HAMILTON -- For the moment, Argonaut fans are prepared to let coach Bart Andrus get used to CFL rules, they'll be patient as Kerry Joseph breaks in new receivers and backs and they won't fret whether Justin Medlock or Eddie Johnson does the kicking.
But lose tonight to their QEW rivals the Tiger-Cats and the job of selling the 'new' Argos gets much harder. Any recovery by the Boatmen from last season's 4-14 debacle must start with winning the season's series with Hamilton.
Defensive tackle Adriano Belli got right into the spirit yesterday at Ivor Wynne Stadium, wearing a skin tight "I (heart) T.O." T-shirt for the cameras.
"I love it when old ladies throw stuff at me," Belli said of the reception the Argos always get coming in and out of the players' tunnel. "We had a pretty crappy season, but we beat the Tiger-Cats and that's all that matters."
Andrus, making his CFL regular-season debut tonight, said he received "a taste" of the Steeltown-Hogtown feud during last week's exhibition game, a 27-17 Toronto win at Ivor Wynne.
"As a coach, your biggest rival is whatever team is on the other side," he began. "But when I was at Montana State and playing Montana there were no fence sitters. With Tennessee (Titans) it was Pittsburgh when they were in our division, then Houston and definitely Jacksonville. When I was in Amsterdam (NFL Europe) it was any team from Germany.
"You have Notre Dame- USC, Michigan-Ohio State ... this is my first CFL game, it's a rivalry and it's great."
Hamilton counterpart Marcel Bellefeuille has more on the line tonight, trying to win at home and rebound from a season that was somehow worse than Toronto's,
3-15 and a loss to the Argos on Labour Day. But he's right to say that the Ticats must start thinking big.
"It needs to go beyond Toronto and work its way west," Bellefeuille said. "We need to do well in inter-conference games, but we must have some (continuity) every week."
Perhaps he's seen a very revealing statistic that his team is 0-7 in games immediately following a victory or tie against the Argos, going back to September of 2001.
Across the field, the Joseph hype has died down considerably from a year ago when it seemed the Argos had guaranteed a trip to the Grey Cup by acquiring the CFL player of the year from the champion Roughriders. But the quarterback's completion rate and touchdown passes both dropped in double blue, and he almost doubled his interceptions.
This year, he starts Week 1 without having to look over his shoulder at the departed Michael Bishop on the Toronto bench.
"It feels good to come off the field and just have to answer questions about the team, because this is not about Kerry Joseph," the QB said. "(General manager) Adam Rita and (assistant) Greg Mohns did a good job in the off-season. They've put the pieces in place. They gave us a chance and all you want is a chance."