HAMILTON – Ron Philipp hopped in his car, leaving his home in Brampton at 4:30 p.m.
He arrived at Tim Hortons Field 15 minutes before kickoff, barely in time to ensure he didn’t miss a minute of beloved Toronto Argonauts.
Huddled in his worn Argos jacket on a windy Friday night that saw temperatures hold just above the freezing mark, Philipp – a 12-year season ticket holder – wouldn’t have missed the action for anything.
He only wished the result was different. His Argonauts were trounced 34-2 by the Montreal Alouettes.
“It’s a little like playing with one hand behind your back,” Philipp said. “I was hoping they’d win one (game) in Hamilton.”
Instead, it was déjà vu for Philipp and his small gathering of loyal double blue diehards.
For the second straight week, the Argonauts travelled to Hamilton to play a “home” game. They have been displaced this month because the Rogers Centre is being secured for the Toronto Blue Jays’ playoff drive.
And for the second straight week, the Argonauts lost a critical late-season game. They dropped a 27-15 decision to Calgary last Saturday.
Once again, it felt anything like a home game. The Argos played before fewer than 4,000 fans both times – announced crowds of 3,401 against Calgary and 3,471 on Friday.
To make matters worse, they were playing in the stadium of their biggest rival with roughly the same amount of Tiger-Cats fans compared to their own.
Tiger-Cats season ticket holders were permitted to enter a draw to win free admission to the game. And they were just as boisterous as the Toronto faithful.
One Hamilton fan said before leaving midway through the third quarter: “It’s great seeing the Argos lose for free.”
"It’s depressing in a way,” Philipp, 54, said. “The players seem to have less energy. It’s depressing when the PA announcer yells, ‘Argos,’ and the fans yell back, ‘Suck,’ louder.”
Energy was only one of the Argos’ downfalls on this night. They weren’t in this game from moment the Alouettes scored their opening drive – an eight-play, 71-yard series – that ended on a Kevin Glenn pass to Tyrell Sutton.
It left Argos coach Scott Milanovich at a loss for words – although he wasn’t blaming the tepid ambiance at Tim Hortons Field.
“The atmosphere’s terrible. You guys know that. You see it,” he said. “But one team – last week Calgary and this week Montreal – managed to play and play well in it.
“What can you say? The situation’s the same for both teams. I honestly can’t use it as an excuse. The atmosphere’s not good. The players don’t like it. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.”
If anything, the Argos should be getting used to this. They’ve been a travelling road show this season.
Friday represented their fourth game not played in Toronto where they were considered the home team. They “hosted” a game in Fort McMurray, Alta., in July due to the Pan Am Games. They played against the Ottawa Redblacks in the nation’s capital because of another Blue Jays’ scheduling conflict at the Rogers Centre earlier this month.
Still the Argos are 9-7, have secured a playoff spot in the East Division and are in the running to host a playoff game.
“This is my 13th year and I’ve never really experienced anything like this before,” said quarterback Ricky Ray, who replaced starter Trevor Harris with the game out of reach. “It’s not the ideal situation.
“You want to be in your own stadium where your full amount of fans can come out and support you. You’re not getting that full home-field advantage you feel. This is what was dealt to us this year. I think guys have done awesome with it.”
The Argos are now 0-4 in Hamilton this season, a mark that includes two losses to the Tiger-Cats.
While not ideal, receiver Dave Stala considered the situation a blessing in disguise.
“I look at this as a positive,” he said. “We could possibly have a playoff game here. Hamilton’s in first place right now. It looks like they’re going to be hosting a playoff game.”
Argos supporters don’t look at things the same way.
Scott Harding, 55, has been a fan since the early 1970s while growing up in Rexdale and says he’s been a season ticket holder for about 15 years.
Although he calls Burlington home now, which is closer to Hamilton than to Toronto, there’s no question where he’d rather go watch games.
“It’s been demoralizing for Argos fans this year,” he said. “They’ve only really had three home games (so far).”
Harding was really disappointed that Friday’s game wasn’t held at Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays hosted Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday and could have hosted the World Series opener next Tuesday, had they not lost to the Kansas City Royals on the road in Game 6 of the ALCS on Friday night.
Rogers Centre officials informed the Argos that five days was an insufficient amount of time to convert the stadium from baseball to football and back again.
“They could have done the conversion,” said Harding, while decked out in a personalized jersey. “Rogers has been unresponsive. This certainly hasn’t endeared me to Rogers that’s for sure.”
The Argos won’t have to worry about any scheduling conflicts next season, at least with the Rogers Centre.
They'll call BMO Field home and share that stadium with Toronto FC instead of being the Blue Jays' “unwanted tenant,” as Philipp puts it.
“The landlord’s not going to fix the plumbing when you’re leaving,” he said.
Philipp said he’ll make another drive to Hamilton if necessary, and even hopes he might get to because that would mean great news for the Jays.
But if the last two games are any indication, he would be only one of the few people that do so.