Sunday, August 22, 2004

Andre’s Toronto pit stop

More than one eye has been raised with the news that former NFL All Pro Andre Rison has signed a practice roster contract with the Toronto Argonauts. Rison who last played football in the 2000 NFL campaign, arrived in Toronto this weekend and will be on the field wearing number three when the Argos practice Sunday.

Rison’s route to Toronto began with a conversation with Argo player personnel director Greg Mohns in Florida. He took part in some drills there and then flew to Toronto for a full audition with the Argonaut leadership on Friday. They apparently were satisfied with what they saw and what they heard as they offered him a contract which he signed on Saturday.

The thirteen year NFL veteran comes to Canada with a wee bit of baggage attached. He's had run ins with the NFL's substance abuse program in the past and was featured in a media feeding frenzy over his relationship with deceased rap star Lisa Loeb. In addition to all that attention he has had well documented legal troubles regarding child support stemming from a relationship with his now ex wife Tonja. Rison’s handlers are presently trying to sort our his family maintenance requirements, considering his lack of income stream of late. No doubt his CFL paycheque stubs will help make his case about a reduction in income. As a practice roster Argo he makes 500 dollars a week, his lawyers probably drink that much in coffee every week. But once he’s off the practice roster he’ll be making a bit more cash, though terms of his contract were not disclosed on Friday.

How that situation might impact on his availability was left unsaid by Argo brass, but the fact he signed a contract must mean that any Canadian legal troubles would have been cleared up. He’s also not exactly planning on a lengthy stay in Canadian football, Rison stated clearly that his plan is to get back to the NFL and he feels that the CFL is his best possible route back into an NFL uniform. So the rise of Andre may be a short burst rather than a long lengthy flare.

What remains to be seen is whether he still has the wheels and the hands to be productive member of the Argonaut team. With Damon Allen on the injury list many thought the Argos would have been scouring high and low for an insurance QB, the Rison signing certainly comes out of nowhere.

Pinball Clemons the Argos head coach is apparently quite excited at the prospect of Rison running patterns for the double blue. Hoping that the rust will be easy to shake off and some leadership skills will develop to aid the young corps of Argonauts in the line up. Considering the sideshow that envelopes Rison, Pinball will have to summon all his positive vibes to keep his team on an even keel. A fairly close knit group in double blue listen to Clemons every word, if he didn’t feel the mix would work one suspects he would have been able to make his point to management.

It’s a risky gambit the Argos have launched, but a gutsy one. If Rison can concentrate on football and provide some solid help on the field, this could be a move that helps propel the Argos past their Eastern rivals the Alouettes and into this years Grey Cup. If he’s in game shape and ready to go, Rison will make his CFL debut against the western division leading BC Lions on August 27th. The buzz for that game was already building in Vancouver, the Rison signing will only increase the interest in the game at BC Place.

Argo fans who have been returning back to the fold in ever increasing numbers this season will get their first look at him as part of the Labour Day classic against the Ti Cats. That game which already promised to be a high profile game just got a bit more excitement to add to the mix.

Already the media are finding the Rison signing to be a lightning rod for debate and conversation. The TSN panel weighed in on the signing between quarters of the Lions/Stamps game and sports talks shows across the country have found no shortage of callers with an opinion.

Football the game and Football the show, they’re alive and well in Toronto and across Canada. And once again the Argos are providing Canadians with a high profile target. Say what you will, about the Argos they’re at least trying to keep football on the front burner in TO.

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