Sunday, July 8, 2012

Calgary Stampeders 36 at Toronto Argonauts 39 - July 7, 2012


When I visit Ontario in the summer, it is usually to see family and perhaps the Blue Jays if they are in town. What this means is that I am rarely in Toronto at the same time as the Argonauts, Toronto's CFL franchise. However, with the Quest for 400 now my main focus, I planned this trip to ensure that I finally got to see the Argos at Rogers Centre. So after a break in Belleville to recharge the batteries, I returned to Toronto for the Argos home opener, with the Calgary Stampeders the honoured guests.



Rogers Centre (CFL Version)

The main difference between the Jays and Argonauts is that the upper deck is closed for the latter. This means there are only 31,074 seats available for a CFL game. As a comparison, capacity is 53,506 when the Buffalo Bills come to town. You would expect a good crowd given that it was the home opener and the Argos acquired QB Ricky Ray during the offseason, but with the Honda Indy also on the sports docket, only 20,862 bothered to show up for the game.



The other noticeable changes are the Argo Grey Cup banners (above) and retired numbers, which were not on display earlier in the week. I'm not sure if these remain up for the CFL season, but I'd guess not. Seems like a lot of work to set them up and take them down for every game, but I guess the Blue Jays don't want to be overshadowed.

The seating bowl is somewhat different, with the third base seats moved around so that the football field lies between the two lower bowls. There are some backless seats that are added in the end zone where those 3rd base seats used to be, while the other end zone beneath the videoboard is closed off. The 200 level is open as well and there are no changes here from the baseball configuration. Ticket prices range from $85 for the platinum seats (2nd level midfield) down to $23 for the blues, which are the corners on both levels. However, I managed to snag a lower midfield seat for less than half-price so do talk to the friendly resellers if you want a bargain.

With fans concentrated into a smaller area, there was more atmosphere than at a typical midweek Blue Jay game. There was even a band called the Argonotes who performed on the concourse during the action and added to the proceedings. I found supporters here to be more passionate as one would expect with football, and they were well entertained with a game that had a little bit of everything.

The Game

The CFL is entirely different from the NFL, with 3 downs, 12 men on a longer and wider field, more passing, and much more scoring. You could probably call it firewagon football and not be far off.

I want to avoid a play-by-play recap as there was so much going on, so I'll try to keep it brief. Both teams scored on their first possession to set the tone for the afternoon. Calgary's starting QB, Drew Tate, was sacked on the first play of their second drive and separated his shoulder, forcing him from the game. Kevin Glenn (below) replaced him and had trouble moving the offense for the rest of the half.



Glenn was helped by his defense though. On Toronto's 2nd possession, Ray's pass to Dontrelle Inman was tipped and intercepted by Eric Fraser who romped 61 yards for a pick-six. But their offense was unable to do anything, being forced to punt twice and turning the ball over on two other occasions. Toronto did not take full advantage though, grabbing three field goals from Noel Prefontaine (below) and a beautiful 53-yard TD pass from Ray to Inman to take a 23-14 lead at the break.



As the second half began, the Argos continued to run the ball effectively with Cory Boyd (taking the handoff below) but again they couldn't get the big score, adding two more field goals. Even then, the 29-14 lead looked safe given Calgary's inability to mount a consistent attack.



Of course, these are the Argos, so the key word there was "looked". In fact, the lead was not safe at all. First, Glenn finally managed to complete his first scoring drive, moving the Stamps 75 yards for a TD, cutting the lead to eight at the end of the third. But Glenn threw another interception early in the fourth quarter and Toronto took over on the Calgary 20, ready to close things out. Oops, not so fast. A face masking penalty pushed them back and forced Prefotaine to attempt yet another FG, this one from 36 yards out, which he missed. In the CFL, missed kicks are often run back to avoid giving up the single point, and Larry Taylor did just that, catching the ball 15 yards deep in the end zone and then taking off, beating tackles here and there before turning upfield and racing into the Argos end zone. The 125-yard return was stunning to watch, but also depressing as it brought the Stampeders to within two, and they quickly tied it on the 2-point conversion.



The next three possessions saw Ray get intercepted, Glenn lose a fumble, and Argos backup QB Jarious Jackson get stuffed on a goal line sneak. That's three turnovers in less than 3 minutes and left the fans befuddled. Did anybody want to win the game? After Calgary was forced to punt from deep in their territory, Toronto took over with good field position and capitalized with Inman scoring his second TD reception of the game to make it 36-29 with just 3:08 to go.

Calgary's next drive stalled as well and they punted, giving the Argos the ball with just two minutes left, and certainly the game was in the bag now, right? Nope. I guess I'm used to the NFL, where the extra down generally means a team with the lead under two minutes pretty much wins the game. That was not the case here. Boyd carried twice for just 9 yards and the Argos punted stupidly, sending the ball right to Taylor who rumbled for 64 yards to the Argo 25. On the next play, Glenn hit Nik Lewis for the easy score and the game was tied again. Overtime loomed.



Or did it? Toronto returned the ensuing kickoff to their 47 and had 61 seconds to get into field goal range. On the first play, Ray found Andre Durie over the middle for a 36-yard gain, easily close enough for Prefontaine. A couple of runs took the remaining time off the clock and then Prefontaine booted his 6th FG of the afternoon (above) with no time left to give the Argos the 39-36 win.



So much for the brief recap. It was a crazy finish to a strange game. Even with all the action though, the contest took only 2:50 to complete, a nice change from those 3 1/2 hour marathons the NFL showcases.

Ray finished with 407 yards passing, Boyd had 101 on the ground, while Glenn went 15/19 coming off the bench. His two interceptions and fumble were costly though, counting for three of the four Stampeder turnovers. The Argos had 3 giveaways of their own, meaning nearly a quarter of the 32 total possessions ended in a turnover. Not a well-played game but highly entertaining and I'm looking forward to seeing the other stadiums in the league in the next few years.

Notes



This season will see the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto and the Argos are celebrating their championship history with fancy tickets (1921 champs shown above) as well as honouring the great teams of the past. Today, the 1971 Argos, who won the Grey Cup that year and were led by Joe Theismann, were given a short halftime introduction.


This doesn't exist on an NFL gridiron

After the game, fans were allowed onto the field. There was a ten-minute wait while they cleaned up, and then about 1,000 fans made their way down the aisles to wander to and fro. A few kids tossed footballs while other fans chatted with the cheerleaders or took advantage of unique picture opportunities. It was my first time on the field at Rogers Centre and I tried to figure out exactly where Joe Carter's home run landed, but didn't see any memorial plaque. At any rate, I got a cool shot of the Blue Jay pennants along with the uprights (below). More teams should do this, it really adds to the experience.



Next Up

Today is the Honda Indy and that is how I will spend my last day in Canada on this trip as I fly back to Singapore on Monday. I hope to be back home for the Winter Classic on New Years Day, but if the NHL decides to delay their season, I'll be skipping that and perhaps watching some AHL. In the meantime, I'll be posting about various topics in sports as well as attending a few things here and there in Southeast Asia, so check back on occasion.

Best,

Sean

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