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The Canadian Football League is coming to Halifax.
It's for just one game, a Saturday afternoon regular-season game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Toronto Argonauts set for July 25 at Huskies Stadium on the campus of Saint Mary’s University.
“We are going to throw a big party, Atlantic Canada-style,” league commissioner Randy Ambrosie told about 60 people who braved chilly winds at downtown Rogers Square on Thursday morning to hear the announcement.
“We’ll bring some of our friends from Toronto and from Saskatchewan and from all over Canada to come and party with you,” Ambrosie said. “We’re telling people to book hotel rooms early because they won’t last long. We’ll be telling them to book your seats early because they won’t last long.
“We expect this to be the next great chapter in the expansion of the Canadian Football League into Atlantic Canada and welcoming you into the Canadian Football League family.”
That welcome mat has been out since Schooner Sports and Entertainment began pushing for a franchise and a community stadium for it to play some two years ago.
This time around, the July game will be part of the Touchdown Atlantic series of games that began with an exhibition game in Halifax in 2005 and featured regular-season games in Moncton in 2010, 2011, 2013 and last year.
Tickets for the Halifax game will sell for an average of $50 and temporary seating will be brought alongside the stadium to bolster capacity to 10,000 plus.
“We are absolutely confident, working with the university and their partners, that we will have those 10,000 seats in place and then we’ll put on one heck of a great CFL show,” Ambrosie said.
Mike (Pinball) Clemons, general manager of the Argonauts who lost 28-22 to the Montreal Alouettes in front of 10,126 fans last August in Moncton, said Atlantic Canada has a history of embracing people.
“Some of the nicest people on the planet are right here in Atlantic Canada,” said Clemons, sporting his trademark grin in the outdoor news conference venue.
“If you gave us an opportunity to play in one place, it would be in Atlantic Canada because you’ve never seen fun that you didn’t like. This is the fun region. You’re fun, you’re generous. All I have to say is Randy, what took us so long to get here. I would love to see the day that we have a team permanently here in Atlantic Canada. It’s a personal dream of mine.”
For now, the dream is to put on a show in July.
Ambrosie said to expect a three-day mini-Grey Cup festival in Halifax.
“The Saskatchewan Roughriders will be hosting Riderville in Halifax,” the commissioner said. “You will see an awful lot of green. But what you will see mostly is people that know how to reach across and make people feel welcome, which is a quality that Atlantic Canadians are so well known for.”
Roughriders president Craig Reynolds said the team has been lobbying to be part of a Touchdown Atlantic. He said the team is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year and will host the 2020 Grey Cup.
“We can’t wait to experience Atlantic Canadian hospitality and we’ll show that same level of hospitality this November in Saskatchewan for the Grey Cup,” Reynolds said.
Based on last year’s play, the game could be a mismatch.The Roughriders finished first in the West Division with a 13-5 record before losing to the eventual Grey Cup winner Winnipeg Blue Bombers 20-13 in the division final. The Argonauts mustered only four wins in 18 games.
“They obviously were a lot better than us last year,” said Clemons, whose team will be listed as the home side in July.
Brett Lauther, the Riders punter and placekicker who grew up in Truro and played university football at Saint Mary’s, said he’s excited to play a CFL game in his backyard.
“Obviously, Rider Nation travels very well but I feel like I could probably fill the stadium myself with friends and family,” said Lauther, 29. “I feel like we’re going to have 10 home games this year and eight away games because of that. I can’t wait for July to come.”
Neither can Bruce Bowser, a Halifax-raised businessman and entrepreneur who is one of the three founding partners in Schooner Sports and Entertainment.
“I am super excited that the commissioner has asked me to be chair of the (hosting) committee,” Bowser said.
Some of the people already lined up to join the committee are broadcaster Rod Black, rock legend Tom Cochrane, former NHL defenceman Dion Phaneuf and Gen. Rick Hillier, former chief of the staff of the Canadian Forces.