Theoretically, it could not have been a better setup. The 100th Grey Cup, held in Canada’s biggest city, which was also the host of the inaugural Grey Cup. The hometown Toronto Argonauts hosting the Calgary Stampeders and the weeks of buildup surrounding the event created pure excitement in the city. As soon as people realized the Argos had a chance to win it all, the city buzzed with energy not seen for Canadian football in Toronto in decades. Then the Boatmen pulled off a 35-22 victory in the big game. The city exploded, it was complete pandemonium in the downtown core. Too bad the excitement only lasted about two days. A couple of days later after the victory parade, the smoke cleared and once again no one in Toronto could care less about the CFL. The 100th Grey Cup was great for the city, people cared for the first time in years, but in no way is the CFL in good shape in Toronto.
The announced attendance for the Grey Cup Final was 53,208. That’s fantastic news for the CFL and I’m sure the league couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out. From the outside looking in, it looks like Toronto is an outstanding CFL city, on par with a Calgary or Regina. That could not be more wrong. Sure, the city was buzzing for a couple of days during the biggest football event in Canada in years. That doesn’t mean much. Before fans realized the Argos had a chance of winning they were drawing crowds as sparse as 20,682. In the spacious Rogers Centre, that is about as empty as it can get. The crowds were about as energetic as a funeral. No one in the city cared or knew a single thing about the Argos.
Earlier in the year I casually asked a friend who I knew was a huge NFL fan and had followed the Argos all throughout the late 80’s and 90’s what they thought of Chad Owens. Their response was “Who the hell is Chad Owens?” Never mind the fact that Owens was in the midst of a banner year that would finish with him winning the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award. The average Torontonian had no clue who he was. I asked how he didn’t know who the best player in the CFL was and he said no one he knew had followed the CFL in years, they found solace in the perceived “better” league, the NFL. Then later on in the year when the Grey Cup rolled around, he was suddenly an Argos fan again. That’s good and bad news for the fate of the CFL in Toronto. The good news is that the excitement surrounding the Cup had clearly attracted fans. The bad news is that unless the league can create that excitement every game, the fairweather fans are going to disappear again.
The festivities surrounding the Grey Cup were great for the game, the league, and the city of Toronto. If only for a couple of weeks, the city saw the same excitement and fan support that the Argos saw in the 80’s. While the team can bask in the glory of being champions, they also need to take this opportunity to build off of their success. The CFL is in no way saved in Toronto. There is plenty of work to be done, starting with keeping the energy surrounding the team and bringing it into the next season. I am unconvinced that the league can survive in Toronto, especially if the long rumoured Toronto NFL team actually becomes a reality. However, this is a step in the right direction for the league and it’s up to them to keep the CFL and the Argos relevant in Toronto.
*I also had to write an article. This is take one of that.