TORONTO — CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie doesn't believe a chippy game between the Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders negatively impacted the 2022 Touchdown Atlantic experience.
In fact, Ambrosie felt this year's edition of the series was the best ever.
"I can't help but feel it was just an overwhelming success," Ambrosie said Monday. "I was in Halifax on Sunday and everywhere I went people stopped and wanted to talk about it.
"The overall tone was one of intense appreciation and enthusiasm. By an overwhelming margin, the feedback on the entire week was just incredibly positive."
Toronto defeated Saskatchewan 30-24 on Saturday before an enthusiastic gathering of 10,886 at Raymond Field in Wolfville, N.S. There was plenty of celebration during the week in Halifax and the game-day atmosphere at Acadia University was both electric and upbeat.
Wynton McManis's 50-yard interception return TD late in the fourth quarter highlighted the intense, hard-hitting contest. But the game also featured 25 penalties and the ejection of Toronto defensive back Jamal Peters in the fourth for a second misconduct foul.
There was also an ugly pre-game incident involving Saskatchewan receiver Duke Williams and Toronto defensive back Shaq Richardson. A video showed Williams picking up Richardson's helmet and throwing it at him before the two players were separated.
No penalties were called and both players participated in the game. But after the contest, Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie accused Williams of twice spitting in Richardson's face — during the pre-game incident as well as the second half.
Ambrosie said the league is continuing its investigation regarding possible discipline. Last week, the CFL slapped Saskatchewan defensive lineman Garrett Marino with three different suspensions totalling four games for a low hit on Ottawa quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
Ambrosie doesn't believe the penalties, Williams-Richardson incident or Dinwiddie's accusations took anything away from the week. However, he added the CFL is taking its investigation seriously.
"When we have a game that has incidents in it, we look at them seriously," he said. "I can say I was on the sideline for a portions of the game and there was, without a doubt, an intensity to that match that was something else.
"I don't know if I'd say that it necessarily took away from the event. But I can say this, if I was to look from beginning to end I think for Atlantic Canada, the CFL, for the property called Touchdown Atlantic, it was a 10 out of 10."
Atlantic Canada has long been mentioned as a potential home of a 10th CFL team. The league granted Halifax a conditional expansion franchise in the 1980s but it never played a game.
The league outlined tentative plans in 2018 to add a 10th franchise in Halifax. The original plan was to have the Atlantic Schooners playing in 2021 in Moncton, N.B. while a new facility was being built in the Nova Scotia capital.
Schooners Sports and Entertainment -- the ownership group that's actively pursued a CFL expansion franchise -- had secured $20 million in government funding for a stadium before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Last week, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage stated there was no political appetite currently for a CFL stadium in the city. And Schooners Sports and Entertainment didn't appear to be involved in any aspect of last week's Touchdown Atlantic.
"What you're seeing from Schooners Sports and Entertainment is a very conscious, very purposeful approach where they want to be methodical," Ambrosie said. "They want to make sure the entirety of our strategy is well thought out.
"We've hired some experts to consult with us on expansion. We're going to introduce that to the conversation with the Schooners group."
Regarding Savage's comments, Ambrosie said: "I think right now you're seeing a society coming out of a COVID crisis.
""I don't read anything more or less into people's comments today than they're in the moment . . . and in all likelihood they're responding with the best of intentions and based on what they know today. I think there's a level of energy, a level of excitement, there's a passion for the CFL (in the Maritimes) that needs to be harnessed.
"If you start with the idea that this is good for our future, we're going to have to find a way to make it happen. When I got up (Monday morning) I just felt an enormous sense of resolve that we have to figure out how to do it right but I know we need to be there."
Ambrosie said the CFL's management council will meet Tuesday in Toronto to begin looking at the 2023 season. He's confident a Touchdown Atlantic game for the Maritimes next season will be included in the first phase of planning.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press