Paul Masotti -
Wide Receiver - 1988-99 - Acadia
excerpted Small is Beautiful - James
Deacon - Macleans
On the Toronto set of CBC's Royal
Canadian Air Farce, Mike (Pinball) Clemons, Doug Flutie and Paul
Masotti do what they always do-goof around. Instead of the usual
locker-room banter, however, they are cast in a skit about a
cable-access TV show with Air Farce regular Don Ferguson playing the
host. The three Toronto Argonauts, fresh off their team's Grey Cup
victory, fit right in-Pinball is a ham, Flutie is Mr. Smooth and
Masotti is a natural straight man. The slotback, quarterback and wide
receiver, respectively, handle their lines with such ease that
Ferguson, playing the thick-necked leather-voiced star of "Man's
World," is moved to look into the camera and growl: "These guys are
good." They are-they tape the segment in one take. Afterward, on their
way to a Maple Leafs-Philadelphia Flyers hockey game, where they are
to appear with the Cup at centre ice, Masotti and Flutie stop by a
Tex-Mex bar for a quick dinner and TV post-mortem. Weren't they
nervous? "Nah," scoffs Flutie between bites of a chicken enchilada,
"we're used to performing under pressure."
Only a year ago, having the Grey Cup champions on Air Farce would have
cut too close to the bone. In 1996, the Canadian Football League was
funny only to those who enjoy a good train wreck-it made a profit of
about $4 million but spent more than $7 million propping up teetering
franchises. The handouts didn't pay off for the neediest team-the
Ottawa Rough Riders died-and almost weekly the league itself seemed in
danger of collapse.
What a difference a year makes. The Grey Cup game in Edmonton on Nov.
16-the Argos hammered the Saskatchewan Roughriders 47-23 to win their
second straight championship-was a financial windfall for its
organizers, who banked $7.5 million in gate receipts as hosts of the
week-long festivities. The league, meanwhile, hauled in a profit of
about $4 million for the season, which enabled it to pay off the
previous year's deficit and distribute the remainder among its eight
teams. More important, there were no in-season calamities to distract
fans from the game. "There haven't been fires burning everywhere you
look," said Clemons, a
Dunedin, Fla., native who is one of
the game's most popular players. "The focus has been on football."
While a one-year winning streak does not remake the CFL, the league
made a significant comeback and began to erase the memory not only of
the previous season, but also of its desperate expansion into the
United States in 1993. Why? "There's nothing like a near-death
experience to focus your mind," understates league chairman John Tory.
The near-insolvency of 1996 convinced team owners to stick to the
league-mandated $2.1-million-per-team salary cap-the average player's
salary this season was $45,000-and Tory enforced his
small-is-beautiful financial model with independent audits. Having
arrested the CFL's slide, Tory now wants to build league revenues by
coaxing corporate Canada into the sponsorship huddle. Most big
companies have so far stayed on the sidelines, but Tory is not
discouraged. "We have to earn their support," he says, "and we have
started that process."
League officials will spend the off-season working to restore interest
in eastern teams. While home attendance for Western Conference teams
rose 13 per cent in 1997, Montreal had a league-low average of 9,585
per game in 1997. And in Toronto, where so many head-office
sponsorship decisions are made, the Argos attracted an average of only
18,300 fans to SkyDome despite a stellar 15-3 regular-season record.
But the Argos drew 32,085 for their nail-biting 37-30 victory over
Montreal in the eastern final, and more than 10,000 fans turned out
for the Grey Cup victory parade. Adrian Watt took an afternoon off
from his job with a courier company to cheer the champs with his wife,
Sharon, and their two children. "Torontonians can be so fickle," Watt
said, "but if you like football, you've got to love the CFL."
Without a contract, Flutie, who lives in Natick, Mass., in the
off-season, could seek out a job in the National Football League. But
he has been well-paid in the CFL-thanks to the so-called marquee
player rule that exempts his income from the salary cap, he earned $1
million from the Argos in 1997 -and the Canadian game suits his
scrambling style of play. "I really think I'll be back here," he says.
"This is the best situation for me." So, too, for Masotti, a resident
of Stoney Creek, Ont., who, as the Argos' players union
representative, knew of the league's perilous state better than most.
"I can't believe how much they turned it around in one year," Masotti
says. "I mean, I'm excited about next year already." CFL officials
hope he's not alone.
Masotti and Flutie would share a strong
friendship. This was evidenced when Flutie gave his awarded truck for
Most Valuable Player in the Grey Cup in 1997 to Masotti the games Most
Outstanding Canadian. Over 12 season the Hamilton native would break
the 1,000 yard receiving plateau 4 seasons in a row 1994-97. He was an
Eastern All-Star on four occasions and a league all-star in 1994 when
he posted 1,280 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. He captured the Grey
Cup with Toronto in 1991, 1996 and 1997.
Paul Masotti would retire in 1999 at the
time the club leader in all-time receiving yards (since surpassed by
Derrel 'Mookie' Mitchell). He would serve as the teams General Manager
-- statistics --