Bye week thoughts -how Toronto finally won me over. @chefjaynutt

Photo: Johany Jutras / Toronto Argonauts

As a small business owner, a mentor once suggested that I should never get too excited about the best days, or too disgruntled about the worst days. It’s all the days in the middle that add up to a successful year.

I imagine the same should be said for being a sports fan. As Argos fans, we’ve seen the best and the worst that the football business has to offer the Argonauts in the short span of their first two home games. That first game, with the seamless entertainment value and the picture-perfect evening as the curtain raised on their new home at BMO field provided the sort of fairy tale backdrop that Argos fans and investors have dreamed of for years. It was noisy, energetic, and carried a sense of optimism seldom seen in Toronto sports venues in recent years. It had all the promise of a mystical rise from the ashes for a franchise long-ignored and mocked by the general populace, sports fans, and media both local and national as being irrelevant. Even though the game had a disappointing result, we walked out of the stadium heads high and chests puffed. We mattered. We were important. We were no longer the poor sporting cousins of the richer and more lucrative MLSE in-laws.

But a little reality entered our world. Other smarter writers have covered the spectrum of reasons about what happened on that awful Wednesday. For starters, it was Wednesday. It was hot. There was traffic, parking, Indy, road trip, market fatigue, an opponent that nobody has learned to hate yet. For whatever the reason, everything good about the experience in game one was bad about game two. Just over 12,000 tickets sold.

As a fan, I took it pretty personal. It was the punch to the stomach. It was the re-visited dream of nobody coming to the party. It was the fear of an empty restaurant. But above all, it felt like trusting Lucy to hold the football and ending up flat on your back again. Good grief.

The third home game brought me a revelation. I went to the game not worried about the fans in the stands, nor was I concerned about how social media trolls would react to the size of the crowd in the stands. I went for myself, as a fan of the CFL and the Argos, and simply enjoyed the game. That’s when the proverbial light bulb went on.

Those that have been kind enough to read my posts over the past couple years know that I’m Alberta-born and an Edmonton Eskimo fan by birth. For a few years after I moved to Ontario I remained a CFL fan and would usually cheer for the home team on whichever game was being broadcast on television. I always think it’s good for the league when the home team wins. Eventually, due to geographical circumstances (Ottawa wasn’t back in the league yet, and Hamilton was too far away by an extra 90 minutes each way) and the sheer personality of Pinball Clemons, I became an Argos fan. Over time that has grown into becoming a season-ticket holder this season and a proud owner of Grey Cup tickets. (In 2012, I didn’t buy a ticket until 4pm on game day!) I feel like a true blue on blue die-hard Argonauts fan.

But before my western family and friends rush to rake me over the coals I have a quick admission. While I cheer for the football team, I have never become enchanted by the city. Toronto has never provided me with that special feeling of a place to call home. Admittedly I was late arriving, (31 years of age) and had a chip on my shoulder when I got here (Albertan), and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many of the world’s great cities. I found no charm in Toronto’s streets, the architecture left me cold, the waterfront left me wanting, and the transit system, oh the god-forsaken transit system. Even literary fiction set in Toronto left me feeling the city was simply not to my tastes; its citizens cold and aloof and self-centered in their quest to be the next greatest thing. Essentially I represented The Rest of Canada (TROC) in my own experiences that had me looking to leave after 51 weeks as a resident of Canada’s biggest city. I just didn’t like Toronto. (By all means, this is more reflective of my own tastes than what Toronto has provided for other residents and visitors.)

But a small stadium stuck between two of the city’s busiest streets has captured my heart. It is big enough to have a sense of importance, and small enough to maintain a sense of intimacy. Walking around before and during the game, people are present and engaged and interactive, everything that I could never find in the hamster race that seems to dictate the rest of the city’s pedestrian routes. The sky is large and clear, the way it changes colour when the sun sets involves deep blues and purples and sudden shades of black to the south over the lake and lingering sunbeams in the north. Standing at various parts of the concourse allows you to see Toronto’s skyline in a way that makes it inviting and picturesque, rather than simply tall and overwhelming. Looking south gives me a sense of the size of the lake in a way that visiting Toronto islands by ferry never did. There’s a sense of nostalgia in this building that defies its short age and recent renovations. I find it invokes W.P Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams” -the grass, the lights, the sense I get that the stadium seems almost a refuge separate from Toronto. I feel like if I focus I could hear the voices of not James Earl Jones, but Don Wittman, Steve Armitage, Pat Marsden, and announcers of the past. It makes me feel young and optimistic and wishful and wanting to return.

Nearly twenty years since moving to Toronto, it seems I’ve fallen in love with an unlikely destination in BMO Field. I understand why TFC supporters lay such fervent claim to a wonderful spot to watch a game, and I encourage Argo fans of all ages to come out and experience it yourselves, for both the setting and the football. It’s never to late to find a little romance.

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