So what do we call this game, anyways?
The Toilet Bowl seems kinda cruel. The Battle of the Mistakes by the Lake isn’t much better. Fight for the First Overall Pick doesn’t really apply either. Guess we’ll just stick with the 401 Bowl. It’s not the sexiest name for a divisional battle, but the play of these teams in 2018 has been anything but sexy.
The Montreal Alouettes play their second to last road game of the season as they face the Toronto Argonauts for the first game of a home and home series. These teams faced off earlier in the year, with the Alouettes squeaking out a win at Percival Molson Stadium. It was the first professional win for Alouettes quarterback Antonio Pipkin and finally gave Alouettes fans something to cheer about.
Pipkin will be in the lineup again on Saturday, but he’ll be a spectator as Johnny Manziel is once again given the opportunity to start for Montreal. Even though the Alouettes’ faint playoff hopes died a slow and painful death on Thanksgiving Day, this team wants to showcase their much heralded QB and allow him the chance to finally notch his first CFL victory.
Manziel is facing an Argonauts team that simply put, is in complete disarray. There was a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth from Alouettes Nation as former Alouette architects Jim Popp and Marc Trestman raised the Grey Cup high above their heads nearly one year ago.
Many fans felt cheated, as the Argos brought that winning football duo to the 6ix in 2017 while the Alouettes posted their worst record in the modern era. “If Popp and Trestman were still in Montreal, we’d never be this bad!”, many Als fans wailed.
Expectations were high as the Argos were acquired by the MLSE ownership group, which owns nearly every major Toronto sports team. With their full support and the beautiful BMO Field stadium to play in, this was supposed to be the year where the Argonauts would be THE standard-bearer of the CFL’s Eastern division.
Then June 23, 2018 happened.
As if getting spanked by the Calgary Stampeders during your home opener wasn’t bad enough, the Argos were dealt a serious blow to the quarterbacking ranks in that whitewash of a game. Ricky Ray, the man who led Toronto to Grey Cup wins in 2012 and 2017, took a nasty hit and had to be stretchered off the field with his illustrious career in major doubt.
Since then, the Argos had to rely on both the relatively unproven James Franklin and NFL journeyman McLeod Bethel-Thompson, with less than favourable results. Yes, the Argos managed a couple of wins but they have not looked like a team that was sporting championship rings just a couple of months earlier.
Whatever magic Popp and Trestman had in Montreal has fizzled out quick in Toronto. The biggest knock on Trestman is that his success as a coach is directly correlated to whomever his quarterback is. When he has legends like Anthony Calvillo and Ricky Ray behind centre, he comes across like a taller, skinnier version of Vince Lombardi.
But stick an average at best QB in there and Trestman’s wizardry just isn’t there. I shudder to think what it would be like if he had a young, mobile QB like Manziel or Vernon Adams at the helm. Despite being a so-called quarterback whisperer, Trestman was not able to produce a future QB in Montreal and at this rate, I don’t see it happening in Toronto either.
Alouettes fans were also upset when Calvillo left the Alouettes to supposedly take a break from football, only to join Trestman’s coaching staff as the quarterbacks coach. I wonder if those same fans have seen the work that AC has done thus far in Double Blue. Because when he was the QB coach here in Montreal, he was overwhelmed and not prepared to help coach the future signal-callers.
It would appear that very little has changed in that regards, even in a brand new city and with a real coach able to hide Calvillo’s shortcomings better than what the Alouettes’ coaches could ever hope to do. You can’t take away anything that AC has done on the field. But as a coach? I just don’t think it’s there at all. And that’s a damn shame.
Suffice to say, both of these franchises have taken it on the chin this season. Both on and off the field.
Perhaps if Ricky Ray was not injured, this Argos team would be a lot more competitive. Maybe if Montreal had their starting quarterback situation under control a lot sooner in the year, they too would be better. Instead of being standard-bearers for this league, all that these teams can be are cannon fodder for Twitter comedians and smarmy journalists, eager to kick someone when they are down.
Both of these once-proud franchises have a lot of work ahead of them in order to restore their former glory. A win on Saturday won’t solve any of their problems long-term, but perhaps a future star will have that breakout game that puts his name on everyone’s lips. Perhaps a victory will make one re-evaluate what they need in order to finish strong.
One CFL scribe suggested that this game could end in a tie, which would easily be the most Alouettes/Argonauts thing of 2018. All I am hoping for is a competitive, interesting game between two teams with nothing left to lose.
As always, be sure to follow along on Twitter for last-minute thoughts and analysis. The latest episode of the Alouettes FlightDeck podcast is online and also features more insight on this game. You can find it on iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher and Spotify.
It won’t be the prettiest game. But it’s football. That’s gotta be worth something, right?
Enjoy the game, regardless of where you watch it.