Mitch Ward is the Canadian Football League's Digital Media Coordinator and has been with the league since 2009. Follow Mitch on Twitter @jmitchw.
What a show.
The moment you stepped off the plane you could feel the excitement surrounding Scotiabank Touchdown Atlantic. The city was buzzing with energy as fans geared up for the first ever regular season CFL game in Atlantic Canada.
The welcome laid out was incredible. One of the first things you noticed when stepping out into the airport was the giant banner greeting the Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts and welcoming them to town.
Once you got into the city the CFL was everywhere. There were signs on lamp posts, banks and every restaurant welcoming the CFL. The people of Moncton literally opened up their city, their homes and definitely their bars to make everyone feel welcome.
The week long celebration was filled with excellent events, concerts, charity fundraisers, parties and of course a lot of football. It really was almost like a Grey Cup as the whole week was capped off with the big game on Sunday.
In no particular order here are a few highlights, thank-yous and memorable moments from a week out East jam-packed with fun, festivities and memories that will last a lifetime.
1) The Volunteers. Firstly a huge thank you to everyone who helped out during the week. No event like this can be pulled off without a lot of people working behind the scenes. The friendly demeanour and excitement of all the people who donated countless hours of their time really made us feel welcome. I would especially like to thank Les and the drivers for getting us to and from practices and the stadium. The guys behind the wheel were full of information on the city and clearly passionate about football.
2) The hotel staff at the Delta Beauséjour: Thanks for making the stay so comfortable with all of your hospitality. The hotel really got into the spirit of the week with the front desk staff decked out in Argos jerseys, which really added to the atmosphere.
3) The Minor Football games: Wow... The amount of fans and painted bodies that showed up for the high school games was incredible. The only way I can describe halftime during last Thursday’s game between the Mathieu-Martin Matadors and École Odyssée Olympiens is to say it was the most organized, jubilant, utter chaos I have ever seen. Standing on the sidelines I had no idea what was happening as hundreds of screaming fans body painted and decked out in their school colours descended onto the field, lined up at opposite ends, then charged at each other and ran around in circles chanting their school cheers. It was an incredible display of school spirit and football fever that I will never forget. Moncton is definitely a football town and minor football is alive and well!
4) The rain: It’s easy to celebrate when the sun is shining and the weather is nice, but you really got a sense of how much this event meant when the rains came on Friday. The wet weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the festival goers in the slightest and the celebration just kept on going.
5) The parties: Whether you were at the Molson Mainstage in the Moncton Coliseum, the Spirit of Edmonton tent, The Argos headquarters at the Old Triangle, the St. James Gate or any other bar in town, the mood was the same. This was a party and everyone was there to have a good time. Every where you went there were plenty of good natured jibes between fans of opposing teams, lots of good food, a few drinks and a whole lot of laughs.
6) The Stadium: Moncton Stadium looked awesome! Everyone who helped get the field and stadium ready to go for Sunday did an amazing job.
7) Game-day: A perfect day for football as the week’s worth of festivities culminated with an incredible crowd for Sunday’s game. The 20,075 fans that packed the stadium were loud and enthusiastic and made for a terrific game-day atmosphere. The game itself may not have been a classic but the cheering fans made the day something special.
8) The teams interacting with the fans: This was the highlight of the trip for me. One of the things I love most about the CFL is how involved teams are in their communities and last week was no different. Both teams were out spending time with fans, signing autographs and working with kids all week long. Seeing how many fans turned out to watch each team practice was incredible. It was also nice to see the teams involving some of the kids from minor football programs in the city in their practices.
The kids faces literally lit up at the chance to meet stars like Ricky Ray and Jeremaine Copeland. And watching young fans jaws drop at just how big guys like Patrick Kabongo and Kevin Huntley are in person was pretty amusing to see.
The most memorable moment of the whole week for me though came during Argos practice on Friday. Cory Boyd, who missed the game with a concussion and was dealing with the loss of a close friend during the week, spent much of Friday’s practice chatting with Christian Stapledon, a young fan from Fredericton, NB, and giving him pointers on catching, making cuts and running routes.
Christian and his mom Jodi Steeves took school and work off on Friday to make the one and a half hour trip from Fredericton to Moncton for a weekend filled with football. When they arrived at practice Coach Barker invited Christian on to the field to help out with some drills and working the yardsticks.
Boyd really took Christian under his wing for the day and towards the end of practice the two of them went to work in the endzone. After working one-on-one for a bit, Boyd called teammate Josh Abrams over to help and the two of them gave young Christian a chance to run some routes with the pros. Boyd played quarterback while Abrams defended as the kid got a chance to put some of the things he had learned into action. The two Argos offered plenty of encouragement and you could tell Christian was having a great time.
The two Argos gave this young fan a memory I'm sure he will never forget and that is really what the CFL is all about.
Merci and thanks again Moncton. I can't wait to see you again.