Editor’s Note: Arash Madani is a reporter and commentator for Rogers Sportsnet. He is a weekly columnist for 3DownNation.
The Grey Cup is coming to Toronto next month. If you’d like tickets, Section 205 is available.
No, no, not a seat. The section.
Prefer the other side at BMO Field? No problem. About five rows are sold in Section 221. There are 20 other empty rows to pick from that are up for grabs there.
Want to be closer to the scoreboard? Over in Section 225, there are about as many vacant rows as there are pairs sold. You can shell out over a grand to take yourself and a friend.
For over $400 apiece, you give yourself the right to sit in the top row of the stadium around the 10-yard-line. Surrounded by… nobody.
Meanwhile, for under $250 down the street, you can get a 200-level ticket into an elimination game for the American League Championship Series – should Toronto get that far. The fate of the Blue Jays may be decided tonight. Those of the Argonauts pretty much have: don’t expect to see them anywhere near the 104th Grey Cup on Nov. 27.
The Titanic hit the iceberg Sunday afternoon, and Scott Milanovich knows it. Not just because his Argos were humiliated 38-11 in Montreal, but because the boat his men occupy is now taking on more water than they can handle.
On the radio broadcast, nearing the end of the drubbing, Argos analyst Jeff Johnson pointed to a real lack of leadership on the defensive side of the football.
Milanovich was as direct. “We’ve got some good football players here that I’m not sure are really committed to what we need to have take place,” the head coach told reporters after the four touchdown loss at Molson Stadium.
That’s where they are now, in finger-pointing mode with four games left.
“It’s little things like being late, not showing up prepared, screwing around and that’s where we’re at,” Milanovich said on Sunday.
So the next day, pink slips were issued. A team that can’t score points sent away four receivers, including two starters. Kevin Elliott, released. The Argos touchdown leader, Tori Gurley, now gone. So is Phil Bates. A Winnipeg source said Vidal Hazelton was dangled in trade talks by Toronto, but there was no interest. So he was released too. ‘The Big Three’ are now ‘The Street Three.’
After, in a team-issued press release, Milanovich was quoted as saying, “We remain committed to winning this year.”
Winning what, exactly?
Gurley and Hazelton were two of the Argos featured players in pre-season promotional shoots for the new adidas uniforms. Handpicked by the team. How far they’ve fallen, and fast. They weren’t making much money. Perhaps a raise was in their future, but if the plan is to win now, then what is the urgency to cut them loose with a month to go in the season?
Taylor Stubblefield is the gentleman that is the receivers’ coach of the Argonauts. What “screwing around” could have been going on in that meeting room, once the players presumably decided to show up for work, for it to regress this quickly?
Drew Willy, of course, will be safe. Nor should there be any reason for him not to be. But the panic to bring him in — at the cost of two draft picks, including a first rounder — speaks to how quickly the ship is sinking. Willy would have been released by Winnipeg in January because of the bonuses due in a cap hit that occupies $400,000. Now, the quarterback holds the leverage in case his new team approaches him about a re-structuring, er pay cut, in the new year. It was pure desperation that led to the September trade with Winnipeg, one brought about by making the wrong decision on the quarterback. Twice.
The Argos once had Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris, of course. Allowed both to reach free agency, and inexplicably didn’t make it a priority to lock them up long before their walk year. The Argos stayed committed to Ricky Ray, who has seemingly spent as much time on injured reserve as the active roster the past three seasons. They hoped that with Ray heathy in 2016 — wishful thinking — and their receiving corps intact, they’d be back in the post-season this November.
Which brings us to now, and 5-9, and the four big names sent out of town and a quarterback depth chart as dysfunctional as Stubblefield’s empty classroom. While Ray is pretty well cleared to play, he won’t for now. Some coaches in the league believe Ricky is done, no longer firing with the zip he once had, nor the requisite arm strength to be a legitimate threat anymore (if that’s true, that’s an unfortunate way to go out. Ray was the class of the league for so long, but Father Time remains undefeated). Then there’s Logan Kilgore, who has been all but written off, and Dan LeFevour is sticking around only as insurance if something goes wrong with Willy. He’s only starting because the Argos have no choice but to go with him to try and validate the trade, to try and evaluate what they have with the latest hope.
Even Milanovich admitted last week that ideally his new quarterback would get the chance to sit and learn “for four weeks.” Yet, by necessity, into the fire he went, and, well, 38-11 and 5-9 and then questions of manhood were circulated publicly.
“If you have guys with great character, you hold it together,” Milanovich said Sunday. “There are a couple of guys here and there who are maybe not on board as much as they need to be.”
Bring out the duct tape and the gum, four receivers have been cut.
This is not just a personnel issue anymore. Giving up what the Argos did in the trade to bring in Willy was a terrible move, and using the justification – that with hosting a Grey Cup comes a responsibility to try and get there – spoke to the desperation.
Then you look at the terrifying championship game ticket sales, and more blue dots on the ticket manifest than a Viagra convention. There’s the dozens and dozens of empty rows and entire sections available, and zero momentum building in the region leading into the title game, and it doesn’t get any better or easier.
The organization is expected to roll out television and radio advertisements to promote the Grey Cup after Thanksgiving. To try and sell overpriced seats in a stadium that can house around 34,000 and still is some $5 million (and over 10,000 tickets) short of sales targets. They’ll do so, knowing full well that they can’t even market the hope of their team getting there.
“We think for Toronto pricing, that’s just about right,” Sara Moore, the Argos senior VP of business operations, claimed to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun back in July, of why they’re charging what they are for Grey Cup tickets.
“It’s a championship game,” Moore also told Simmons. “I’m not worried about (sales) at all.”
“I have a deep understanding of how to bring people back (to the Argos) and get new people in,” Mike Copeland, the team’s president, told Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette.
The East Division is such a mess: Ottawa’s offensive line is in tatters with injuries; Collaros is banged up on a Hamilton team that’s sliding; Montreal, don’t be fooled, still is 4-9 and without a quarterback. And then there’s Toronto.
All signs are pointing toward the Eskimos competing in the East playoffs. Should Edmonton meet Calgary or B.C. on a cold November night along the lake, how would you sell that game to a city that barely acknowledges the CFL’s existence? A former Argos player sent a text message saying the 2016 Grey Cup has become the Bills in Toronto series all over again. We all know how that ended.
A crossover team playing for a championship probably means Section 205 won’t be the only sparsely attended one on Grey Cup Sunday. May need to re-think the level of worry, from top to bottom, as the Boatmen’s ship continues to sink – on and off the field.
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