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Argos say they've not heard Alouettes owner Stern's prediction of win

TORONTO — It seems Montreal Alouettes' owner Gary Stern's bravado has fallen on deaf ears with the Toronto Argonauts. On Tuesday, Stern boldly predicted his team would "kill Toronto on Thursday.
Gary Stern, co-owner of the Montreal Alouettes speaks during a news conference in Montreal, on January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

TORONTO — It seems Montreal Alouettes' owner Gary Stern's bravado has fallen on deaf ears with the Toronto Argonauts.

On Tuesday, Stern boldly predicted his team would "kill Toronto on Thursday." Stern took to social media on Wednesday to apologize to the Argos for his reference to "kill," yet added "But I gotta believe (the) Alouettes win."

After an opening-week bye, Toronto hosts Montreal at BMO Field on Thursday night in its season opener. It will also mark veteran running back Andrew Harris's Argos debut but 35-year-old Winnipeg native wasn't biting on Stern's comments.

"First time hearing it," Harris said. "They've got to do whatever they've got to do to get fired up.

"For us. we've got to worry about ourselves and let our play do the talking."

Argos defensive lineman Shawn Oakman echoed those sentiments.

"I don't do social media," he said. "We have to play Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

"Whatever he says, goes. It's his world, I'm just living in it. Being an owner I would hope my guys would bring that 'W' home."

It's not the first time Stern has shot from the hip regarding the Argos. During his first news conference as the Alouettes co-owner in January 2020, Stern, was asked why he and Sid Spiegel — Sterns' father-in-law and business partner — didn't consider purchasing the Toronto club.

“The Argos suck," he replied.

Sadly, Spiegel never saw the Alouettes play. The CFL didn't have a season in 2020 due to the global pandemic and Spiegel passed away in July 2021 before the league's abbreviated campaign, reportedly at the age of 90..

Toronto receiver Brandon Banks, an active social media contributor, said Stern's guarantee was news to him.

"Is that what he said," Banks asked. "I guess it's having a lot of confidence in the team.

"It is what it is. No comment from me but I guess he spoke out of confidence."

Despite having an opening bye, Toronto starts the week atop the East Division as the three other clubs all dropped their first games of the season. That includes Montreal, which suffered a 30-27 setback in Calgary.

Argos coach Ryan Dinwiddie said he's experiencing a number of different emotions heading into the contest.

"Anxious, a little curious to see how the guys are going to respond Week 1," he said. "It's never a pretty game the first week.

"Hopefully we can go out there and put a clean game together. We just need to find a way to get a win."

Harris was one of Toronto's biggest off-season acquisitions. The CFL's all-time leading Canadian rusher signed with the Argos following a successful five-season stint with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Three times Harris, a Winnipeg native, led the league in rushing and he helped the Bombers win consecutive Grey Cups (2019, '21).

"It's an extra long training camp essentially (and) just I'm thankful I came out healthy," Harris said. "I love the way the team has progressed as far as install and jelling with my new teammates.

"Personally I feel amazing and geared up to go attack the season and this first game. We've been going against our defence for too long . . . we're just ready to hit someone else now."

Banks is another new face on Toronto's offence. The CFL's top player in 2019 was a four-time league all-star and registered 422 catches for 5,678 yards and 44 touchdowns over eight seasons with the arch-rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"I'll be honest, it's weird but it is what it is," Banks said. "Every day they (Argos) are making it more and more comfortable for me.

"I don't think it's really going to hit me until I get to the visitors locker room at Tim Hortons Field . . . that's probably when it will hit me."

Hamilton and Toronto will play four times this season. The Argos' first visit to Tim Hortons Field will be Aug. 12.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson will open as Toronto's starting quarterback for the second straight season but first as the bona fide No. 1.

"I think he's pretty much the same McLeod," Dinwiddie said. "He had great leadership last year even when he wasn't playing.

"Just the comfort level that he knows we believe in him and we're rolling with him just gives him added confidence."

Toronto finished atop the East Division last season with a 9-5 record, in large part because of its ability to win the close games. The Argos were 6-0 in contests decided by four or less points and 7-1 in those determined in the final three minutes.

Toronto was also 6-1 at BMO Field, and Harris said it's imperative the club protect its home turf.

"I think it's crucial," he said. "For us, we want to get the fans engaged, we want to get people out, we want to make this place a hard place to play at.

"As a running back I love the grass field. I'm licking my chops at being able to play on this field nine times this year. For me, I'm just looking forward to having my best games at home. You always want to have a good game but having a good game at home is always crucial."

NOTES — Toronto placed veteran Canadian receiver Juwan Brescasin (hip) and American receiver Eric Rogers (hamstring) on the six-game injured list . . . If Toronto wins the toss Thursday night, Dinwiddie said he's likely to take the ball. Well, maybe. "Last year, I was going on (defence) quite a bit, I felt good about where our defence was early on. We'll see. I still feel good about our defence but sometimes I think it held us back on offence taking that approach. Maybe we'll go out and try to get a first drive and get going offensively . . . and take a lead. I'm kind of leaning toward that direction but who knows? I always change my mind the day of the game."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press