Thursday, September 1, 2016

B.C. Lions 16 at Toronto Argonauts 13 - August 31, 2016


As a Canadian sports traveler, it is my duty to see all CFL stadiums at some point. There's only nine of them, so it isn't that much of a task, but the geographic spread means a single trip is not very efficient. I've tried to see a game whenever I'm in Canada during the season, but even that has taken a long time as schedules rarely work out well with my trips. So I've decided to plan travel around the schedule, and when I noticed that the Toronto Argonauts had a Wednesday night game and Montreal followed with a match on Thursday, I decided to pop up to see those. I flew into Toronto's Pearson Airport, and got a great view of downtown as we circled.



Of course, I had already seen the Argos at Rogers Centre (visible above) a few years back, but this year they moved to BMO Field, which necessitated another visit. I also managed to snap a shot of this venue from the air; that's it in the middle of the shot below with the red seats, green field, and two white roofs.



The stadium lies on the exact location of old Exhibition Stadium, on the grounds of Exhibition Place just west of downtown. You can get here using any streetcar that goes to Exhibition Place from Union Station or Bathurst. If you drive, there is street parking a few blocks north on side streets, but it can be difficult to find.



BMO Field was opened in 2007 to host Toronto FC, the city's MLS team, after years of wrangling between city officials, the Canadian Soccer Association, and eventual owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE, who also own the Leafs, Raptors, and Marlies). In 2015, Larry Tannenbaum, MLSE's chairman, bought the Argos as part of a consortium, with the understanding that the team would move to BMO Field for 2016, a smart choice as Rogers Centre was a terrible place for the team to play.



Since it was originally built for soccer, the stadium has a grandstand flush with the field on both sides, making it also ideal for the other form of football. All the seats are red with the exception of grey seats on one site that form the Toronto FC logo in the upper deck and spell out Toronto in the lower deck. The east side has a maple leaf in the lower deck, while the upper deck was only added in 2015, increasing capacity by 8,400. The roofs were added for this season.



The south stands spell out BMO; I guess if the name changes, those seats will have to be replaced. There is no seating at the north end, but you can stand there and watch as the Argos enter the field.



It is easy to tour the venue as concourses are wide enough to handle a typical Argos crowd, usually less than 20,000. The west side has only a single walkway leading to both levels, while the newly built upper deck has its own concourse. Be careful what stairs you use to return to the lower level as some staircases lead directly out of the stadium, but these are not clearly marked.



You can see the sections on the west side clearly in the photo below.



From the east side, there is a good view of the downtown skyline. The Enercare Centre is a convention center and exhibition complex, not a sports venue.



My buddy Sharpy joined for this one, and we bought first row seats in the grandstand on the east side from StubHub, which is where you should get your tickets too as they are much cheaper than the box office. Note that the east side has a couple of rows of Field Side seats that go for $250, but they don't block the view from the grandstand.



There are a few problems. Food is quite expensive, even with the weak Canadian dollar. I saw hot dogs going for $11.50, which is just crazy. A 20 oz. beer is $12.25, which is Yankee Stadium pricing! I did see a Jamaican patty offered for $4, but it was only at one concession stand, so if you see that and want it, don't expect to find it elsewhere. The other issue is postgame transit. Both TTC streetcars and the Go Train have stations here, but most fans use the former. Streetcars either go to Union Station or Bathurst, but they are relatively small, so you will have to wait as thousands of fans line up. We waited about 20 minutes before finally getting on a streetcar back to Union (as several Bathurst-bound cars passed), with the ride very uncomfortable due to the crowd. It is possible that the long wait was due to attendees leaving the Canadian National Exhibition at the same time, but regardless, I do recommend driving and finding parking, even in a lot, and walking to the game simply to avoid this mess.



Despite these problems, I was really impressed by BMO Field in terms of its architecture and layout.  There aren't a lot of features, but it is an attractive venue and easy to move around, without a bad seat in the place. I will have to return to see a Toronto FC game sometime to compare the experiences.

The Game

The BC Lions came into town sporting a 6-3 record while Toronto was 4-4 but had QB Ricky Ray returning from injury. An Argo win would put them in first place in the woeful East Division, so you pretty much knew that they would lose.



The Argos defied these expectations early by scoring a touchdown on their opening possession when Ray found Kevin Elliott for a 21-yard score, with the convert making it 7-0, the only points of the first quarter. The Lions scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Anthony Allen, who won a Super Bowl ring with Baltimore in 2013. The Lions decided to try for a two-point convert, but didn't get the play off in time, one of 21 total penalties on the evening. Pushed back to the 8-yard line, the Lions still tried for the two pointer but missed, so Toronto had a 7-6 lead. That missed point didn't matter though, as the Lions added a single on a punt into the end zone (the rouge), but Toronto regained the lead on a field goal with a minute to go in the half.



The second half saw more penalties and very little offense. BC kicked two field goals in the third quarter to take a 13-10 lead, but Toronto tied it early in the fourth. The teams then traded short, useless drives until BC took over on their own 26 with 3:32 to go. In nine plays, QB Jonathon Jennings led the Lions 61 yards, taking all the time off the clock. In the CFL, a play can be run after the game clock strikes zero, and the Lions set up for a field goal as time expired. Richie Leone hit the 30-yarder and the game was over with the visitors taking it 16-13. The result was not a surprise, but the speed of the game was as it lasted about 2:40, much quicker than a typical NFL game. All that time saved was soon wasted waiting for streetcar however.

Notes

With all the penalties, the CFL should be renamed the Copious Flag League. It isn't just in this game, many fans are complaining about the number of flags being thrown in every contest and the same occurred the following night in Montreal.



The CNE is held for two weeks before Labour Day, so you can spend the day on the midway before checking out the game as the game ticket allows you free admittance to the Ex. Too late for this year, but something to think about for 2017.

Best,

Sean

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