This article was submitted yesterday to rodpedersen.com It is a passionate defence of our city’s reputation after being attacked by a media type from Moose Jaw.
100th Grey Cup: The Grass Roots
This column was going to begin with lessons I learned from concluding an abusive relationship I had with a bottle of gin last week (turns out there were others involved), but instead I’m going to take a shot at Scott Schultz.
I don’t know the man personally. Never had a single conversation with him. Like most of us, my only acquaintance with Schultz came through watching him from afar, as he plied his trade from the middle of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive line. On one occasion I swear I saw him stop a Toronto running back by unhinging his jaw and swallowing the man whole – although my memory of the event could have been influenced by the Romanian fire water we smuggled into Mosaic Stadium that day.
Schultz was on 620 CKRM’s ‘The Sportscage’ last night. He was flapping his pie hole about how Toronto doesn’t deserve a football team because attendance at Argo home games has been terrible over the last number of years. He then added that Toronto as a whole doesn’t care about the Argonauts or the CFL in general. The franchise and the league would be better off if the team were located somewhere else.
Mister Schultz, unhinge your jaw and bite me.
It wasn’t that long ago that I found myself sitting on a frozen bench in Taylor Field with 16,000 other fans. The Roughriders would have gone bankrupt had the Saskatchewan government and the NFL not stepped in. I remember ticket rallies prior to a game against Sacramento in 1993. Kent Austin threw for 6,000 yards that season, and the team couldn’t put bums in the seats. I remember a telethon only a few years prior to that game. Let’s not be too smug when it comes to judging the attendance of other teams.
Over the course of a generation, Toronto stopped caring about the Argonauts because Argonaut owners stopped caring about Toronto. The Maple Leafs are currently following that same blueprint. More average-everyday people in this city HATE the Leafs, than there are corporate-suit ‘spectators’, who sit on their well-dressed asses to attend games.
If you want a city to love you, you need to capture the hearts of its citizens, not their wallets. With the Argos, too many flash-in-the-pan attempts at big signings, marketing failures, business and football mismanagement have led to where the team currently finds itself. Courting a fan base takes years, not weeks – and over the last couple of years, the current ownership and management group have slowly been getting things pointed in the right direction.
The on-field product is championship caliber. What other Toronto sports team can say that? Fans are responding. Attendance has been respectable this year. The final home game of the season drew over 27,000. Fans at the beginning of the season would go to games wearing whatever happened to be in their closet. At the Eastern Semi-Final, they donned Argo Blue en-masse. I’m hearing stories all over the city of fans returning to the team.
Off the field, the effort to capture hearts has been even more intense. That’s ultimately the mission of The 100th Grey Cup Festival.
A football game was played yesterday morning at W.A. Porter Collegiate in Scarborough. Though the game took place well away from the festivities downtown, I’m sure Scott Schultz would have given Rod Pedersen’s left nut to be a part of it. The school needed a new field. The Argonauts saw an opportunity.
This game was planned months ago to be one of the 50+ events set to take place throughout the festival. Porter’s field was soaked with water, making conditions perfect for a recreation of the 1950 Grey Cup game played at Varsity Stadium – also known as ‘The Mud Bowl’.
Media, local celebrities, school staff and alumni, and Argos’ alumni participated in the game. Porter’s dance team performed with the Argo cheerleaders while the marching band played. Football clinics were held throughout the day for Porter’s students. The actual Grey Cup Coin was used for the coin toss.
You can watch a video of the game on the Toronto Sun’s website http://www.torontosun.com/2012/11/19/legendary-grey-cup-mud-bowl-match-recreated
In Spring 2013, the field will be completely refurbished by the 100th Grey Cup Festival and the Toronto Argonauts with materials donated by RONA, to benefit the football program – a team that was restored through The Argos Foundation’s Level the Playing Field program.
Another event will be held today as part of the Festival at the Nissan Family Zone in Young-Dundas Square. As part of the Argonauts’ season-long in-school efforts with the Huddle Up Bullying Prevention Program presented by Tim Hortons, a celebration and massive rally dedicated to the cause, will be taking place. Scott Schultz outta be there too so he can learn how to not hurt the feelings of sensitive artists like me.
Those are but two of the over fifty events planned for the 100th Grey Cup Festival. I’ll close with a quote by Argos’ president Chris Rudge, “A large part of the 100th Grey Cup Festival’s goals is to give back to the community and the City of Toronto throughout the celebrations. Working with the TDSB, the staff at Porter, and RONA has allowed us to fulfill this goal while at the same time paying homage to an historic moment in Canadian sport.”
The Argonauts deserve a lot of love for their efforts. Re-sodding football fields and working on anti-bullying programs in schools, doesn’t lead directly to bums in the seats. They do however, make our community stronger – and contrary to the opinion of one notorious former defensive tackle with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, this community needs the Toronto Argonauts as much as the Toronto Argonauts need the community.