TORONTO – As Canada’s biggest city, with a crowded pro-sports market and dozens of other entertainment options, it’s difficult for the Argonauts, and indeed the entire CFL, to steal the spotlight in Toronto.
In October, a local paper even ignored the team altogether when discussing the poor play of Toronto teams in recent years.
What a difference a month makes. On Sunday night, in front of a boisterous, pro-Toronto crowd of 53,208 at the Rogers Centre, the Toronto Argonauts captured the 100th Grey Cup thanks to a 35-22 win over the Calgary Stampeders.
There’s no telling if the buzz generated from a successful Grey Cup week, capped with the home team winning the title will last in Toronto. But for at least one night, the city belonged to the Argonauts.
It was something Argos receiver Mike Bradwell never thought he would see.
“This is incredible,” the Toronto native said about winning a title with his hometown team. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. This place was so loud, the crowd was awesome. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
[Photos: Toronto celebrates winning the Grey Cup]
When Bradwell and his teammates left the Rogers Centre on Sunday, they would see the CN Tower light up in double blue. The tradition of lighting the landmark in the colours of the winning team began after the 2007 Grey Cup in Toronto.
Hopefully, they’ll also see a spike in attendance in 2013. The Argos were seventh in the CFL in average attendance in 2012, with 23,689 per game. During their East Division semi-final matchup against the Edmonton Eskimos, the near-empty stadium drew snickers from fans and media.
That’s all forgotten after the Argos won the 16th Grey Cup in their long history.
Despite the score, it didn’t always seem like it would be an easy win for the Argos. On the opening play of the game, Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray was intercepted. But the Stamps went two-and-out, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
“Anytime you can get your defence to get turnovers and then to get scores is just huge for the team,” Ray, who threw for 231 yards and a touchdown, said. “We forced three turnovers and that just gives you more opportunities.
“[The defence] were holding [Calgary] to field goals. Offensively, we could stick to our game plan and not feel any pressure out there.”
Running back Chad Kackert was dominant for the Argos and was named the game’s most outstanding player. He rushed for 133 yards and also caught eight passes for 62 yards. Defensive end Ricky Foley was named the game’s top Canadian. Foley, another Toronto-area player, recovered a first quarter fumble that set up the Argos’ first touchdown.
[Photos: Grey Cup halftime show]
Toronto kicker Swayze Waters wasn’t busy on this night but was thrilled to win a Grey Cup in his first CFL season.
“I can’t even begin to describe the emotions. I’m not an emotional guy but, with my career I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of opportunities that didn’t work out,” he said. “[GM Jim] Barker and coach [Scott] Milanovch gave me an opportunity here. The night he called me he said ‘We need you to be the missing piece of the puzzle – we’re gonna win the 100th Grey Cup.’ And we did it.”
Despite being mostly overlooked in Toronto, the Argonauts are one of the only Toronto teams with any kind of a winning tradition over the past decade or so. The Toronto Blue Jays were the last major professional team to win a championship. That was in 1993 and they have not returned to the playoffs since. The Toronto Raptors have only won one playoff series in their 16 NBA seasons. The recent struggles of the Toronto Maple Leafs are well documented.
So when the Argonauts are feted with a parade through downtown Toronto on Tuesday, it will be fitting that they again have the attention of the city’s sports fans.
For Bradwell and many other Argos players, that’s still unbelievable.
“I’m just speechless right now,” Bradwell said. “It’s something I dreamed about, and to do it with the Argos in Toronto – this is a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
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