Ronald Flemons (R) and Kevin Huntley sandwiched Calgary's Kevin Glenn Sunday night.TORONTO—Home-field advantage. It's a term rarely used around the Toronto Argonauts, who tied Winnipeg for the CFL's worst home record (4-5) this season and were the only team with a better record on the road (5-4). The Rogers Centre's usually less than half-full, and official attendances this year have ranged from a low of 20,682 for their Week 2 game against Calgary to a high of just 27,283 in Week 19 against Hamilton (and many of those fans wore Ticats' black-and-gold). Even the Argos' first-round playoff win over Edmonton only saw 25,792 turn out. Everything was different Sunday, though; a crowd of 53,208 packed the Rogers Centre to capacity, and they proved to be not just rabid CFL fans, but rabid Argonauts fans. The Argos had a real home-field advantage for once, and some of their biggest on-field stars on the day, the defensive linemen, credited the off-field stars in the stands for their 35-22 victory.
Defensive lineman Ronald Flemons, once famed for his goal-line fumble but more recently known for his presence on an imposing Argonauts' line, had two tackles, one of Toronto's two sacks on the night and several pressures of Stampeders' quarterback Kevin Glenn. Glenn finished the night with just 14 completions on 27 attempts for just 222 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception, and much of that was thanks to the Toronto defensive line's consistent pressure on him. After the game, Flemons said it was the crowd that fired the defence up, though.
"It was amazing," he said. "It was so loud. It was so special. It was just awesome."
Flemons said the crowd put the Argos over the top and made life difficult for the Stampeders, who struggled offensively all night. Much of that was thanks to the Toronto defensive line, which played a major role in holding Stampeders' star running back Jon Cornish to 57 yards on 15 carries with a fumble. Flemons said they owed that success to the crowd, though.
"It was a great, great home-field advantage," Flemons said. "I'm sure Calgary felt like they were playing a road game. "
Defensive end Ricky Foley had Toronto's other sack and four tackles, and he was named the game's most valuable Canadian. Foley said the crowd led to the success he and the line enjoyed, though, as they were so loud while Calgary was on offence that they messed up the Stampeders' communication.
"That offence couldn't hear," Foley said. "It was too loud for them. They couldn't do a snap count, they had to go to a silent count."
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Foley said the support from the fans was present all evening.
"The crowd responded all game long for us."
He said the line and the linebackers worked together and just swarmed Cornish repeatedly.
"We gang-tackled him," Foley said. "We got penetration. We stopped his speed. ... There were so many guys just running to the ball. That was a testament to this team."
Foley was born in Courtice, about 60 kilometres east of Toronto, and he spent his college career in the city at York University. He almost didn't wind up playing professionally in Toronto, though, as he started his CFL career in B.C. and verbally agreed to return to the Lions in September 2010 following a NFL stint that didn't pan out. However, he had a change of heart and came to the Argos instead. He said watching B.C. win last year's Grey Cup while Toronto went 6-12 and missed the playoffs was difficult.
"Last year was tough," he said. "Last year was really tough, especially from a personal standpoint, seeing my old team win it."
Foley said his optimism was kindled this offseason when teammates started sending him texts about the Argonauts' splashy hires and acquisitions, though.
"We got Ricky Ray. We got Scott Milanovich. We got Chris Jones," he said. "Who can you get better than that?"
Foley said in retrospect, he's glad his NFL career didn't pan out and he was able to return home and win this historic Grey Cup.
"I'd trade all of that for the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto," he said. "The biggest memory of my lifetime, no matter what."
The Argos' on- and off-field struggles since their last Grey Cup in 2004 have been well-chronicled, as have the struggles of many of the city's other top sports teams. Foley said maybe that's starting to change, though, and this Grey Cup could be a turning point.
"When you get the fan support we got today, Toronto's becoming more and more of a championship city," he said.
Flemons said the Argos felt the pressure to bring a championship to Toronto, and the chance to do so on home soil pushed things to a new level.
"The city of Toronto's been waiting for a winner for a long time," he said. "To be able to do it here is special."