Tensions run high at CFL media event

Put 52 high-profile CFL players in the same confined area – especially those involved in heated rivalries – and there’s bound to be tension.

Stars from around the three-down league came to Toronto for a CFL media “car wash” from April 18-20. That brought players from teams such as the Ticats and Argos – who have heated battles on the field – together at the Hilton hotel.

“Some guys feel like they can’t even go say “Hi” or they lose a competitive edge,” Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence says.

“The first ten minutes – there’s this feeling out period,” Argonauts defensive end Ricky Foley says.

Lawrence agrees.

“It’s kind of awkward at first. With [Argos] Todd [Gurley], Vidal [Hazelton] and Brandon [Whitaker] they understand – we play three times a year,” the 2015 CFL All-Star linebacker says. “They know that I might talk during the game.”

Whitaker knows what the Tabbies’ tackler is like.

“That’s Simoni for you he’s going to talk, and talk, and talk. For me it goes in one ear and out the other.”

Ticat-turned-Argo Bryan Hall admitted there was a lot of chirping going on between members from each Southern Ontario team when they were in close quarters.

“I saw Speedy [Brandon Banks] and told him he was washed up. I saw [Luke] Tasker and told him he would never be Steve [his dad who played in the NFL]. Zach [Collaros, who is healing from a season-ending knee injury], he won’t be back this year. Simoni [Lawrence] I never liked him. I could go on and on,” the big defensive lineman says with a chuckle.

Hall refers to the Ticats-Argos rivalry as real, live beef. A number of players have switched sides in the Battle of Ontario, which adds to it. Along with Hall fellow defensive lineman Brian Bulcke and Justin Hickman went to the boatmen. Chad Owens went the other way down the QEW.

“He’s with a bunch of rottweilers and pitbulls now,” Lawrence, who stopped short of saying what kind of dogs he would categorize the Argos as, says. “He’s with people that all they love to do is playing football and dominating.”

The intensity will ratchet up on June 23 when Toronto opens the CFL season at BMO Field with Hamilton visiting.

“If I tell everybody in Hamilton meet on Barton and King Street and we’re going to walk to Toronto, they’ll be ready to go,” the face of the Ticats’ defence says.

Lawrence believes that the Argonauts should’ve scheduled a bad team like some university programs might do for annual homecoming games. Especially considering Hamilton went a perfect 4-0 against the double blue in 2015.

“Simoni is living in the past. He’s still stuck on what happened last year. He knows it is war come game day,” Whitaker says. “It’s going to be a whole different story this year.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.