Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Love 'em and leave 'em

One-week stand not the answer to Toronto woes City will ignore CFL again starting first thing Monday morning

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TORONTO -- Will you still love me tomorrow? The CFL has to be asking the city of Toronto that very question.

There is no CFL without Toronto, so it's great to see the city actually paying attention to the league and its championship game. The real question, however, is what will Monday morning bring when all the hoopla dies down and the Argonauts are left to once again fend for themselves.

 

Make no mistake, the Grey Cup and the Argos are the talk of the town right now. Toronto actually looks like a CFL market once again.

"It hasn't had a buzz like this where the Argos and the CFL is concerned since 1990 when Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and John Candy owned the team and Rocket Ismail came up to Canada," said CFL Hall of Famer and Argos legend Michael Clemons. "This has been fantastic, Now we need to see if we can keep it going."

The short answer is no. The Argos will not have the presence they've had this week when next year's season begins.

Everything has gone the way of the Argos and the CFL. From the team knocking out the Montreal Alouettes to get to the game to the NHL taking its second labour nap in eight years.

One of the major dailies here produced a 30-page Grey Cup preview this week. The Argos or the Grey Cup have been on the front page of the sports sections for most of the week. None of that happens if the NHL is up and running.

The Grey Cup takes over places like Winnipeg and Regina and becomes the only event that matters. In Toronto the game has had a tendency to get lost or forgotten in recent hosting attempts.

Not this year. The downtown streets have been full of CFL fans wearing jerseys from teams across the country.

The bars are packed and the Royal York even got into the spirit and let Marty the horse step into the lobby.

The matchup for Sunday has that East-West appeal and major storylines, from the resurgence and redemption of Kevin Glenn to the battle of the league's two best players -- Jon Cornish and Chad Owens.

For the first time in a long while, the CFL has refused to be ignored by Toronto.

Commissioner Mark Cohon gave his annual state of the league address and was able to paint a fairly rosy picture. TV ratings and attendance are up and there are new stadiums being built in Hamilton, Winnipeg and Regina.

The league's healthy enough across the country but there's no denying the dilemma it faces in Toronto.

Everyone from Cohon to Argos executives to media to fans agree the first step to a solution is a new stadium.

"Yes, we need a CFL-sized stadium that is intimate and suited to our game and can best showcase it," said Argos CEO Chris Rudge.

"But we have to deal with what we have right now. We can't make excuses.

"Any coach will tell you the best players to deliver wins are the ones he has. We have to play with what we have right now."

Stadiums don't fall out of the sky. Even in thriving CFL markets such as Winnipeg and Regina it takes years of arm-twisting.

The reality is CFL stadiums don't get built or undergo major refurbishment without government money.

The Argos would be a tough sell to the Ontario government and owner David Braley isn't going to dig into his own pocket for the $300 million or so it would cost to put up a CFL stadium in Toronto.

There is talk of a $30 million renovation of BMO Field, home of the Toronto FC. They'd need to move the end zone stands around and it would be a complicated fix.

Toronto has given us a glimpse of what it could be as a CFL market. Engaged and vibrant.

The positive is the country's media and financial centre can still embrace the CFL. But it's not enough to have a one-week celebration and then go back to near anonymity in this marketplace.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

more grey cup coverage c2-4

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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