From the End Zone
Players get traded all the time.
One day you’re playing for the team that drafted and trained you, the next day you’re playing for a different team that wanted you enough that they gave something up for you. Once in a while you’re the afterthought, the player thrown in on a multi-player trade. On rare occasions, you can be a player like Ricky Foley or QB Ricky Ray, the centerpiece in a trade that results in the team winning a championship. In Foley’s case, he’s won 3 Grey Cups and the Argos re-acquired him this off-season in the hopes he’ll help bring it home again this year.
As a player, it has to be instantaneous; you go into a new dressing room, sit beside players who were opponents, put on different colours and start playing every down as if you’ve always worn that jersey.
But what if you’re a fan?
Switching allegiances is seldom so swift, so matter of fact, so concise. Most fans are born into their CFL clan based on geography. If your parents were fans of a team, chances are you’re a fan of the same team. You stay with a team for life, loyal through good times and bad, even if you move across the country. You wear your colours proudly in your neighborhood or at the game. We don’t get a phone call from a general manager or an agent telling us to start rooting for a new team. It happens little by little, as moments and plays and seasons slip by and you suddenly find yourself hoping and wishing and cheering for a team you swore never to support.
I’m one of those fans. I was born an Eskimos fan. In 1973 I remember my parents and their friends bundling up into their Ford Meteor and driving the 360 km round-trip to Edmonton to see the Eskimos play. I was allowed to stay up late and listen to the staticky AM radio broadcast. My prized possession became a green and gold felt 1975 Grey Cup Champion pennant that hung upon my bedroom wall. In 1977 I joined the Woodward’s Knothole Gang and got to sit in the end zone for $2 a game. We lost to the Alouettes in the Grey Cup that year and I was heartbroken as only an 11 year-old can be.
There was redemption though; in 1978 the Esks moved into Commonwealth stadium and started a run of huge crowds and a string of five straight Championships that cemented a young fan’s loyalty.
Years pass. The team wins some, loses some. The faded pennant gets packed in a box and put in a parent’s basement for storage. College. Jobs. Careers. Love and loss. You follow the team from wherever you are in the world. You meet a girl. The girl. You move to Toronto.
When I lived in Alberta, Toronto was “out east.” When I lived in Charlottetown, Toronto was “out west.” It’s the city that the rest of Canada doesn’t want and that nobody cheers for.
It wasn’t an easy transition to trade loyalties. Holloway, Barnes, Ismail, Flutie. Some of the greatest Argos players in history had beaten my Eskimo teams. Dunigan, Ilesic, Allen. Some of my favourite Eskimos had gone on to even more success with the Argonauts. But somehow, you spend enough time in and near a city and you follow the game and you grow attached. You see the struggles in attendance, the fight for relevance in a market that is always looking for the next big thing and you develop an affinity for the underdog. When you go to a game you realize that a smaller CFL crowd in the dome is louder and more animated than crowds at hockey or baseball games in this city.
These Argonaut fans are fans of the team, the game and the league. You watch Pinball Clemons lift a team and then the franchise upon his shoulders and extend that force outside the game and into the city. You see players going into the community and making a difference in schools and non-profit organizations.
Then it happens. The Eskimos announce they’ve traded Ricky Ray to Toronto. You discover that Ray to Owens is one of the most dynamic combinations the CFL has seen in years. You volunteer for the 2012 100th Grey Cup and have a blast meeting fans in the city.
At the last minute I got a ticket to the game and was exhilarated at how loud the stadium was. When the Argos scored first I was on my feet cheering and came to the realization that I was cheering not just against the Calgary Stampeders (Esks fans know) but for Toronto. Fourteen years after moving to Ontario I was cheering for a Toronto sports team. But only one, the Argos.
It proved to be more than just the moment. In 2013 my wife (the girl) and I went to Hamilton to see Edmonton play the Ticats in their last match-up in old Ivor Wynne stadium. We both wore neutral colours rather than green and gold. In 2014 a friend and I went to the Labour Day game in the Hammer for their first game in their new stadium against the Argos. I wore double blue.
Nowadays, I don’t have a pennant, but my ticket from the Argos Grey Cup win hangs on my office wall. I’ve bought my end zone tickets for the games I can attend in 2015. And while I’ll always be a bit of an Edmonton fan, when Toronto opens their season in Fort McMurray, Alberta against the Eskimos, I’ll be wearing double blue.