Slacks, but no slacking for Argos

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:57 PM ET

MONCTON — They’re going to Moncton to play football, but in the minds of some Argonauts, there’s a lot more riding than just two points in the Canadian Football League standings.

“It’s great to grow the game of football in Canada, and my hope is that one day we are able to have a completely balanced league, five (teams) in the east and five in the west, and have everybody share in his uniquely Canadian game and this uniquely Canadian institution,” Argos special teams captain Bryan Crawford said.

“It sounds like they are ready for a great show and I feel lucky to be part of this game.”

Whether the game becomes the first step toward CFL expansion into the Maritimes remains to be seen. With Ottawa back in the picture, it might make sense, and as Crawford hopes, would give the league equal representation in the east and the west.

The Argos, who had a couple of days off from practising, were scheduled to arrive late on Tuesday night. Practising at Moncton’s Rocky Stone Field (for the sake of the players’ health, let’s hope the name isn’t true to the playing surface) begins on Wednesday, as both the Argos and Edmonton Eskimos prepare for Touchdown Atlantic.

Several days of autograph signings, school visits, mingling with local dignitaries and official parties will culminate on Sunday afternoon when the Argos and Esks smash mouths at the Moncton Stadium for the first neutral-site regular season game in CFL history.

The Eskimos arrived late on Sunday night after losing in Montreal to throngs at the airport; the local newspaper, the Moncton Times & Transcript, urged its readers to be at the airport no later than 11 p.m. on Tuesday to greet the Argos, who will be counted as the home team on Sunday.

Local fiddlers and stepdancers were among those expected to be among the first people the Argos saw after they deplaned.

And forget about getting a ticket to the game. When they went on sale months ago, every ticket, all 20,000-plus of them, was snapped up in 32 hours.

Argos head coach Jim Barker figured this week, as it unfolds, would be reminiscent of Grey Cup weeks, when teams arrive in the host city days in advance and try to block out the various distractions.

“Should this team improve between now and the end of the season, then we need to be able to do this, to be distracted and maintain our focus and win,” Barker said. “It’s part of what we are trying to build here, is a team that can focus on each play and not be distracted by things that are outside. The distraction is there for Edmonton too.

“We’re excited about going to Moncton and showing people what the CFL is all about. It’s going to be a fun week for us.”

Football-wise, the Argos will attempt to take advantage of an Eskimos team that is one of the worst in the team’s history. The Eskimos are 2-9 and carry a three-game losing streak into New Brunswick.

It’s not a fun time for head coach Richie Hall or the players, as new general manager Eric Tillman is scrutinizing everything in the organization.

The Argos needed a late rally to beat the Eskimos by one point in Edmonton on Aug. 6, but with a lopsided victory, could put the final nail in Hall’s coaching tenure in Edmonton.

And the for Esks, though they were buoyed by the reception they received upon landing a few days ago, there is little to erase the feeling that comes with getting waxed in each of their past three games.

The Argos, on the other hand, are in an improved frame of mind after beating Winnipeg on Sunday.

The Boatmen have become a group that gets along, and bonding on this trip only should cement the relationships.

“Everybody has their slacks ready and we’re going to be looking nice,” defensive end Alex Buzbee said.

“We’re going to be ready and we’re looking forward to it.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

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