Torontonians turned out in the thousands Tuesday night, packing downtown Yonge-Dundas Square for an uncommon sight in the Big Smoke: a football pep rally.
In a city with a seemingly endless number of distractions – not to mention a certain hockey team – competing for fans’ attention over the years, it’s possible sometimes to forget that the resident footballers are the continent’s oldest sports franchise.
But the fans who crowded into the city’s busiest shopping district on a mild autumn evening to cheer on the Argonauts, five days before the Boatmen play Calgary at the Rogers Centre for the Grey Cup, certainly hadn’t forgotten.
And as each player took the stage, their cheers grew louder and louder, culminating in a chant of “We want the Cup!” Bathed in blue light, they banged noise sticks and whooped as the Argos roster crowded the stage and danced to a group of high school drummers.
“Our dreams are about to come true!” shouted Chad Owens, the kick returner and wide receiver who broke the league’s single-season record for all-purpose yards three weeks ago. “This Sunday, we need that stadium to be rocking. Every single play, we need you to bring it.”
Other players acknowledged the team’s ups and downs in recent years – as well as fans’ niche status in a city that often sees only hockey.
“I don’t think our fans get the attention they deserve,” said head coach Scott Milanovich. “I expect that stadium to be packed on Sunday.”
Kicker Noel Prefontaine, sidelined due to hip surgery earlier this year, gave credit to general manager Jim Barker for putting together a winning team with moves such as acquiring quarterback Ricky Ray.
“Toronto’s my home, I love this city,” said the California native, to a roar of approval from the crowd. “I hustled back from injury so I could be on this team.”
Football fans came from across the GTA and, in some cases, halfway across the country to take part.
Decked out in Saskatchewan Roughriders gear, Patricia Morris, 75, and her family acknowledged that Toronto’s fans had done well, even compared to the notoriously passionate football devotees in Big Sky Country.
Ms. Morris certainly knows: she and her sister, Ethel Mongovius, travel to the Grey Cup every year.
“We see family, friends. We see the same people every year,” Ms. Morris said, referring to the hard-core fans that follow the game from city to city. “It’s always a good game, it’s always a party.”
Andrew Dundas didn’t have nearly as far to travel – the rally was walking distance from his work at a downtown investment bank – but that same national camaraderie is part of what keeps the Argo season ticket holder coming back, game after game.
“It’s the only league that’s all-Canadian,” he said. “There aren’t many institutions that bring people in from everywhere in Canada.”