Toronto mayor must choose between CFL, NFL

Mayor Rob ford meets the Toronto Argonauts Mascot. (DAVE THOMAS/QMI Agency)

Mayor Rob ford meets the Toronto Argonauts Mascot. (DAVE THOMAS/QMI Agency)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:20 PM ET

The Canadian Football League today kicks off its 100th-anniversary celebration of the Grey Cup.

All of the right people have been summoned to a press conference in Toronto; celebrated stars of present and past, league builders, corporate backers and political glad-handers will mutter glowing tributes.

Most of them will even mean what they say. But, then with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, and his brother, city councillor and political right-hand man Doug--we just don't know.

Where they stand when it comes to the CFL and the Toronto Argonauts depends on what day it is, or from which side of their mouth they happen to be speaking into a microphone.

They will be all smiles and chuckles today with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon; there will be hearty words with Canadian senator and B.C. Lions and Argonauts owner David Braley, and perhaps mention of how the CFL gives Canadian kids with a love of the game something for which to strive.

But after chairman and chief executive officer of the 2012 Grey Cup Festival, Chris Rudge, is told by our mayor how wonderful it is to have this great event in Toronto, after he hears how much the Fords love football and how they grew up admiring the Argonauts, after the camera lights turn off and the last handshake, Rudge might want to take stock of where Toronto's political leadership really stands.

There is reason for suspicion that while Rob Ford is an obvious football junkie, if the Argonauts give him a team jersey it should read "Arnold" on the back--as in Benedict.

Days after being elected mayor, Ford showed up at an Argonauts home game against the Montreal Alouettes; proudly standing on the sideline with a towel around his neck, slapping players on the back, he looked like a gleeful adolescent with a new play toy.

And, the Argonauts and CFL had every right to believe they had someone watching their back in the political sphere.

But no.

Just a couple of months later the Argonauts were sideswiped --like one of those vicious blind-side sacks Cleo Lemon suffers when he hangs on to the ball too long.

The Ford brothers made front-page headlines with news that they were chasing an NFL team; not only that but that their city would be host to the Super Bowl.

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Just a couple of weeks ago, brother Doug, gave the TheScore.coma big scoop about the city of Toronto soon acquiring the Saints from New Orleans. The interview was picked up by media outlets across North America.

Ford's comments are dumb from various aspects. There is no other way to paint this.

It is dumb because the NFL doesn't work in public like this and the Saints won't be moved, if for no other reason than in the aftermath of Katrina, it would be political suicide and a public- relations nightmare for the league.

Ford soon apologized--saying it was "an off-the-cuff remark" and, get this, it was all based on a "rumour".

Really, is this how the Fords are planning to court pro sports' most successful league?

I wonder what commish Roger Goodell thinks of this duo behind the political wheel up in Toronto? And Goodell probably thought the failed Bills In Toronto series was enough Hogtown drama for him.

The Ford brothers certainly have hurt this city's street cred within the NFL offices where every announcement is carefully packaged and every move orchestrated. Renegade political functionaries who can't keep their lips buttoned are not appreciated.

Secondly, it is a slap in the face to the Argonauts the Ford brothers pro- fess to love, because if this city gets an NFL team it will mark the end of the team and a century-long tradition.

It will be the death of the storied Hamilton Tiger-Cats- Toronto Argonauts rivalry.

It will mark the end of the Canadian Football League and the unique national celebrations that annually surround the Grey Cup.

Oh, maybe the league survives briefly in some truncated fashion but it will never be the same.

Yes, our mayor today will wholeheartedly welcome the CFL and the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup to the city --while at the same time, quite possibly unwittingly, supporting its demise.

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There are those who argue both the Argonauts and an NFL franchise can work in Toronto.

But, then, some people believe Elvis is alive and living in Argentina, too.

They make the case that a Toronto NFL team would actually make the CFL stronger because the sport of football would become more popular north of the border. Both leagues would prosper. And yes, if you believe that, you are buying that the Argos are solid at QB going into the 2011 season.

I often get the feeling that Toronto's NFL supporters (at least the ones who have a soft spot for the CFL) say this because it makes them feel better. No CFL blood on their hands. Others, it's for political calculation.

Picture the sight of Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning coming to town, or even a Monday Night Football game in Toronto: the comings and goings of the Double Blue will become a mere speck on the Toronto sports scene--a hyper-competitive market where they have struggled for the past 30 years.

It is easy to predict media coverage would drastically diminish for the Argos. Ticket revenue and corporate sponsorship would shrink. The highway to Double Blue irrelevancy would be paved in red ink. (Yes, way more red ink than they have now.)

On a league level, national sponsorships would dry up without a CFL foothold in southern Ontario. And television contracts would suffer the same fate.

It would just be a matter of time before three-down pro football would be sacked for good.

* * *

The Ford brothers' dalliance with the NFL, is an insult to the CFL-- and maybe the rest of us taxpayers-- because they professed that Toronto needs the NFL before the city can be truly considered "world class".

In other words, while Rob Ford doesn't mind playing games on the sidelines with the Argonauts, he's really just practising his "Way To Go, Guy!" routine until he can get a "real" team into town.

Or, so it sounds.

Of course, being "world class" is in the eye of the beholder.

If the NFL makes a city world class, how do we explain the dead zone, also known as Detroit?

And, evidently the Fords have never taken a stroll along a downtown Tampa street in summer. The home of the NFL Bucs has all the vibrancy of the ACC around NHL playoff time. It's deadsville. God's Waiting Room. Ever been to Buffalo or Cleveland?

If that's what the NFL does to a city, maybe being "world class" isn't such a good thing?

And someone better tell the Fords that the 100th edition of the Grey Cup will not be a "world-class" event as the game won't pit the champions of the AFC and NFC at the Rogers Centre in 2012.

* * *

The Ford brothers love football. They coach it. They live it.

They should be celebrated for everything they do for Toronto minor football from raising money for equipment to resurrecting dormant high school programs.

They give inner-city kids a chance to play, to stay out of gangs and to maybe even one day live the dream of playing pro ball.

It was just a couple of weeks ago, the Ford brothers showed up at Argonauts defensive lineman Adriano Belli's retirement party and congratulated their football buddy for a fine career. A career that wouldn't have been possible without the CFL.

* * *

You can be a fan of both the CFL and the NFL. Many are. And it is not a crime to just love the NFL and hope that one day it will set up shop in Toronto--even if that means the Argonauts will sail off into history.

But faced with the reality of one or the other, are the Ford brothers lining up with the CFL and the Argonauts?

Or, are they, like former politician and local media heavyweight Paul Godfrey, making a play for the NFL?

So, never mind the ribbon cutting, the plastic smiles and the phony sweet nothings being whispered into microphones today.

Are Rob Ford and his brother for the Grey Cup--or not?

There is no middle ground. It is time the mayor of this city and his first lieutenant decide which side they're on.


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