From my apartment in Toronto it’s about 750 metres to BMO Field. Google Maps says it’s a 12-minute walk. Various sites that don’t sound all that legitimate, if you ask me, concur that it’s about 984 steps away.
I’ve been thinking about how close and how far away football is at the moment. Pre-pandemic we were probably all guilty of taking things for granted. For the last few years I’ve known that after the CFL Draft we were about 10 days away from training camps opening and that always set up the next seven months of my life, with football being completely available to me.
Of course this year, we don’t have that right now.
On Sunday, Toronto had its first day above 20 C in what felt like forever (spoiler: It didn’t last). I went on a long bike ride and felt the sun and warm air on my face and for the couple of hours I was out it felt normal. As I wade my way through a present day that at last check felt like 5 C, I’m thinking about warmer weather, more sociable times and the 984 (alleged) steps to BMO Field.
That got me thinking about what I’d want to do if there were no limitations. If I could watch a football game anywhere in the country right now, where would I want to go? Who would I want to see?
I cherish the summer games on the CFL schedule, partly because I know that when the season’s over it usually ends in sub-zero temperatures that for me at least, include a chilly trip through the West Division. So even when the humidity drenches my shirt at the end of that short walk to BMO, I’m happy to watch the game with the press box windows open and to walk out into a glorious summer night after the game is over.
That’s a nice feeling at every stadium across the country and I should clarify before I make my pick that there really are no wrong answers in this scenario. For these purposes, where I’m forced to pick just one for one perfect summer night, I knew my answer almost immediately. At the risk of angering eight other fanbases, I’m going with…
I can feel the flames of the comment section warming up as I write this so before you anger-scroll to the bottom of the page, let me lay out my criteria.
O’LEARY’S CRITERIA FOR PRIME SUMMER FOOTBALL VIEWING
Montreal only became the perfect choice last year. I’ve been to my share of summertime Alouettes games when they were the three, five or six-win teams that were missing the playoffs. Fan interest was low and the outcome of the games wasn’t often in doubt. Part of fully enjoying a summertime game is feeling like you’re going to something that will entertain you. The city itself is always fun, but the football component of the equation was lacking.
That changed last year. Under a new head coach in Khari Jones and with Vernon Adams Jr. leading the offence, the Als finally turned a corner and became the surprise story of the season. They mastered the dramatic comeback and in doing that, the fans started to find their way back to Molson Stadium.
I was at one of the Als’ first impressive wins of the season last year, when they stymied Edmonton and pulled out a 20-10 win. It was a modest crowd that July day (16,137), but you could tell that the Als had something special brewing. I spent the final moments of that game behind the Als’ bench and listened to the fans behind them. It was a welcomed departure from the prior years that saw the team struggle.
It also helped that Montreal was in the midst of a massive heatwave that weekend that saw temperatures push up over 40 C. The game was a scorcher and the post-game, when I finally finished writing and the sun had set, was the perfect time for wandering the city and trying out a few different breweries.
The best way to round out this equation — and hopefully appease any angry fans that are wearing green while they read this — is to have the Als hosting the Roughriders for that perfect summer day game. No fans in the league travel as well, support their team better and throw themselves into the party like Riders fans.
Given how Saskatchewan’s sole visit to Molson Stadium went last year — inclement weather squashed the game in the third quarter — both teams would feel like they have unfinished business when they got on the field in these imaginary perfect weather conditions.
Maybe if we were in more normal times my choice would be different. I can still hear the buzz of Mosaic Stadium on Canada Day Weekend and the energy of McMahon Stadium on Labour Day is unmatched. Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton when it’s really, really full (hi, visiting Sask. fans!) in July is always so much fun. Labour Day in Hamilton I wrote once, is like football Christmas. I’ve been blown away by summer games in Winnipeg and Ottawa, by an open-domed BC Place and I still remember what a packed BMO Field looked like when the Argos played their first game there in 2016.
But right now, when everything is locked down and the cold wind on Monday felt like it was trying to push me back inside when I stepped out the door, I think about that 40-degree day in Montreal and it makes me smile. A beautiful day in a vibrant city that was getting reacquainted with its football team. It was perfect and I miss it.