The Argos are in Hamilton Saturday with as much at stake for a game in August as you'll find. That is to say, not much. Third place in the east for the winner, with still more than half a season to go. Wow.
But there could be much more going on here, and as any seasoned Toronto observer knows it's never as bad as it looks. Usually, it's worse. No one I'm aware of has quite grasped how truly awful, how unprecentedly putrid this calendar year is starting to look like for Toronto's pro sports outfits. The Leafs and the Raptors missed the playoffs. The Blue Jays' recent nosedive and ongoing pitching woes have removed them from serious playoff contender status. And now it's the Argos' turn, finding that pinning your hopes and offence on a grandfather quarterback, however sterling, is chancey going.
|TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO|
|Marching unknowingly into a new era in Toronto sports.|
Here's the thing. Should the Jays and the Argos go on to miss the playoffs it will mark the first time EVER that Toronto is denied so much as a sniff those glorious horn-honking, gridlocking moments on Yonge Street that follow a Game 1 first-round victory -- at least since 1967, which is to me, anyway, the demarcation line between old world and new in Toronto sports, not to mention the history of this country.
They've come close to this across-the-board futility. When the Leafs missed back to back in '97 and '98 and the Raptors were soiling diapers, the Argos were winning the Grey Cup then climbing gently off Mount Flutie with a playoff appearance. When the Leafs missed the playoffs in '89, '91 and '92, the Blow Jays were progressing from matching AL bridesmaids in those first two years, to World Series champions in the last.
The Leafs, being this town's leading losing light, have missed the playoffs 12 times since 1967. But each time, someone's always bailed out Tronna, thus forestalling a total outbreak of cross-Canada schadenfreude. Here's each one of those years since that glorious day when our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers (and by now, maybe even a few great-grandmas and dads) were watching a Stanley Cup parade:
1968. Argos lose eastern final.
1970. Argos lose eastern semi.
1973. Argos lose eastern semi.
1982. Argos lose Grey Cup final. Jays miss playoffs.
1984. Argos lose Eastern final. Jays miss playoffs.
1985. Jays win AL East, lose American League Championship Series. Argos miss playoffs.
1989. Jays lose ALCS. Argos miss playoffs.
1991. Argos win Grey Cup. Jays lose ALCS (again). (Still, a banner year, eh? At least till 2002, when all four teams actually made the postseason).
1992. Jays win World Series. Argos miss playoffs.
1997. Argos win Grey Cup for second straight year. Jays miss playoffs. Raptors miss playoffs.
1998. Argos lose eastern semi. Jays, Raptors miss playoffs. In terms of ineptness, it's perhaps the worst year, until we move forward to...
2006. Leafs and Raptors miss playoffs. Jays, Argos still to come.
Of more importance than the question of whether the Jays, or more likely the Argos, can pull themselves out of this mess -- how hard can it be to finish in the top three of a four-team division? -- is the notion of who will be best equipped for next year, when FC Toronto join the group.
I know. I forgot the Rock, and the Lynx, and any one else I missed? One day back, and it's just a ray of sunshine eh? Looking ahead to 2007, who's got the best shot to rescue Toronto from sports purgatory? I still think the Jays are closer to that than anyone else, and the Leafs farthest away.
Related (a week old, but I've been away, remember?): Sporting News ranks Toronto No. 41 among North America's best sports cities for 2006.