“Don’t it all seem to go, but you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” – Various artists
Toronto is a great city, with a great group of hardcore sports fans that spend millions each year in supporting their four major franchises in hockey, baseball, basketball, and soccer.
The recent couple of decades, however, have been admittedly sour ones for fans of Toronto teams. Playoff appearances have been brief, management has seemed to fumble at almost every opportunity, and just when good things seem to begin taking shape, injuries, on field carelessness, or just straight terrible luck smack us across the face as if God’s mighty pimp hand had just kept us in line so that we may learn our place.
Being humbled by “a pimp named sports God” (or MLSE and Rogers, you decide) can leave a fan base pretty damn bitter if you ask me. Especially when we pay ludicrous amounts of cash to support these under-performing clubs, while there billionaire company owners cry poor. We’ve been down this road before, and I’m not going to beat a dead horse. Instead, I’m offering you all a way out!
What if I were to tell you there was a better way? That a good, humble, well-managed team, with a winning tradition that’s longer than any franchise in North America, is just waiting for you to say “yes” and leave that abusive relationship that “a pimp named sports God” has convinced you is the only way?
And what if I was to tell you that they are dying? That they are literally on life support and the only way they can survive and carry on their winning ways is with your love, nourishment, and support? What if there was a fifth element to consider?
That, ladies and gentlemen, would be the Toronto Argonauts, the only daddy you’ll ever need.
Now let’s get serious.
The Argo’s days in Toronto might be numbered now that BMO Field will no longer be a home for them, after the federal government recently backed out on funding to support MLSE in a multi-million dollar expansion to the primarily soccer stadium. Add that with a team that loses up to $6 million consistently every year in a seemingly disinterested market, and you have no way to successfully run a business. Winning doesn’t even help this team, which has almost as many league titles in the last 25 years than division titles from the rest of Toronto’s four major sports teams (Argos-5, rest of Toronto-6).
They are a proud and incredibly storied franchise, with a history spanning over 141 years, making them the oldest North American sports franchise to still have their original name. They are older than the oldest NFL franchise to do the same – the Green Bay Packers – by 36 years!
And as I said before, they also win a lot.
They have a CFL-record 16 Grey Cups in 22 appearances in the Cup’s 101 year history. That’s a success rate of 72.7%, giving them one of the best winning percentages in championship games of any professional club anywhere, in any sport.
When you have a winner like that right in front of you, and yet continually fixate on underperforming teams, the situation really does actually start resembling an abusive relationship. The nice guy desperately fights to get the girl’s attention to get her out of a life of misery and pain, only to find out the girl would rather be beaten to a pulp once a weekend, in order to wear that pretty dress her boyfriend bought her.
It’s a little dramatic, but I think you get the idea.
Say what you like about the CFL, how it’s only a 9-team league, and that numbers say they should be able to win like that over a century just by a law of averages. Consider this though, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the CFL’s model franchise in terms of revenue and fan support, have only won the grey cup four times in 15 appearances in their 104-year history, and suffered a championship drought that lasted 54 years from 1910 to 1964.
Even in the CFL, there are crappy boyfriends.
Meanwhile, the Argos have managed to win four times as many Cups. Unfortunately, however, the team has changed ownership eight times since 1991, and nobody has been able to turn a profit on the team in that time. But even more amazing thing is, in those 23 years, they have won six division titles and four Grey Cups, all while constantly under the threat of being kicked out by their tenant for lack of rent.
But why are they dying? Or as some city sports commentators have said, already dead? Why do they lose so much money? Why don’t fans come to the games?
Some of it really does have to do with losing to be fair, the team has also had more losing seasons than winning ones over the past two decades, including a couple 4-14 and 3-15 campaigns, so yeah there’s that.
Regardless, though, for every year they stink, there is another year where they are either in the Eastern Final or playing for the Grey Cup itself. How many other Toronto teams can say that to this generation of fans? Go look at the numbers yourself, it’s all there.
But I must digress, unlike 99% of sports, in the Toronto Argos’ situation, the numbers lie; no other team in history has won like this, and has been so forgotten by its own residents so abruptly.
At the moment, the team itself is run like its namesake, a tight, military ship. The players are approachable, friendly, and at least one of them can be seen every week through the season visiting sick kids, attending charity dinners and other community events throughout the GTA. Management headed by GM Jim Barker consistently finds a way to draft and sign great talent through free agency despite financial woes, and the team themselves get prime time TV coverage for all of their games through TSN and TSN 2.
What I’m trying to say is, this really is the only pro team in Toronto that has proven it deserves love, yet time and again, this is the team that gets none of it from Toronto sports fans.
Regardless of the excuses you hear from fans of football, most Torontonians simply feel they are too good for the CFL. As if our time having NBA, MLB, and NHL teams has made us beyond that of a simple Canadian sports city like the rest of the country.
Those are their opinions. I’ve heard plenty of them, and they are entitled to them. But I think that to deny the Argos because they are a part of a Canadian league is to deny a part of our city’s sports history, a proud one at that. One that has consistently delivered for a hard core group of fans that has actually had something to cheer for in the past 20 years alone, unlike 90% of the rest of a city that has taken an elitist attitude towards Canadian football.
That whole paragraph alone felt very wrong to type out, yet it is so very true. When you live in this city all of your life like I have, you really do feel at times like your living in an entirely separate country from the rest of Canada, and that’s not always a good thing.
Maybe we’ll realize the folly of our ways when the team has moved on to another location, or worse, gone permanently, much like the NFL exodus from Los Angeles.
So if the NFL doesn’t need the second largest city in the US, then maybe the CFL doesn’t need Canada’s biggest city. The CFL itself is in good financial condition, with 6 of its 8 teams turning a profit or breaking even last year (Ottawa has only rejoined the CFL this year).
The two losers? Toronto and Montréal, the two biggest cities in Canada.
But I feel the failure of the Argos will be best summed up like this, should it come to pass: Toronto sports fans don’t deserve a winning franchise for this generation of fans, because when we’ve had one for so long, we have no idea how to show and treat them with respect.
You don’t like it? Then by all means keep praying for that NFL team that’s going to London, England, before it ever comes here. Better yet, keep praying for that other Cup that another Toronto pro sports team hasn’t won since their league was smaller than the current CFL. For the record, the Argos have won six of their league’s Cups since the last time Stanley’s cup stopped by.
That number, unlike most of the Argos’ numbers, will never lie.