feet in his first practice than anything he offered up in the post-practice scrum. Yes, he made it through the practice, "I survived" in his words, and is learning the 10th or 11th offence of his career. Yes, he's a quick study but has no real expectations, likes the family atmosphere of the Argos, and hopes to get in some plays in Friday night's pre-season game against Hamilton. Yes, he loves the city, wants to be a responsible and respectful citizen, whispers only loud enough to be barely heard and calls this a great opportunity.

For him. For the Argos. For Toronto football fans.

The Ricky Williams era, short as it may be, has officially begun. The colours, double blue, have not been this fashionable in years.


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