They’re the defending Grey Cup champions getting ready to face their arch rivals at Rogers Centre on Sunday with a trip to this year’s CFL championship game on the line.
But the Toronto Argonauts aren’t getting top billing at their home stadium.
Hanging from the light posts around Rogers Centre are Buffalo Bills flags promoting their Dec. 1 game against the Atlanta Falcons. And that doesn’t sit well with Argos linebacker Marcus Ball.
“It is disheartening, somewhat of a bitter feeling,” Ball said following Friday’s practice at Rogers Centre. “I know that’s not true because I know the Double Blue will be strong, loud and proud here Sunday afternoon.
“But I mean, those guys (Bills) play here in December. It’s November and we play here Sunday.”
Toronto hosts the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East final Sunday, the first time since ‘86 the longtime rivals have met in a conference championship. But there were no visible advertisements for the game outside Rogers Centre and the only indication inside was a small sign in an elevator.
The Argos, owned by Hamilton businessman and Tory senator David Braley, are a tenant at Rogers Centre. The stadium is owned by Rogers Communications Inc., which also owns the facility’s prime tenant, the Toronto Blue Jays.
In 2007, Rogers paid the Bills US$78 million for the right to stage select Buffalo home games at Rogers Centre from 2008-’12. The deal was extended five more years in January.
Calls to Rogers officials weren’t immediately returned Friday.
“Why are there Buffalo Bills flags flying all around the Rodgers Centre?? This is our house. #EASTFINAL #Argos #Bigproblemwiththat,” the Argos star tweeted.
“It caught me off guard,” Ball said afterwards. “It’s something that caught my eye and it was (for) a moment.
“I haven’t had time to retweet or delete it so, yeah, you caught me.”
There’s no doubt in Ball’s mind Rogers Centre will be hopping Sunday afternoon, almost as feverishly as it was last November when more than 50,000 fans watched Toronto beat Calgary to win the historic 100th Grey Cup game.
“It’s going to be the closest thing to (last year’s) Grey Cup,” Ball said. “A lot of guys, new guys especially, are asking, ‘What was that experience like?’
“Everybody wants to know what it felt like and, hey, man, this is the closest thing you’ll get to it right here Sunday afternoon. Guys are excited, we really are.”
The Argos (11-7) finished atop the East Division ahead of the second-place Ticats (10-8), who won the season series 2-1. Hamilton advanced to the conference final with a 19-16 overtime semifinal win over Montreal last weekend in Guelph, Ont.
Toronto hasn’t played since a 23-20 home loss to Montreal on Nov. 1 in the regular-season finale for both teams that came with the playoff berths set. Argos head coach Scott Milanovich likes where his team is and expects his best players to be in top form Sunday.
“I don’t want to let the other guys off the hook but that’s what superstars are, when the lights are the brightest they step up and put a team on their back,” he said. “We’ll ask our veterans and the guys who’ve been there to show them the way.”
Since 1950, Toronto and Hamilton have met seven times in the East final, with the Argos winning four times. But the Ticats won the last meeting between the two en route to capturing the ‘86 Grey Cup.
Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris has played well against Toronto, completing 70-of-104 passes for 985 yards with five TDs and two interceptions. Ball said Burris, 38, who was the CFL’s passing leader this season, is the key to the Ticats’ offensive attack.
“Hank has definitely had success against us,” Ball said. “Our biggest challenge will be keeping him under control and not letting him get into his groove.
“When Hank gets into a groove, he beats anybody in the league . . . once he’s on, he’s on so that’s going to be the toughest thing, trying to keep him antsy in the pocket if we can.”
Toronto could be minus its top tackler as middle linebacker linebacker Robert McCune (shoulder) will be a game-time decision. The six-foot-one, 235-pound McCune had 99 tackles this season despite sitting out the game against Montreal.
“It’s not what we want, we definitely want Robert McCune there,” Ball said. “But if he’s not healthy enough to give us his best, we have guys capable of stepping in.”
As for Ball, he’s raring to go.
“I can’t wait, I can’t, man, I can’t,” he said. “We’re home, families are coming in, friends are going show up to the game.
“Even in the East final we’re playing those guys (Ticats) and it definitely adds a little juice to it.”Report Typo/Error