I attended events on two days, Saturday and Sunday. My weekend kicked off by going to Nathan Phillips Square for the pancake breakfast. A pancake and sausage round was given to everyone in line (and a cool paper cowboy hat, that I wore with no hesitation). It was exactly what you'd expect, but it was still good.
After that I headed down to the Royal York to attend Mark Cohon's Fan State of the League address. It was an hour and a half sit down with the commish, hosted by Rod Black. The place was packed and Cohon said that this was the most well-attended of his four Fan State of the League addresses. For the most part, Cohon seemed to have fun and the questions were mostly good – save one really odd one about keeping the footballs at a certain temperature – and Tom Higgins, the head of officiating, even came up to answer a question about the refs (and he made a comment that will definitely come back to bit him in the ass today, at least from my perspective). I had a question to Cohon about new media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, etc.) but didn't get to ask it. This might have been my favourite part of the weekend because this was the one thing that was most hardcore football thing there. The rest of the stuff was fun, but it was more geared towards the casual fan or families, whereas Cohon's powwow with fans was about the nitty gritty of the CFL.
After that finished, I went to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to see the Scotiabank Fan Zone. This wasn't bad, but it was very obviously set up for families. That doesn't bother me, but it wasn't football-y enough for me. I checked out all three floors and the Hall of Fame memorabilia was probably the coolest stuff I saw. The stuff in and around the convention centre would have been great if you had little kids, and that is exactly what I saw there Saturday afternoon.
I didn't, as originally planned, hit any of the team parties. As much as I hate to admit it, those things just aren't my bag. I'm not much of a party guy. I don't drink, I don't really like the style of music that these places play and I'm not much of a mingler. It just isn't my thing. From what I've read and heard, people who went had a blast, which is great.
So Saturday ended and Sunday arrived, which meant heading to my old stomping grounds at the University of Toronto to take part in the Grey Cup Fan March. While I was milling around before things got started, I was interviewed by CityTV. I was asked a couple of questions and answered them as best I could. I was caught off guard and maybe stammered a bit (I was literally tapped on the shoulder and interviewed live on TV), but being interviewed on TV was pretty cool. I also got a chance to get a picture taken with Steve Paikin (as you can see above). Everyone knows him mostly from moderating the federal leaders' debates, but I found out something that people might not know (or at least I didn't): he's a huge Tiger-Cat fan. He was wearing a blank gold jersey underneath his jacket (again, as you can see) and opened it up to take a picture with me. He chatted with me for a couple of minutes and he couldn't be a cooler dude.
Then it was the march itself. When I saw how many people were there, I didn't think there was any chance I'd get to hold the Cup and I was OK with that. It was still cool to be involved in something so massive (there were a ton of people there). But around the ROM, a man approached me and handed me a wristband to go hold the Cup. That was where the fun of the march ended for about an hour. The march was very unorganized and getting to the front to to hold the Cup was ridiculous. You needed a wristband in order to hold it and they didn't make that well known, so people were pushing to the front without wristbands in the hope of carrying the Cup. And you were trampled, pushed out of the way and you basically needed to be a jerk in order to actually get your turn. Lucky for me, I am a jerk and got to the front to hold the Cup. Another friend of mine got to as well, while the two other people I was with were constantly thrown around by security and other fans. It was a complete mess, and as cool as it was to carry the Cup down Yonge Street, I wouldn't do it again. The people at Sun Life (who organized the event) really need to do a better job in future years of organizing things. It was a mess and took a lot of fun out of actually getting to carry the Cup. Not all the fun of course, but the abuse I took and knowing the abuse that others took really put a downer on what should have been one of the coolest things I will ever get to do.
And that was it for the festivities for me and I headed to the game. And boy was it a let down. I was bummed that Calgary didn't win, didn't like that Toronto did, but I was disappointed more by the sheer dullness of the game itself. It was sloppy football all around and it looked like neither team wanted to actually win the thing. Calgary's play calling left a lot to be desired, and the Argos continued their year-long campaign to be considered the biggest goons in the CFL. Seeing the biggest buffoon of them all, Adriano Belli, get kicked out of what is hopefully his final CFL game was a highlight for me. I have made it no secret that I despise everything about Belli and think he is everything that is wrong with professional sports. He gives the league and the sport a bad name and no one deserves the ignominy of being ejected from the Grey Cup more than that a-hole.
But my biggest beef was with the absolutely terrible job the officiating crew did. I made mention of a quote from Tom Higgins at the Fan State of the League address and how it would bit him later. This is that later. During a question about how bad the officials in the CFL are, Higgins said that the crew that would do the Grey Cup were "the best of the best." If Sunday's crew is the best, I'd hate to see the worst. Not watching at home makes it hard for me to comment on certain penalties, like a facemask call on a dump-off pass to Chad Kackert in the first half that I didn't see (the facemask was obviously not on the guy who tackled Kackert), but there were two that will stick out in my mind as horrendously botched calls, both of which benefited the Argos. The first was a non-roughing call on the big Nik Lewis catch and run. Lewis was tackled by his neck and had his helmet ripped off his head, yet no call was made. Later in the game, a similar tackle took place on Jon Cornish and the refs did call it. I am fine with mistakes, but inconsistency has always bothered me. Usually, it is game to game, but this was within one game. Either they missed the first one or incorrectly called the second one, but it is clear that they did not get both calls right and that is something I cannot stand.
The second missed call still boggles my mind almost a day later, and that was the controversial Dontrelle Inman catch. Inman caught the ball and landed at the one-yard line. Toronto challenged that he crossed the goal line before being down, but the call was upheld. The problem with that call, however, is that Inman didn't catch the ball. He never had control of the ball and when he hit the ground, the ball came loose and landed on the turf. That's an incomplete pass and I don't understand how it could be ruled any other way, yet it was. The officials in this game should be embarrassed by their performance and if I hear Tom Higgins ever say that the CFL's refs are the best in North America, I will find a way to smack him in the mouth.
And because I was so disgusted by the product on the field, both by the two teams and by the officials, I did something I had never done before: I left the game early. I walked out of the
And I'd be remiss if I didn't touch on maybe the worst part of the whole weekend (and I think this will be universal): Burton Cummings' rendition of O Canada. That was probably the worst national anthem I have ever heard (yes, worse than the O Tannenbaum guy). He held the end of the French part way too long and he messed up the words! "We stand on guard, we stand on guard for thee"? No, you egotistical idiot, those aren't the words. He forgot "God keep our land, glorious and free" as well. The crowd was singing along and that is not the time to decide to take liberties with the anthem. Check that, there is never a time to take liberties with the anthem. Sing it the way it is supposed to be sung. Burton Cummings was a complete disgrace last night.
So while there were both highs and lows, I think my first Grey Cup experience was an overall enjoyable one. I think Toronto did an excellent job of hosting the event and if the Argos winning sparks new interest in the CFL in that city, then I guess that's a good thing. If the game had been better, I'd likely not be as negative as I am likely coming off, but it was a fun weekend and one that I will happily do again when the Cup is played in these parts (Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, maybe even Montreal) in the future.