Argos Hammer Ticats on Labor Day Monday

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HAMILTON – Chad Kelly understood it wasn’t just another football game.

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It was Labor Day. It was Tim Hortons Field. It was football in the city that Angelo Mosca and Garney Henley built. And everyone was staring at the quarterback who just signed a contract that will make him the highest-paid player in the Canadian Football League next year.

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It’s not Rocket Ismail or Doug Flutie money. This type of batter no longer exists in the CFL. But it’s the kind of money you have to pay when you find that rare diamond in the rough – a quarterback who makes a difference in Canadian football.

Kelly makes the difference. And the Argos are making fun of the East Division. He didn’t play particularly well – he didn’t need to – as the Argos beat the Tiger-Cats 9-1 for the third time this season. They scored 41 points and struggled offensively at times. They scored 41 points and Kelly threw two interceptions – passes that he forced into areas that shouldn’t have been thrown. They scored 41 points and with a great day from Kelly it might have been 51 for the Argos. Maybe more.

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They have five more wins than the Ticats, who played with the quality of their jerseys on Monday afternoon. The starting quarterback wore number 0. The uniforms, designed by someone with a terrible sense of fashion and football, looked like some kind of camouflage clothing. You couldn’t read their numbers or their names – and maybe that was a good thing this Labor Day.

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Because the only team on the field wearing white and double blue was the team that mattered on that scalding hot day. How hot was it? Argos coach Ryan Dinwiddie changed his shorts and some of his other clothing at half-time. So did some of his players.

Kelly, the not-so-young second-year CFL quarterback, was just enough to give the Argos a 17-4 lead at halftime, 24-13 at the end of three quarters and the final 15 minutes with burly running back AJ Ouellette He wore down Hamilton on the ground and threw a touchdown pass of his own.

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Kelly threw two, ran for one. Ouellette threw for one. The ageless Andrew Harris ran for one.

The game was close for maybe a minute, maybe two. However, what was unusual and revealed something about this Argos team was the way the club left the pitch at the end of the game. In previous years, when the Argos beat the Ticats on Labor Day, no matter the standings, they left the field screaming, dancing and celebrating.

Almost no noise yesterday. No dancing yesterday. It was expected yesterday. Just one more step forward in ten games, with eight games left and a home field buyout in the playoffs that was all but earned at the unofficial halfway point of the season.

Towards the end of the game, when Tim Hortons is usually still full of fans, the chants of “Argos Suck” are just part of the atmosphere. “But at the end you didn’t hear any ‘Argos Suck,’” coach Ryan Dinwiddie said.

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Partly because most of the Hamilton fans had left the stadium by the middle of the fourth quarter, and partly because the chants could have been altered by the quality of play of those involved: It’s now called “Ticats Suck” because of them, and by the separation between the two teams in southern Ontario has grown wider in this one-sided season. “We feel like we didn’t play our best football,” Dinwiddie said. “We’re not talking about playoffs here. We’re not talking about Gray Cup.”

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They take care of the football thing and talk about next week. It’s very Bill Belichick we’ll be talking about next week in Cincinnati. The Argos face Montreal next week. Game 11 of the season. Another week to separate yourself from the rest of the East.

Kelly was aware that the new contract would come with added pressure, and coach Dinwiddie, acknowledging that the quarterback had not played his best, said he performed quite well under the circumstances. Even before the game, this city feels like football unlike any other place in the East. You head toward Tim Hortons Field three hours before game time and the parking lots are full of people grilling, jostling, and enjoying an early day drink. The houses along Beechwood Street are all decorated in Tiger Cats colors, the real colors, not the fake ones they wore on Monday. It’s a bit like how you feel in Green Bay on a football Sunday. This was perhaps the most exciting part of the Labor Day experience. Feel football.

Then the game began and the Argos played on one level, the Ticats dressed on another.

And Kelly played as well as he needed to. “I have to do better,” he said. “There is always pressure. Now there’s more.”

The Argos are 9-1. They scored 41 points on Labor Day Monday. They thought they should have scored more goals. Whatever they pay Kelly to play quarterback, it will soon seem like a bargain given the ease of the wins.

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