They won't pop cork at York

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:26 PM ET

Tom Arnott suffered long enough: He sees no reason to celebrate much of anything tomorrow afternoon.

"It's awful," Arnott said. "Losing like that is awful. Football is what you do, it isn't who you are.

"You can't allow it to become who you are or it will eat you up."

Tomorrow in London, Tom Arnott no longer will hold the record for most consecutive losses by a Canadian university football coach. His York University players from 1988 to 1995 -- all of them -- no longer will have the stigma of being known as the worst team in Canadian history.

That mantle of difficulty has been passed across town. Barring a miracle, the University of Toronto Blues will become champions of defeat tomorrow on the campus of the University of Western Ontario, losing a record-breaking 48th consecutive football game.

If anyone understands what it is to be Steve Howlett, the coach who never has won a game, a day away from the kind of history no one wishes to be part of, it is Arnott, the former head coach at York, who eventually brought respectability to the program before moving on.

"To be honest, I was really hoping Toronto wouldn't get to this point," Arnott said. "Frankly, I don't care who has the record or that kind of thing. But having gone through this myself, and having seen the impact that it has on an awful lot of fine people, it can be a terrible thing.

"It's terrible for some fine young athletes, who made great commitments, not to have had success in their time playing in university.

"When you're the coach, you take responsibility for everything. You take responsibility for the record, for the players, for just about everything you can think of. That's one of the real problems of a lot of Canadian programs. You don't have any support. You don't have any money. You don't have any staff.

"There are a million things to do every day and you don't have the time or the bodies to get through half of them. I remember walking out for a game carrying the camera and looking for somebody to take films.

"I think anybody can identify one or two problems -- but when it's not one or two things, it's 30 or 40 things, you need help. And most of the time, if you don't have the right infrastructure, you don't get any."

Toronto is the most recruited high school football centre in the country and home to just about the two worst programs in Canadian university football. The difficulties to compete are many.

The attempts to keep the best athletes at home when American universities are offering scholarships, when money is coming in from the East Coast and Western Canada, when within driving distance there are football factories and fine universities just an hour or so away, why play, first for York, later for U of T?

"To be successful, you need a level playing field," Arnott said. "The playing field isn't very level in this case."

Andre Batson remembers the game that turned York football around -- at least back then when it seemed York had turned around. He was a receiver good enough on a lousy team to be rookie of the year in Canada, good enough later to have a cup of coffee in the Canadian Football League. York broke its 47-game losing streak in the first game ever played at what they call a stadium on that windy campus.

Batson scored two touchdowns against Windsor. "It was like, new stadium, new beginning," he said yesterday, now helping to coach at York. "I wasn't there for all the losses. I was only there for the last 15."

What was that like?

"I suspect it's the same at U of T," he said. "Every week we came out and we honestly believed we could win. We were never really demoralized. To get through something like this, you have to believe in yourself. You didn't think about losing all those games. It didn't consume you. It was really one week at a time."

In every football season, the old Miami Dolphins of 1972 fame get together and celebrate when the last of the unbeaten teams loses its first game. Somehow, they believe, it keeps their record alive.

There will be no celebration tomorrow by former players at York, but Batson, for one, admits he isn't unhappy to have another school pass them by.

"Honestly," he said. "It would be nice to remove our names from that record. We don't identify with it. It's good someone else will have it."


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