Arthur: Argonauts hit end of long, lonely road

FBO CFL East Semifinal 20151115

Afterwards the Toronto Argonauts felt all alone, them against the world. “That might be the worst call I’ve ever seen in football,” said one to Martin Wright, the defensive lineman who was called for roughing the passer late in the fourth quarter. “Hey, can we still get fined for saying s— about the refs?” asked another. “What are they going to do,” replied a third. “Send you a bill?”

It was a strange, lonely season for the Argonauts, when a lot of bills came due. It ended with a weird, lurching, regrettable 25-22 loss in Hamilton, to a Tiger-Cats team down to its third quarterback, or its fourth. The Argos should have won; there were a pile of mistakes that will hang in the air for a while. This team didn’t have anywhere to practise two seasons ago, and barely had a home to play in this year, and maybe a small part of them will be relieved that it’s over. But they should have won, and they didn’t.

“It’s tough to go out like this,” said Toronto kicker Swayze Waters. He looked alone, too.

So went the Argos, caught between the expiring cheapskate ownership of David Braley and the glorious future under Bell and Larry Tanenbaum, and as a result they drifted nowhere, off the radar, and it felt like they were loved by nobody. They played a home game in front of maybe 4,000 people in Fort McMurray, a home game on a Tuesday in Ottawa, and two near-abandoned home games in hated Hamilton, just down the road from home, where there were more Hamilton fans yelling “Argos suck” than anything else. Defensive lineman Euclid Cummings screamed out “We don’t need fans!” during the first of those games, and that summed up a part of the season, in its way.

“We’ve never really used it as an excuse, poor us,” said quarterback Ricky Ray, who couldn’t be great. “We’ve been able to overcome it. (But) it’s definitely stuff you have to overcome.”

That’s football, and that’s life. The Tiger-Cats were the best team in the CFL when they lost quarterback Zach Collaros to a knee injury in September, and then lost his backup to a concussion, and were down to Jeremiah Masoli, who had thrown 21 passes this season. He could run, but throwing was a problem.

“We have our own sacks of rocks to carry, like everybody else,” said Hamilton coach Kent Austin.

The Argonauts, meanwhile, pushed Ray out there after he missed most of the season following shoulder surgery, despite a terrific season from backup Trevor Harris. The Argos were blotted out by the Blue Jays this year, and didn’t have many fans this season, but at least they had quarterbacks. And through most of three quarters, they led 18-6. Masoli had thrown for 26 yards in the first half. It should have been enough.

But defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah slipped, and watched a Hamilton touchdown. Ray threw a ball to an open receiver that would have all but sealed the game, only to have a second receiver drift in, and the play disintegrated. Waters missed a second field goal, wide left. Waters had tried to recover a punt into the wind in the first quarter, weaving through the crowd, and he got there and saw green in front of him and . . . he dropped it. That kind of day.

“If I could do it again I would kind of slow down and fall on it,” said Waters. “But I saw there was nothing between me and the end zone, so I tried to scoop and score and just fumbled it a little bit.”

He tied it late, with 53 seconds left, and Hamilton got the ball back with 49 seconds left at their own 31. Masoli completed one pass, and then another, and Wright rolled into his legs.

“I got around the edge, and the offensive tackle pushed me in the back, and I fell into the quarterback’s legs,” said Wright. “At the end of the play I was like, I hope they don’t throw no flag. And they threw a flag. You can’t control the refs.”

Hamilton kicker Justin Medlock told Austin he was good from 62; he hit it from 47. It would have been fun to see him try the long one, but that’s football.

“That call cost us the game,” said Argos defensive back Travis Hawkins. “You can see it clear as day, him pushing him in the back. I know you want to protect the quarterback, but . . . you have to see him get pushed in the back.”

A lot of little mistakes, and at the end the Argonauts felt very alone. “I mean, what-ifs,” said Hawkins. “In life there’s a lot of what-ifs. You just got to live with the outcome.”

So now, the future. The Argonauts will move to BMO Field next season, under Tanenbaum and Bell, and they will get to become a proper team again, with a place to practise, with a place to play. Maybe the fans will come back, too, with a place to come back to. That’s the hope. At the end of a long day, and a long season, the team that nobody loved got dressed and got back on the bus and left, and looked forward to home.