August 31, 2019

Hogan: Bring on the LDC

It’s one of the best things about football. With a week lead-up before each game, there’s plenty of time for the storylines to percolate. When that game is against an arch-rival, the tales become more intense.

The Toronto Argonauts are preparing to face their biggest nemesis, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in the annual Labour Day Classic. For someone like Argos Linebackers Coach Kevin Eiben, who played 163 regular-season and 13 playoff games in Double Blue, then a final season with the Ticats, this game means a lot.

“I think this is my 15th Labour Day game, twelve as a player and my third coaching,” said a reflective Eiben. “I used to love going to those Ivor Wynne Stadium games, the fans were so intense. It was a short drive for our fans, and fans of the Ticats, I mean…(laughs).”

During his conversation with Eiben seemed to become more and more excited with every answer. It’s obvious the intensity of the rivalry continues to course through his veins.

“I loved the anthem, I used to love it when the planes went overhead,” said Eiben, who now seemed like he’d give anything to be able to put on a helmet and shoulder pads on Monday. “I’d say this is awesome. This is something that not many guys get the opportunity to experience, and when you do get a chance to go out there, you’ve got to go perform.”

When going down memory lane about some classic Classics, the 2004 game was mentioned, a game that finished in a 30-30 tie and saw several players ejected for fighting.

“I don’t remember a Labour Day Classic that didn’t involve a brawl,” Eiben said with a smile.

Rivalries aren’t confined to this one, or to Canadian football, or to pro football. For some Argo players the most bad blood they’ve experience goes back to their college days.

Take Rodney Smith for example. The receiver, who had a career-best 12 catches for 136 yards last week against Montreal, played at Florida State. One would assume his best rivalry memories would involve games against the University of Florida, right?

Nope. Right state, wrong school.

“The best rivalry I’ve been a part of would probably be Florida State versus the University of Miami, that would be the craziest rivalry,” said Smith, who was born and raised in Miami. “That game is so important to the fans and to the players. You take that rivalry so seriously. You want to have those bragging rights.”

There’s one contest in that rivalry that brings back the fondest memories for Smith.

“In my sophomore year, my mom had just beaten cancer,” said the former Seminole standout, who’s demeanor suddenly changed when relaying the story. “The first pass thrown to me, I caught a touchdown against Miami in the rivalry game. That’s something that was special to me.”

His voice was trailing off as he completed the story. The emotion of that moment seemed to instantly come back to the 29-year-old, who still has pictures from that game, as well as the ball he caught for the TD.

That’s what rivalry games can mean.

Quarterback McLeod Bethel Thompson was quick to bring up the LDC as an example of a great rivalry he’s been involved in, but as someone who transferred from UCLA to Sacramento State in college, he pointed to others, one with a much higher profile than the other.

“UCLA versus USC was huge, and Sac State versus Davis (University of California, Davis), ‘The Causeway Classic’ were two big ones that I was involved in,” said the quarterback. “Great rivalries, different because they’re different levels of college football, but equally as intense.”

M B-T set up the LDC by explaining that there is something special about a rivalry game.

“It’s always a different game, that’s the thing about rivalry games,” said the San Francisco native. “No matter how good the records are, no matter how bad the records are, it’s always a fight from beginning to end. Everyone comes in with a different mentality. They’re always fun games to play.”

In the last three games Bethel-Thompson has thrown for 1,007 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions. If he continues his high level of play there’s little question it will make Monday’s game more fun for him – but even more fun if they can beat the hated Tiger-Cats.