HALIFAX — Touchdown Atlantic is back, and with plenty of buzz for an expansion team in Halifax.
The Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders will have a sold-out crowd of more than 10,000 fans ready to welcome them at Huskies Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It's the sixth instalment of the game and second regular-season contest to be played in Nova Scotia.
The stadium normally has a capacity of about 2,000 but currently has temporary pop-up space in order to host the CFL in front of as many people as possible. For many Nova Scotians, and the CFL itself, hope remains for Halifax to have the league’s 10th franchise.
“That’s the goal,” said Greg Dick, the CFL’s chief football operations officer and head of Grey Cup and events.
“If we could get a stadium built and a team here … we’d be coast-to-coast,” he added, also saying interest clearly extends across the province, with the Argonauts 30-24 win over the Roughriders being in front of a sellout crowd of nearly 11,000 at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., last July.
“That was one of maybe the best things we could have done because it created a buzz and excitement in a part of the province that we hadn’t thought about playing before. People here are amazingly friendly, very welcoming, and it’s been a great experience for all of us to run a game here two years in a row.”
Toronto enters Saturday's game with a 5-0 record and sitting atop the East Division. Meanwhile, the Roughriders are 3-3 and behind the BC Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West.
There were plenty of fans on both sides mingling around Huskies Stadium, including Kit Leggett, whose 11-year-old son Leland took part in the football clinic under the hot Halifax sun Friday.
“It’s really unbelievable, especially being in Nova Scotia; we don’t have a team so it’s super rare to have the opportunity to be up and close with professionals in the sport that he loves," Leggett said. “We’re a big football family.”
The Leggetts came in from Sunken Lake in the province’s Annapolis Valley, where last year’s host venue Acadia is located, to take in the weekend’s festivities and cheer on the Argos.
“In my hometown, they had a game there, and then I went, and ever since that moment I’ve just been cheering from them,” said Leland.
Jaime Horbul and her two children, eight-year-old Mikko Verville and seven-year-old Alina Verville were decked out in green and white Friday. The family lives in Halifax but Horbul grew up in Lanigan, Sask., so cheering for the Riders is a rite of passage.
“It’s awesome because we don’t have something like this in Halifax,” Horbul said.
The players are just as pumped to be in Nova Scotia.
“It’s been phenomenal, from the second you get off the plane, people are so welcoming and greet you with a smile,” said Roughriders wide receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker, who’s enjoying the Maritime hospitality despite being out after undergoing hip surgery.
Although he won’t be on the field, Schaffer-Baker — who's eyeing opportunities in the NFL — wanted to be in Halifax “to come out and enjoy time with the amazing fans that took time out of their days to watch us play.”
The six-foot-four, 205-pound Schaffer-Baker of Mississauga, Ont., had 68 receptions for 960 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Argos wide receiver DaVaris Daniels of Vernon Hills, Ill., is glad to be back after his first visit — and first win in Nova Scotia. He scored the first touchdown in last year’s Touchdown Atlantic.
“It felt like another home game for us,” Daniels said, adding the Maritimes feels like “the perfect place to put a team."
"The fans are in abundance here, they love it; the feels, the vibe, are immaculate; and you’ve all got great seafood.”
There are several East Coast connections on both teams.
Saskatchewan offensive coordinator Kelly Jeffrey is the former head coach of the Mount Allison Mounties, where he was named Atlantic University Sport Coach of the Year three times and U SPORTS Coach of the Year in 2014.
Roughriders kicker Brett Lauther was born in Truro, N.S. and played for the Saint Mary’s Huskies.
On Toronto’s side, offensive lineman Gregor MacKellar was born in Timberlea, N.S. MacKellar and linebacker Henoc Muamba both played at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2023.
Kristen Lipscombe, The Canadian Press