Argos in Grey Cup isn’t the best thing for CFL, also isn’t the worst

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray (15) and teammates celebrate their win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in CFL East Division final (Frank Gunn/CP)

Everything is a referendum on something for the Toronto Argonauts, the city and maybe the entire country’s most put-upon franchise.

So be prepared in the lead-up to Sunday’s Grey Cup that this is a chance for the Argos to “re-establish themselves” in the city’s pecking order, or, conversely, that it’s a shame for the CFL that the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their thousands of fans won’t have a vested interest in the game’s outcome.

It’s either the best or worst thing that could possibly happen to the CFL, when in reality it’s neither.

In any other league or with any other team the focus would be on the remarkable job done by general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman, who had a couple of weeks lead-in to put together a staff, a year after what can only be described as a still-born start to life at BMO Field.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie told Stephen Brunt and myself that he believes the Argonauts are at the beginning of a long-term climb to being what he called a “cool” franchise and that no one single event or outcome will yet make it permanent, any more than winning the Centennial Grey Cup at the Rogers Centre moved the needle on where the Argos are within the city’s pecking order.

That’s realistic.

As Ambrosie pointed out, the Argos have three well-defined foundation stones in place: BMO Field, the best-funded, most stable ownership the franchise has had in many years, and a smart front office and head coach that knows the league and the game. Those are irrefutable. The fourth foundation stone is the overall experience.

“And,” Ambrosie said, using the results of the team’s own exit surveys, “they’ve shown that they’re in the beginning of an experiential foundation.”

Those are modest, common-sense sentiments. It doesn’t mean that the background noise will be any different than it’s been for the past decade or so: NFL snobs will roll their eyes and check their morals at the door to wallow in the usual ‘Murican sewage every Sunday.

Toronto FC supporters will jealously remind one and all that the Argos are interlopers at what should rightly be regarded as Canada’s national soccer stadium (and, yes, I side with them).

And Raptors and Blue Jays fans will remind one and all that it’s one thing to beat a team from New York or Los Angeles to win a title and another to beat a team from Regina.

As for Maple Leafs fans, well, most of them don’t care.

Argos fans will call everybody snobs, monitor social media and call-in shows for evidence of anti-Argos bias and get all worked up when folks point out that this city hasn’t had a team win a major title since the 1993 World Series. Which it hasn’t.

None of which should matter, of course. If you’re an Argos fan and have bought tickets year after year? Well done, and enjoy the ride this week. If you’re a band-wagoner, hop on board. As for the rest of us, all we’ve done lately is talk about how pro sports has never been healthier in Toronto and is, more than ever, the sports capital of this country.

That being the case, there’s plenty of room for the Argos without anybody having anything taken away from them.

Quibbles and Bits

• Happy ‘Salute-Gate’ Day! Three years ago tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 and set tongues wagging when they failed to acknowledge Air Canada Centre fans in the usual manner by skating to centre ice and raising their sticks in salute.

They’ll go for their seventh consecutive win tonight against the Arizona Coyotes, the detritus of the disastrous and revealing Brian Burke-Dave Nonis era just a bad memory.

• Odd season for the Chicago Blackhawks. They’re still the team of Toews, Kane and Keith yet whose goals win games? Brandon Saad has five game-winners, Artem Anisimov has four and Lance Bouma has one. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no other team has two players who have scored at least four game-winning goals this season.

Not sure what this says but it doesn’t seem like a particularly good thing.

• The Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving are taking a run at serious history. A win Monday night in Dallas against the Mavericks will tie the franchise’s fourth-longest winning streak at 16 games set between Dec. 19, 1964 and Jan. 22, 1965 by the Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Sam Jones Celtics.

Boston’s record is 19, set between Nov. 15 and Dec. 23, 2008 by the 62-win team that was led by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

If you’re interested, the longest winning streak by a Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish group was 18, set between Feb. 24 and March 26, 1982.

Irving has a franchise-record 230 points in his first 11 games with the team.

• Big weekend for Lonzo Ball: Daddy LaVar gets called out by President Donald Trump for basically pooh-poohing Trump’s assertion that it was his influence that helped Ball’s other son, LiAngelo, and a couple of UCLA teammates get off from a shoplifting rap in China – Trump’s the only person who could get me to side with LaVar Ball just on principle – and Lonzo himself gets skewered for walking away from an on-court altercation between teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the Phoenix SunsTyler Ulis, while everybody else rushes in for one of those tiresome bouts of pushing and gesturing.

“No point getting teed up,” was Lonzo’s response, which, I don’t know, seems like pretty sound thinking.

Then, on Sunday, he gets his second triple-double in his 17th career game, sixth-fastest in NBA history behind Oscar Robertson (three), Ben Simmons (nine), Hambone Williams (10), Magic Johnson (12) and Connie Hawkins (14).

The more I read about Lonzo, the more I think he has the maturity to ride out the nonsense. But, dude, that shot.

• If the New Orleans Saints continue to roll this season, credit head coach Sean Payton and the front office for knowing their team and for some magnificent addition by subtraction.

Since Adrian Peterson was dispatched in mid-October, the tandem backfield of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara has been breathtaking with Ingram leading the NFL with eight touchdowns in 36 days and is averaging 120.7 yards per game, since the deal, and Kamara logging 112.8 yards per game – putting the pair on pace for 3,082 yards from scrimmage.

The Cleveland Browns’ 1985 backfield of Ernest Byner and Kevin Mack is the only backfield in NFL history to have two backs roll up at least 1,400 yards from scrimmage.

The Endgame

Toronto Raptors fans were able to see one of the NBA’s ‘unicorns’ Friday night.

Actually, what they saw was one of those multi-faceted, small-guy-skill-in-big-guy offensive performers that every team is seeking – the New York Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis – shackled by resolute team defence.

At any rate, Joel Sherman’s article in the New York Post about how Major League Baseball will have its own version of the unicorn once two-way Japanese free-agent Shohei Otani signs makes me skeptical that this is the next step in the evolution of the modern-day baseball player.

True, the Tampa Bay Rays let this year’s first-round pick, Brendan McKay, do both in the short-season New York-Penn League, and when Alex Anthopoulos joined the Atlanta Braves as executive vice-president and general manager this week he said that one of the things he learned in his two years as a senior advisor with the Los Angeles Dodgers was the value of players such as Chris Taylor – this at a time when there’s less and less delineation between starter and reliever in the post-season and when unconventional wisdom rules the day.

Otani is a weapon of mass destruction and as such is a challenge for baseball right now – witness the issues surrounding the logistics of his move to North America (the Major League Baseball Players Association has set Monday as a deadline for signing off on his move) – and will be when it comes to attaching a comparative, dollar value to his skill set.

But a trailblazer? Nah. Given the way pitchers are developed as youngsters, my guess is Otani will be an outlier for a long time. He’ll be a true unicorn.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN

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