|Moncton CFL game creating excitement
Toronto Argonauts' Michael Clemons hopes Touchdown Atlantic will be the start of something bigger
By Neil Hodge
When Michael (Pinball) Clemons speaks, people listen.
He's the long-time face of the Toronto Argonauts, a former star running back and one of the most popular figures in Canadian Football League history. With his fame and magnetic personality, people are drawn to him and his views are widely respected.
Clemons offers the CFL high praise for thinking outside the box with its decision to hold a regular season game in a non-traditional market. The Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos will clash on Sept. 26 in Moncton, the league's first regular season game ever in Atlantic Canada.
"It's a strange thing to say, but for me this is the CFL going home," said Clemons. "The league is 100 years old and when we think about the Grey Cup it's the biggest event that happens in our country on a yearly basis.
"The league is one of the most significant Canadian cultural institutions that unites our country. When I say the league is going home after 100 years I mean we're completing it because to be truly Canadian it has to represent all of who we are.
"The Atlantic provinces shouldn't simply have a favourite team from Quebec, Ontario or somewhere out west. The league needs to play games in the Atlantic region. I absolutely love the direction the league is taking in moving a regular season game to Moncton."
Toronto and Edmonton will make history together when they do battle in a 1 p.m. kickoff at the new Stade Moncton 2010 Stadium, which will have a 20,000 capacity for this game.
The CFL is releasing its 2010 regular season schedule today. The game in Moncton will surely draw plenty of national media attention because the league is venturing into new territory.
The game here will be officially known as Touchdown Atlantic, a name that fans chose in a contest organized by the Times & Transcript. There will be a mini Grey Cup festival atmosphere with a few days of community events around the game.
Information on tickets for the game will be announced in early March. Fans can register at CFL.ca/Moncton to receive the latest information when it becomes available.
Toronto, founded in 1873, is North America's oldest professional sports franchise and it has captured 15 Grey Cups. The Argonauts are looking to rebound after finishing at the bottom of the league at 3-15 last season.
Edmonton has been the most dominant team in the CFL's modern era, winning 13 Grey Cups since the club was founded in 1949. The Eskimos are coming off a 9-9 season and they're gearing up to host the 2010 Grey Cup.
"When you look at where this game falls on the schedule, it's an important time in the regular season," said Brent Scrimshaw, co-chairman of the host committee. "It's a game that could have playoff implications.
"Toronto is the home team for this game and I know they want to have the crowd behind them. The Spirit of Edmonton, the Eskimos booster club, has already been in contact and I know there will be a significant Edmonton presence here also."
The CFL will have nine teams when Ottawa hits the field in 2013.
Moncton is looking to host one or two regular season games per year for the next several years to build fan excitement throughout the Atlantic region. It may also help build corporate support and peak the interest of potential owners for a franchise here some day.
"I hope that some day we will have a team in the Atlantic provinces," said Clemons. "I see this game in Moncton as very important. My hope is that it's a first step, not a final step.
"I think 10 teams would be perfect for the league. The Atlantic provinces are an important part of who we are as a nation. I think this is completing the puzzle if we can have an Atlantic team some day."
Clemons established a dozen Toronto franchise records during his 12-year CFL career that ended in 2000. He set a pro football record for most career combined yards with 25,396.
He later took over as head coach of the Argonauts and compiled a career record of 68-55-1. He now has a front-office job as the club's vice-chairman.
What will the Argonauts and Eskimos think of coming to play a game in Moncton?
"It will be something fresh for them," said Clemons. "It will be exciting. The players will feel important because they'll know they're taking part in something special. The guys will walk on the field that day in Moncton knowing that they're making history."