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Tailgating experience a hit with fans despite home opener loss for Argos
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, June 23, 2016 11:19PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 23, 2016 11:21PM EDT
TORONTO -- The nostril-massaging scent of grilled hamburgers hung in the air, fans threw pigskins around and tailgaters set up shop on lawn chairs and downed a few cold ones Thursday outside BMO Field.
This was a new pre-game experience for CFL fans in Toronto and it seemed to be a big hit.
A few hundred fans were on hand in one designated tailgate parking lot south of the Argos' new stadium and a few hundred more were in another lot across the road at Ontario Place.
Sporting a blue Argos jersey, Julie Mogk of Guelph, Ont., drove in with a few friends in the late afternoon.
"You just look around, you see games, you see BBQs, it's amazing," she said. "The atmosphere is wonderful."
Argos legends Joe Theismann, Raghib (Rocket) Ismail and Mike (Pinball) Clemons were on hand to socialize with fans, sign autographs and pose for photos.
"It is palpable, it is infectious, it is energy personified," said a beaming Clemons, the team's vice-chair. "The first game of the year is always crazy. There is always great energy, but this is different. It is indescribable."
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats would later spoil the home opener party, topping the Argonauts 42-20.
The weather co-operated as blue skies and warm temperatures helped give the pre-game scene a summertime urban campout feel.
Classic rock boomed from car speakers. A marching band and cheerleaders added to the football atmosphere.
Jennifer O'Brien drove down from Burlington, Ont., for the home opener.
"This is great, we're close to the field," she said while turning sausages and flipping burgers on her grill. "The new field is lovely and our seats are in the sun."
Rogers Centre has a retractable roof but BMO Field, also home to Major League Soccer's Toronto FC, is an open-air facility. It has natural grass and with a seating capacity of about 27,000, is much cozier than the domed stadium.
The Argonauts played home games at Rogers Centre for the last 27 seasons before moving a few kilometres west for the 2016 campaign.
Tailgating is a tradition in many football cities but Argos fans couldn't do it at Rogers Centre since it's in the heart of Toronto's downtown core. However, there is plenty of space near BMO Field with several large parking lots in the area.
"Very cool vibe," said CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge. "It's just very cool. It's fun, it's exciting. I've been here for quite some time in Toronto and I haven't felt a vibe like this in a long time."
A handful of police officers and security guards were on hand but the crowd seemed well behaved. It cost $35-$40 to park and tailgate depending on the lot.
A cold beer cost four bucks a can and lineups were quite reasonable.
"There was no tailgating experience whatsoever at Rogers Centre," Mogk said. "This is what football is about. This is what gets people excited. You get the fans out, you get that camaraderie, everybody goes into the stadium at the same time.
"We're all excited and pumped up for the game, ready to cheer on our team. It's such a different experience. It's exactly what we needed."