TORONTO - There has been much talk in recent times about the New Blue, the fresher, brighter face of the Toronto Argonauts.
Since arriving here as head coach, and now general manager, Jim Barker has talked about stability and consistency.
This year, the talk was all about management understanding the importance of continuity and giving its dwindling fan base some stars with whom they could identify.
Turns out that’s all it was — talk.
Forget that picture of Cory Boyd on the season ticket package. They didn’t mean it.
When the club released Boyd on Sunday it may have made all the football sense in the world, but from outside the dressing room walls the optics of this move stink. There is just no good way to sell this to an already cynical public. To his credit, head coach Scott Milanovich didn’t even try Monday as the team regrouped after what turned out to be — for Boyd — the ultimate bye week.
“When you are in a position of leadership you can’t worry (about public perception), we didn’t do this thinking it was going to be popular. You can imagine that,” Milanovich said. “Unfortunately sometimes you have to make tough decisions based on what you’ve seen and on the information and knowledge that you have for what will be best for your team. That’s what we did. That’s what I did.”
Still, it is natural to wonder: When a team essentially gives away its star attraction what does that say? Other, that is, than bush league.
In making what Milanovich can justifiably argue as a sound football move, the Argos are committing hara-kiri on a grand public scale.
Milanovich evidently had concerns regarding Boyd’s ability to protect quarterback Ricky Ray. But its still a little like the Broncos selling themselves as Peyton Manning’s team, then telling the world, “Aw, shucks, never mind, he’s not half the star we said he was.”
Milanovich understands the public incredulity that greeted the decision. He just doesn’t agree that it should have stopped him from making the move.
“We can’t look back and say, just because Cory had a few more yards than someone else that we shouldn’t make a move we feel was best for our team,” said Milanovich. “We, I, understood where people are coming from. It doesn’t change the facts. We thought it (tailback) was something we could get better at.”
And, he may be correct, from a football sense. Boyd might not be a great blocking back. And, to believe former offensive lineman Rob Murphy, he might not be the best-liked player on the roster. He might even have a hidden “me-first” agenda.
That didn’t seem an issue for the Edmonton Eskimos who quickly signed Boyd on Monday.
For the Argos it is a most curious move, at a most curious time. The club sits in a market of 5.5 million people, yet barely draws more than 20,000 a game. One of the biggest issues fans have with the Argos, and with the CFL generally, is that roster instability makes it almost impossible to identify with stars.
So it has been that Barker and Argos management promised to build on the four star pillars of consistency: Ricky Ray, Andre Durie, Chad Owens and Boyd.
But when it comes to the CFL stability has never ridden shotgun with reality.
Milanovich may have a better team without Boyd in the future, but in the interim it reeks of the CFL’s inconstant nature. Boyd has been with the team for three years. It’s not like management didn’t know what kind of blocker he was, or what kind of guy he was. If they didn’t believe it would work, then don’t keep him around — and definitely don’t market the team on his back.
Fans feel cheated. They feel duped. Boyd was one of the faces of the franchise; it was his picture that was on the outside of season ticket packages. He was supposed to be one of the reasons that management believed fans should want to come to see the team.
And, now, six games into the season, he’s gone? Wasted. Not even worth trading. Is it any wonder sports fans believe this league is a joke looking for a punchline.
Durie says he understands the public bewilderment, and he understands management’s decision.
“I totally understand. You see it from a fan’s perspective it is kind of a shocker but it’s like coach Milanovich said, there’s other things (outside of rushing totals) that go into playing the running back position. I guess it was their decision, so I guess it was best for the team.”
Unfortunately it is also a decision that advances the perception that in the professional sports world the Argos are second-class citizens. In a season when the 100th Grey Cup celebrations come to Toronto, that’s not supposed to be happening. Suddenly all the sweetness and light is gone.
Boyd was one of Barker’s guys. This move may put Milanovich’s stamp on the team. But in the interim it is little wonder that sports fans shrug ... and walk away.
“It’s kind of weird. But you kind of see it from both (the public and management) sides,” said Durie, looking for a safe middle ground. “I’ve seen a lot the last six years. You see a lot of crazy things. You just have to move on ...”
The thought drifts.
Kind of like the league in which they play. Pity.