Josh Bourke already dislikes the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and he hasn’t even put on a Toronto Argonauts uniform yet.
The towering offensive tackle signed as a free agent with Toronto after nine seasons with the Montreal Alouettes. The Argos make their BMO Field debut June 23 against Hamilton and Bourke insists he won’t be a shrinking violet versus the Ticats.
“Honestly, I hate Hamilton anyways,” Bourke said in a telephone interview. “Even in Montreal, they’re the team I couldn’t stand the most.
“I know Toronto-Hamilton is more of a rivalry than Montreal-Hamilton but we had some pretty epic battles with them over the years and I really can’t stand them. It’s not like I liked them before, I’m all on board with that.”
Toronto wasted no time wading into free agency to sign Bourke to a two-year deal. But the six-foot-seven, 315-pound Windsor, Ont., native didn’t take the decision to leave Montreal lightly.
“Although I can be impulsive at times, I’m a pretty methodical thinker,” Bourke said. “Obviously, 2015 was very disappointing in Montreal (missing CFL playoffs) and since the end of the season I kind of had it in my head maybe this was a possibility.
“The last time I was a free agent it came down to the wire and I chose to stay in Montreal. I don’t regret that decision at all. My time in Montreal was phenomenal . . . many of the people I hung out with there had nothing to do with football. It’s a great city.”
But the allure of playing closer to home for a familiar head coach and offensive co-ordinator with a rejuvenated franchise convinced Bourke to return to southern Ontario.
“Obviously there’s a lot of exciting things going on with the Argonauts now moving to BMO Field and having the Grey Cup there,” he said. “I just think there’s a rejuvenation of football in Toronto that I’d like to be part of.
“There’s also my relationship with Scott (head coach Scott Milanovich) and Marcus (offensive co-ordinator Marcus Brady) so I felt comfortable making the move.”
Milanovich spent five seasons as an assistant coach with Montreal (2007-11), the last three as offensive co-ordinator/assistant head coach under Marc Trestman. Brady joined the Als in 2009 as receivers coach and was promoted to offensive co-ordinator in 2012 after Milanovich left for Toronto.
Milanovich hired Brady as Toronto’s offensive co-ordinator in ’13. They both earned CFL championship rings with Montreal (2009-10) before helping the Argos win the 100th Grey Cup in 2012.
“Scott spent many years with Trestman and there’s a lot of carryover,” Bourke said. “I’m a big fan of Scott’s, he’s a tremendous coach and very smart individual.
“I think he learned a lot from Marc, who’s another great coach. I look forward to working with Scott and Marcus again.”
Another similarity will be protecting a Hall of Fame quarterback. For much of Bourke’s tenure in Montreal he blocked for veteran Anthony Calvillo, now the team’s offensive co-ordinator.
A healthy Ricky Ray returns to Toronto this season after missing most of 2015 recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
“I don’t know Ricky very well but from a personality standpoint they both seem pretty similar,” Bourke said. “If something needed to be said once in a while AC would say it but he was more a silent leader.
“I kind of see (Ray) being very similar to that. In this league you must have a stud at quarterback. They (Calvillo and Ray) aren’t going to run for many first downs but I’ll tell you what, they’re going to throw for many of them.”
Bourke, 33, is one of the CFL’s premier left tackles. The seven-time East all-star was the league’s top lineman in 2011 and runner-up in 2012 and doesn’t feel this is necessarily his final contract.
“I realize I’m in the twilight of my career but that being said I’m a big kid,” he said. “I don’t feel 33 and don’t think I look 33.
“Maybe I’m telling myself a bit of a lie there but I’ve played a lot of football and really don’t feel 33 either football-wise.”
One reason might be Bourke’s penchant for changing his off-season regiment.
“It takes a little while to figure out what works for you, especially the older you get, but I’m not afraid to try new things,” he said. “I started boxing and doing muay thai this off-season and that’s really helped not only my footwork but hand-eye co-ordination.
“And the cardio. Let me tell you I have a whole new respect for boxers.”