Subdued but in good spirits, Mayor Rob Ford was the picture of sportsmanship, taking news of his setback in stride as he faced reporters.
“It was just mistakes, just mistakes and penalties,” he said. “We were undisciplined.”
The venue was not city hall, and the subject was not a judge’s ruling that Mr. Ford be ejected from office over a conflict of interest. Instead, he was standing on the sidelines of the Rogers Centre, minutes after the high school football team he coaches, the Don Bosco Eagles, lost the Metro Bowl 28 to 14.
Toronto’s chief magistrate has spent much of the last four months leading parallel lives.
At city hall, he’s been forced on the defensive over accusations of ethics breaches, out-voted on his final attempt to scrap a light rail transit plan and criticized for everything from reading while driving on an expressway to using office staff to help run his football teams.
But on the gridiron, Mr. Ford has carried himself with confidence. Walking tall, barking out instructions to his players, he has clearly earned their respect, and they have followed his orders without hesitation.
And in football, he found the victories that have been in such short supply these recent months in his mayoralty, notching a perfect regular season, followed by a run to Greater Toronto’s championship game.
The Huron Heights Warriors, a team from the Toronto suburb of Newmarket, quickly scored two touchdowns in the first quarter, and followed both with conversions. By the game’s halfway mark, they had widened their lead to 21-0.
The Eagles made a spirited comeback in the second half, collecting 14 points and bringing cheering, shouting, whistling fans to their feet. But despite this raucous support, the team fell short, ending the game with a score of 28-14.
The contest turned into something of a pep rally for Mr. Ford. After the judge’s ruling came down Monday, his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, called on the mayor’s supporters to turn out in force.
Mohammed Hakimzadah, a Scarborough taxi driver who came wearing a pro-Ford t-shirt, said he knew little about the game, but wanted to back the embattled mayor.
“He’s counting all the small, small pennies at the city to save them for your family,” he said.
Teresa Dziobon was in the same boat. A fan of the mayor’s (“he’s a people person”), she said Mr. Ford’s transgression was not serious enough to warrant throwing him from office.
“It’s a human mistake – he should not be penalized for that,” she said.
Among Don Bosco’s regular fans, the support for Mr. Ford is clear. Rita Ola-Adigun, whose son, Lanre, plays defensive back, said Mr. Ford’s football program has helped mould her boy into a more disciplined young man.
“Rob Ford is an excellent coach. He teaches morality and respect. And he tells them that sport is not all, that they have to have education,” she said. “He’s a father figure to all of them.”
If he runs for office again, she said, he can count on her backing “101 per cent.”
Councillor Ford, meanwhile, greeted supporters, commenting that he remained convinced the mayor could run again in a by-election, if his ejection from office is upheld on appeal.
“Agree or disagree with Rob, this is about democracy,” he said. “Unelected officials don’t determine who the mayor will be, the people decide. We don’t live in Egypt.”
The intense show of appreciation was certainly a respite for the mayor from the crucible of city hall. So perhaps it was appropriate that his final words of the night were genial and conciliatory, free of the combativeness that has so often marked his political career.
“I’m so proud of these kids. Where they’ve come from, what they’ve done,” he said, before paying tribute to the Warriors. “It’s tough, as you saw it’s an emotional game and we’ll be back. Huron Heights was a better team today and we have to learn.”
He pledged to coach again next year – most of his team, he said, will be returning.
“We’ll be back,” he said. “We’ll be back next year.”