David Frum November 24th, 2007 at 12:00 am
“The war has not progressed altogether as we would have wished.”
With those words, the Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan in August, 1945. They also neatly describe this season’s performance by the Toronto Argonauts: a stunning come-from-behind surge culminating in an embarrassing collapse in the finals.
Last weekend, my sister Linda wrote in the National Post of her evolution from sports widow to Argo cheerleader. I’ve followed a similar path. She was led along the way by her husband, team co-owner Howard Sokolowski. I’ve been tugged by my son, Nathaniel.
Thursday was Thanksgiving Day in the United States. In Washington, where we live, the day was an especially beautiful and balmy one: Nearly 21 Celsius, fall colours, perfect weather for a turkey dinner followed by a long walk with the dogs up the banks of the scenic Potomac River.
But that’s not what I was doing. I spent much of the day at Washington Reagan National Airport, waiting for a plane to arrive from frozen Toronto to fly my son and me up to Toronto for the big game. Our flight, originally scheduled for 9 a.m., at last departed at nearly 2 p.m. As we circled over Pearson Airport, I looked out at the snow and ice and grumbled to Nathaniel, “Most people would make this trip in the opposite direction.” He ignored me. He’s used to doing that, on anything to do with competitive sports.
Almost all my life, I have hated watching sports. When I was young, my father had season tickets for the Argos at the old CNE stadium. He took me along, a father-son thing. I brought my book and read through the games.
God settled that account by giving me in my turn a son who will watch literally anything that involves a ball, a goal and a trophy. He draws the line at darts. His special love is baseball and the New York Yankees. When he was younger, he loved watching old World Series on DVD. “Doesn’t it bore you that you already know how the game turned out?” He explained, “No, that way I don’t have to worry the Yankees might lose.”
He will even watch soccer. On a family vacation to Mexico, we stayed at a resort without televisions in the room. Nathaniel discovered that the hotel staff had a big screen set up near the kitchen with satellite reception to watch some big playoff match. Off he wandered to join the crowd. Later he explained that he did not think soccer was much of a game–but it was better than nothing.
I’ve always been a huge disappointment to him in the sporting regard. I buy tickets and take him to games, but he senses my lack of enthusiasm. “Didn’t you ever like sports?” he once asked me. “I rowed crew in college. In high school I ran cross-country and studied fencing.” “Crew? Fencing?” he retorted with disgust. “That’s not nerdy.”
Then in 2004, Nathaniel’s beloved uncle became involved with the Argos–and CFL football joined the list of passions. After an interval of more than three decades, the Argos re-entered my life. And unlike my indulgent father, my son positively forbade me to bring books to the game.
I took him to the 2004 Grey Cup in Ottawa to watch the Argos’ last championship game.
Nathaniel has lived in Washington since he was three years old. He had never encountered anything quite as unearthly cold as a metal bench on a late November weekend on the Rideau. Then he opened his eyes really wide: In the middle of this moons-of-Mars cold, semi-nude fans were drinking huge casks of beer.
These CFL fans–well they were different from any kind of fans he had ever seen before. I took him once to a Canadiens game in Montreal. Those fans were expert and reverent. They began applauding a fine play almost at the first stroke, anticipating and understanding the move to follow. Nobody would describe CFL fans as “reverent.” Especially not the ones we saw at a restaurant on Thursday night wearing tie-dyed mullet hairdos and BC Lions jerseys as they put back an amazing depth of oddly coloured cocktails.
It’s a different kind of experience. And maybe it’s just nostalgia at work, but I have to admit: I sort of missed the old league. Your children lead you back to your own childhood. So thanks Nathaniel–and thanks Argos. Here’s to a great Grey Cup. And not to be a sore loser or anything, but isn’t there any way both non-Toronto teams could lose?