For Toronto Argonauts superfan Lori Bursey, it was a case of love at first sight.
Attending her first Argos football game at the age of 12 at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium, she was instantly hooked. However, it wasn’t so much the on-field action that had her weak at the knees, but the personalities of the players off it.
Post-game autograph sessions with former defensive back Wayne Allison eventually led to a firm friendship, one that was solidified in her role as president of the Friends of the Argonauts, the team’s official fan club.
“He was just the friendliest guy and that’s what really hooked me into football: just meeting all of these people who could be your next-door neighbour,” she says of the 1970s-era Canadian Football League player, who died tragically in a 2005 car accident.
Since then, Ms. Bursey, a business consultant for corporate learning and development at Toronto’s Seneca College, estimates she has missed only 10 home games due to business travel. However, even when on the road she makes time to listen over the radio, and once woke up at 4 a.m. in Stockholm to tune into a game despite a looming 7 a.m. work meeting.
Over the years, those closest to Ms. Bursey have learned that her Argo fanaticism always comes first.
“They schedule nothing if there is an Argo game on,” she says, comparing herself to the lead character in the movie Fever Pitch, a film adaptation of author Nick Hornby’s book of the same title, which describes his obsession with the English soccer club Arsenal.
“I never ever miss [one] so they look at the Argo schedule before they plan any dinners, birthday celebrations, anything. And that includes away games; I go to as many away games as I can.”
Much like Mr. Hornby’s refusal to change his shirt in the midst of a winning streak, Ms. Bursey has her own set of superstitions, as well as a shirt obsession, with more than 30 Argo jerseys. “I have enough jerseys to set up my own store.”
Her main superstition is refusing to read the newspapers on game days, preferring to keep an open mind about what is about to unfold and not falling prey to any “preconceived notions” that might be thrown her way by sports reporters.
For the Scarborough, Ont., native, attending Argo games is a family affair, as both her sister and 86-year-old mother are also season-ticket holders at Toronto’s BMO Field. That’s where the Argos will hold their 146th home opener this Saturday against the Calgary Stampeders. They began the season last Saturday with a 27-19 loss in Saskatchewan against the Roughriders.
While Ms. Bursey has seats in the main stand, Ms. Bursey’s mother, Lumi Isozaki, picked up slightly cheaper season tickets in the south end zone five years ago, where she wears her Argos shirt proudly, her daughter says. After the game, the pair will venture into nearby Liberty Village along with other fans to recap the action.
“It’s always an adventure,” Ms. Bursey says. “I don’t just go to the game and come home; it’s an all-day event so we’ll meet for breakfast or lunch, depending on when the game is and then we always go out for some adult beverages after the game, win or lose.”
The move to BMO Field from Rogers Centre two years ago brought with it a certain amount of sadness for Ms. Bursey, who is nicknamed “Dome Chick” by some Edmonton friends for her dislike of inclement weather. But two seasons and one championship following the move, she has yet to experience a rain day at BMO.
Her fear of the elements is well-founded, however. At her first Grey Cup, in Winnipeg in 1991, she says the temperature was minus 28.
“So there I am, a Toronto girl wearing my Toronto boots, and by halftime I considered leaving. My team was in the Grey Cup, but I was so cold. I was just miserable and upset,” she says.
After trying to warm her feet under a washroom hand dryer at halftime, a couple of local hot dog vendors took pity on the Grey Cup newbie, and showed her how to ward off the cold with alternate layers of socks and plastic bags.
This year she will be attending her 27th consecutive Grey Cup, to be held in Edmonton this November, and while the mercury will likely be plunging to the depths once again, Ms. Bursey says she would never again consider bailing on her team.
“Never. Never, never,” she says. “I figure if they can play in it, then I can sit in it and support them.”
That support spills over to her home in Toronto, too. While she long ago gave up on the idea of getting single items autographed by players, she fills every inch of her spare room with collectibles, football helmets, Argos bedding and other paraphernalia dedicated to one of the loves of her life.
She also has an Argo-themed stained glass window that sits at her front door. While many in her neighbourhood know of her passion for the Argos, it has proved a boon for enterprising children on the last day of October.
“When people come around at Halloween, the kids will yell ‘Argos’ and then they get extra treats,” she says. “Any kid who yells ’Argos’, they get five times as much as any other kid.”
Her position as president of the Argos fan club – a role she has held since 1992 – has given her unprecedented access to her favourite sports team, and two favourite all-time members of the franchise, Michael “Pinball” Clemons and Derrell “Mookie” Mitchell.
Ultimately, though, Ms. Bursey cherishes the connections she’s made following her favourite team through meeting thousands of fellow CFL die-hards from Vancouver to the Maritimes.
“I’ve been able to develop some wonderful friendships and relationships with people all across Canada and we don’t talk just during the season, it’s gotten to the point where we talk all year long,” she says. “Right from coast to coast, it’s been an enriching experience to me.”