Open season on Argonauts

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

But for a few, crucial minutes, Don Matthews might be singing a different tune these days.

Back in February, when Ricky Williams was suspended for the season by the NFL for a fourth drug violation, the Montreal Alouettes attempted to put him on their negotiation list, only to learn that the Argonauts had beaten them to the punch by a matter of minutes.

Now, instead of being thrilled to have an NFL star to promote in the 2006 season, Matthews is spewing the sourest of grapes. Now he says he's embarrassed for the CFL.

So, let's unravel this bit of hypocritical Don-think.

Ricky in Montreal: Good.

Ricky in Toronto: Bad.

It's not that Matthews and Montreal general manager Jim Popp don't have some valid arguments. Why doesn't the CFL honour the sanctity of NFL drug suspensions? Good point. And it is extremely curious how a guy with a contract in one league can be signed to a contract in another league when both leagues are bound to honour the contracts of the other.

But it happened, presumably by tacit understanding throughout the league that Williams' presence is good for business. Even Montreal owner Robert Wetenhall, in a note to Argo owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon last month, seems to agree with that view.

Now, having reached that quiet consensus behind closed doors and with the deal done, it's apparently open season on the Argos.

HEATED RIVALRIES

"It sure seems like the rivalries are going to be heated this year," Argo president Keith Pelley said.

Matthews and the Als aren't the only or the first CFL teams to slag the Argos from afar, now that Williams is a fixture in their backfield for the 2006 season. Hugh Campbell of the Edmonton Eskimos was up on his sanctimonious high horse last week. And there have been similar mutterings emanating from Hamilton.

Hmmm. Hamilton and Edmonton. Weren't they the co-conspirators in that smelliest of trades last season? The one that sent Troy Davis and Canadian offensive lineman Dan Comiskey to the Eskimos for receiver Brock Ralph and defensive back Tay Cody. And, oh yeah, wasn't there an addendum a couple of months later? Jason Maas, a high-end quarterback in his prime, for aging Danny McManus, as we recall. Meanwhile, the Eskies had the services of both Maas and Davis all the way to the Grey Cup. Talk about flirting with the league's integrity. No circumvention of the rules there. No, sir.

At least Matthews didn't attack Williams on moral grounds. But then, how could he? Aren't the Alouettes the team which signed troubled running back Lawrence Phillips a few years back, despite his multiple convictions for domestic violence that had driven him out of the NFL? This lovely role model is now in jail on an attempted murder charge.

"Don is Don," Pelley said. "He has been a colourful personality in our league for many years and always has a strong opinion.

"We know we made the right decision with Ricky, and we are now focusing on our home opener against the Tiger-Cats at Rogers Centre on June 17."

There are teams who have embraced the notion of having an NFL rushing champ, still in his prime, gracing the big CFL gridiron. He will sell tickets wherever he goes. It doesn't mean he's going to dominate games. In fact, if I'm a defensive coordinator in this league, Williams' presence will be a huge motivation tool to be used against Toronto.

The British Columbia Lions, for example, are using Williams and the Argos as the focus for ticket sales for their July 1 meeting in Vancouver and are expecting a crowd of 44,000.

Argos coach Michael Clemons just shrugs his shoulders at the continuing backlash from around the league.

"One thing we're not very good at, as a league, is playing together as a team," he said yesterday. "We don't seem to understand that, first, we are one team."

And that team's motto seems to be "Every Man For Himself."


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