Animosity renews Ticats, Argos rivalry

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:00 PM ET

Jim Barker once took a battery off the noggin.

Another time, Jeff Johnson looked over and saw a couple of cops rolling down the stairs in the stands, ostensibly trying to break up a fight.

Players with the Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats will tell you there's nothing during the CFL's regular season quite like the Labour Day Classic at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

And the fans know it, too. Before noon on Thursday, the Ticats let the media know via e-mail that less than 1,000 tickets remained for the game, which has a 2:30 p.m. kickoff. Helping ticket sales is the fact that this game actually means something in the standings, as second place in the East Division is up for grabs. In recent years, either the Argos or Ticats already were dead in the water by the time Labour Day arrived.

Johnson knows better than anyone else on the Argos' roster the excitement that comes with the Classic. The game on Monday will mark Johnson's 11th consecutive appearance, including two at the beginning of his career in a Ticats uniform.

"It's like the Grey Cup in the middle of the season," Johnson said. "When I was playing there (in 2000 and 2001), I remember going into some of the restaurants, and all they cared about was winning that game. The guys here understand that it is that city's biggest game of the season.

"There is a lot of animosity toward us, but it makes the game that much more fun."

Back in 1997 or 1998, when he was running the Argos' offence, Barker, now the Boatmen's head coach, was pinged on the head by a battery thrown from the stands.

"They were probably throwing it at (former head coach Don) Matthews and I just happened to be near him," Barker said. "You hope they have some class about it, but you never know. I have tried to prepare the team for it, that you have to stay focused on the task at hand, and you can't get involved in anything else."

Staying focused took an unbearably loud turn for the Argos during practice on Thursday at Erindale. Assistant general manager Ian Sanderson drew the short straw, and was given the task of driving a gold cart around the field, to 15 yards from the line of scrimmage when the offence lined up. His cargo? A pair of speakers blasting noise at blood-shaking levels. It's a game-preparation ploy that has not been used since Michael (Pinball) Clemons was coach, when he would pull out the speakers before playoff games.

The Argos anticipate that the decibels will rise at Ivor Wynne, and they want to be ready for it.

"It's not even using silent counts (on offence), because we have had that from the beginning," Barker said. "It's more unnerving of how it is to have that sound in your ear all the time and that it forces you to focus on what you are doing and now allow it to distract you."

Getting accustomed to the noise should help cut down on offside penalties.

"Often you can't hear what is being said by the quarterback, even when it is quiet," Johnson said. "(Using the speakers) is a good practice as we get closer to the playoffs."


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