TORONTO -- Life is best lived when you're like a leaf riding the current of the river. You just flow forward, not worrying too much about controlling things that are beyond your control. You'll get to your destination eventually, and you can count on unexpected twists and cul de sacs along the way. It's really quite thrilling.
Welcome to my Grey Cup week.
It started at the Argos' Grey Cup pep rally at Young-Dundas Square. Two-thousand blue-clad screaming fans took in the event. There was genuine excitement spilling out onto the streets of one of the busiest intersections of downtown Toronto. Every major media outlet covered the event. Rod even asked me to report on all the happenings live on The Sportscage.
Mostly I was proud of Toronto. Though I've been writing at length about how well(ish) the Argos have been regarded lately, I was secretly hoping that my observations weren't just a case of me drinking a case of my own blue kool-aid.
On Thursday afternoon I ventured out to see for myself how the festivities were going. Got off the subway at Dundas Station and walked across the street into the Nissan Family Zone at Young-Dundas Square. A band was playing. There were a few activities for families. Over the course of 30 minutes or so, I saw a couple hundred people come, linger, and/or go. Of all the teams represented, Rider green seemed to be the predominant colour. The vibe was kind of 'Sunday Afternoon in the Park' meets 'Let's Skip Class and Do Nothing' - in other words, Vancouver most days of the week.
From there I cut through the Eaton's Centre and across to Nathan Philips Square to see what the mbna Adrenaline Zone was all about. The Toronto Sun Zip Line had people lined up for a 90 minute wait. A stage was set up but no one was playing. Soldiers from The Department of National Defense and the Canadian Forces set up an obstacle course (that no one was using). Soldiers occupied their time by tossing a football around. Gourmet food was available for $5/plate. Kid's were playing flag football on the Field Turf that was laid down where the ice rink would normally be. Rider green was everywhere.
On the way to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, I stopped in at Argo HQ to pick up some odds & ends. Some of the staff were bugging me about the Rider Jersey I was wearing. I pointed out that there was so much green outside, that downtown Toronto looked more like Regina on a Friday afternoon. They kind of half-smiled at that point, expressing a great deal of admiration for the fans of the Rider Nation.
My buddy and I stopped for a pint and fell into conversation after conversation with perfect strangers about football. Some of these strangers weren't even football fans. They were just Toronto peeps caught up in the wake, marveling at all the enthusiasm and camaraderie that was on display. They wanted in on all the fun that we were all having.
The party at the convention centre seemed to be about a day away from getting up to speed. Just as well. It gave us quicker access to the variety of activities available. I lost beer bets watching my buddy hoof footballs through uprights. We had our picture taken with the Grey Cup, and fell into more conversations with more perfect strangers.
Later, I ran into a trio of Baltimore Stallions fans. I saw 'em and walked right up to 'em as if I knew 'em my whole life. Turns out they haven't missed a single Grey Cup since 1994.
After that, I made my way to the Delta Chelsea for another appearance on Rod's show. What a thrill! I capped the evening drinking Saskatchewan coffees with Rod, Carm, Craig Smith, and Jeff Treftlin (of the 1989 Rider team). I didn't have much to contribute to the conversation mind you. I was too busy listening to their war stories.
On Friday morning I decided to put my media accreditation to work and took in the final Argo practice of the year from field level at Rogers Centre. Greg Marshall was there too and we fell into a conversation. He seems to have a skip in his step these days. He didn't know (or wouldn't say) what lays in his immediate future, but I genuinely hope the best for him. I never liked how things were handled last year.
I then turned to eves-dropping on a conversation the TSN guys were having with other reporters. They had just come from Mark Cohon's 'State of the League' address and marveled at how, for the first time in recent memory, no one asked about any gloomy league issues – mostly because there are none. In the year of the 100th Grey Cup, the CFL has never been stronger.
Indeed, the CFL, the Grey Cup and the Argos have been getting a ton of media attention this week. It's a feel-good story that everyone wants to get behind. I hope we'll see some traction with the story come training camp next year.
On Friday night I took in the second installment of the Molson Canadian House Concert Series. I was with a dancer/singer who's career had taken her all over North America. She'd never seen anything like a Grey Cup Festival before. I explained to her that you sort of know how to greet someone based on the colours you're both wearing – like geographical mood rings. With orange, you can expect a nice chilled out conversation. Green and gold means you send them a kind of faux pity, and shake your head. Blue and gold is a cold hard stare. Red, white and blue means you wait for them to speak first. If they mention anything about 2009, you get all 'Shea Emery' on 'em. If they're wearing Red and white, you say simply, "you and your horse can help yourself to a long hard suck on my arse." Once the greetings are out of the way, you can all get drunk together regardless of what colours you're all wearing.
I want to close with an exchange I had with an intern I've been working with all season long at Argo HQ. Of course he likes the team he works for, but he's never really understood what the rest of the league is about. He's an NFL guy. I watched him take a deep breath as he looked for his next words.
"This week made me a CFL fan," he said. "I was walking past a restaurant and saw eight guys sitting a table together getting drunk. There were like four different CFL jerseys at that table and none of 'em knew each other before sitting down. You don't see that anywhere except at Grey Cup. That's what this league is about."