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June 29, 2019

Hogan: You can’t spell Canada without three “A’s”, eh?

Sep 22, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Saskatchewan Roughriders defeat the Toronto Argonauts30-29 at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski

It’s one of the most Canadian things you can do.

Want to watch a hockey game? You can do that in most northern hemisphere countries. Want to see Shania Twain? She’s starting a new residency in Vegas.

Want to check out three-down football? What happens in the Great White North stays here.

With half of the roster comprised of Canadians, the other half with players from the U.S. and now from Finland and Mexico, the Toronto Argonauts are preparing to celebrate Canada Day with a visit to what many consider the hotbed of Canuck ball, Saskatchewan.

To mark the holiday, Argonauts.ca spoke to several people in the organization about what Canada has meant to them.

For North Carolina native Jim Popp, the answer is a lot. He first came to this country in 1992 as the Receivers Coach and Director of Player Personnel with the Roughriders. His feeling about this country is summed up in two words.

“It’s home,” said the Argos General Manager. “I’ve lived in Canada just as long as I’ve lived in the U.S. This is my 28th year working in the Canadian Football League, this is home.”

Popp and his wife Kimberly still maintain a residence in North Carolina as well, but appreciate their strong Canadian connection. In fact, all six of their children were born in this country, something the pair is proud of.

“It was intentional,” he confessed to Argonauts.ca. “My wife and I discussed it and thought it would be a fabulous situation for them as they grew older, not knowing where they were going to lay their roots. We thought it would be tremendous if they had citizenship in two countries so they had choices.”

The Popps have bounced back and forth between Canada and North Carolina, with the youngest children now settled stateside, where they’re attending school.

“Our three oldest, who spent a lot of their childhood in Canada, they consider themselves Canadians, they do not consider themselves from the U.S. The three youngest don’t really remember it as much. The three oldest are very proud of it and they tell everyone they’re Canadian.”

Tyler Holmes was born in the National Capital Region. After attending Merivale high-school in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean, he left for the University of Tulsa for four seasons, then another year with the Minnesota Vikings.

Having returned to Canada after living in the States he appreciates the finer things here.

“Every time you look at that flag you just love it,” beamed the proud Canadian. “I love the people and the patriotism here, and you’re able to grow up in a diverse community filled with caring people.”

The offensive lineman’s nickname at college was “Boots”, as teammates bugged him for his accent (For the record Canadians say “about”, NOT “aboot”), but he’d get the last laugh by playing in a game that wreaked of Canadiana.

The 2017 Grey Cup Game, a celebration of three-down football, played in the National Capital, celebrating the 150th birthday of the country, with the Prime Minister at the game, in a blizzard, with Shania Twain led to the stage at halftime by Mounties after getting off a dog sled.

Beauty, eh?

“That was a pretty cool year with all the celebrations going on around Canada Day and the 150th anniversary,” Holmes told Argonauts.ca. “To be able to go home and win the Grey Cup on home soil in front of friends and family with the 150th going on was really cool.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Jose Casarrubias. He and Christian Hernandez are the two Mexican players on the team. Currently, on the practice roster, he was the Argos second-round pick in this year’s CFL-LFA Draft.

“I’m happy to be staying here,” he told Argonauts.ca. “This is a very beautiful place to live. The climate is comfortable. I’m happy because this is the opportunity to go to another place to learn, and know there are other places that are not Mexico (laughs).”

He’s very precise in his delivery. His english is good, but it’s still a second language to him. It’s none-the-less obvious that he like it here as his face lit up when talking about this country, a place he didn’t know much about when he arrived.

“It’s my first time in Canada and I love it,” confessed Casarrubias, adding something in particular caught him off guard, “The people, the different nationalities, this was surprising for me.”

S.J. Green is someone who can essentially call himself a Canadian. A true southerner, born in Texas, raised in Florida, Green headed north for the first time in 2007 to join the Montreal Alouettes. Now that he’s been here for over a decade he’s come to appreciate the country that has become his second home.

“The environment and the culture is probably the most intriguing to me,” explained the receiver. “It’s just such an open-minded, welcoming environment. Everybody accepts people for who they are and you can just come into this country and just be yourself and I love that the most.”

He’s not only embraced the country, but the game that he’s been a major part of for so long.

“I’ve played here for 13 years, this is home for me,” he said, obviously reflecting on his time here. “Playing this game of football, I can’t say I’d rather be anywhere else in the world than playing this game.”

Canada means a lot to Green, as should Canada Day in Regina. On July 1, 2010 Green made arguably the greatest catch in CFL history, a one-handed catch on a two-point conversion attempt in overtime against the Riders.

Green has given football fans in this country as much as the country has given him – and how Canadian is that?