TORONTO - You bring in Ricky Ray. You pay all that money. You run commercials about excitement with all kinds of war analogies.
And then you do this?
You run a Cleo Lemon type offence without a Cleo Lemon type quarterback. You run a don’t-get-beat, throw-to-the-flats, conservative, somewhat boring, protect the football, don’t let your quarterback lose the game, game plan.
And against the dead body better known as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers it works. Great. If you can’t beat the Blue Bombers in this year with all the 100th Grey Cup hype and optimism, maybe Argos rookie head coach Scott Milanovich should consider heading back to Montreal. This isn’t fun. This isn’t frolic.
This is Ricky Ray we’re talking about. The all-star. The man who doesn’t throw passes as much as places them softly in receivers’ hands. The guy Edmonton is crying about losing. And Milanovich has him protecting the football, tossing to the flats. And even with receivers like Andre Durie and Chad Owens who catch the ball on occasion — or in Owens' case just fumble it away — can’t there be just a little fun?
Can’t you let the man with all that talent, all that experience, throw it more than seven yards downfield — and usually 20 yards wide in the process?
Do you have to wait for the final, desperate, win or else drive, to finally throw a touchdown pass downfield to Jason Barnes to get you a 25-22 victory?
Honest, there is no truth to the rumour that the Argos playbook has only two plays: Dink and dunk. And each one can be set up to either side of the field. But Wednesday night, on a gorgeous, summer night for football, the roof was open and the playbook closed. And what might keep people coming back to the Rogers Centre, on a night when the only thing worse than the conservatism on the field was the ambivalence from the stands, is something, anything exciting.
A win is exciting by the Argos over the worst team that isn’t them in the Canadian Football League. Now they are 2-2, with victories over Kevin Glenn and Alex Brink.
The two worst starting quarterbacks in the CFL. Guys only playing because of injuries. None of them with Ray’s pedigree.
So we ask, from the radio commercials and the sell, where’s the excitement? There was some excitement when Jordan Younger intercepted a pass that led to a first half touchdown. There was some excitement when Owens actually held on to catch his first touchdown pass in more than an entire season (that was between a pair of fumbles, both lost).
And after that, well, not a lot. Milanovich’s Argos, who bring colour to the game with their penchant for flags, did just about everything in their power to turn a foregone conclusion into a tight end. Really, this game should have been over in the second quarter but in the fourth quarter, the Argos were losing by a point to the only CFL team without a win, a quarterback or a clue.
The Argos announced a crowd of 22,485 which was about as bold as the team got all night. If only their coaching staff had that kind of imagination, who knows what might have been possible? But penalty after penalty, the Argos played their way back into what wasn’t a blowout.
Too many men on the field. Holding. Too many men. Holding. The gifts just kept on coming.
And so, the great chicken-and-egg that is forever Toronto football, you won’t draw if you don’t win, you don’t win if you don’t draw, meanders on. There is a new coach in Milanovich, who may have run the Montreal offence in previous years but needs to invoke a little Jamel Richardson in the Argo offence even if he doesn’t have a Richardson-like receiver. He needs to find better ways to utilize Cory Boyd. He needs to let the hugely paid Ray — by CFL standards — earn his paycheck. He needs to take his foot off the brakes and get caught for speeding rather than illegal procedure.
There is a natural disconnect between the soldout Grey Cup game in November and the rest of the Argos season. One is an event. The other is a journey just begun. To have one without the other is quite likely. But to have a Grey Cup season without Argos hope is the challenge that Argos president Chris Rudge faces every day.
The challenge is immense. Throwing downfield would be a start.