Canadian Football League

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Loyal Canadian Football League Fan

Immediately after the Toronto Argonauts finish their workout today, they will return to a barbecue grill and an old flame.

The barbecue brigade, once led by a tiny field general named Doug Flutie, will storm up a hill about 100 yards from the practice field and go into a different kind of spread formation: taking seats around a picnic table set by Lori Bursey.
For more than a decade, Bursey has been setting a table — and a family tone — after weekend practices at the University of Toronto, flipping burgers for the team she flipped for years ago.
“I’ve loved these guys since I was a schoolgirl,” said Bursey, who is in her 40’s and works as an advertising sales manager for The Toronto Star.
“I have to take care of them.”
Born in Scarborough, Ontario, she was reared on the Argos, one of the Canadian Football League’s oldest teams. Bursey was 12 when she attended her first game and developed an instant crush on them. “Thirteen of us cut school to go to that first game, but as the years passed, my circle of Argos friends got smaller and smaller,” Bursey said. “Until there was only me.”
Once a diehard fan of the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jays, Bursey eventually soured on them. By the time the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball returned from their most recent work stoppages, she had lost interest.
“I started to ask myself, ‘How could anyone make that much money and not be satisfied?’ ” Bursey said. “I’d rather root for the Argos and other C.F.L. players because they are ordinary people earning ordinary salaries, and that makes them a lot more accessible.”
A season-ticket holder and president of the Argos’ fan club, Bursey has the kind of relationship with the players and the coaches that cannot be found at a fantasy camp.
After home games, she goes to Joe Badali’s, a local restaurant and bar, where she is joined by a group of players. The Bursey bunch gathered there July 8, after Toronto lost to Winnipeg.
“Lori’s relationship with the players extends beyond the football field,” said Noel Prefontaine, the Argos’ place-kicker and punter, who often calls Bursey just to chat.
“She has always proven her loyalty,” Prefontaine added. “As a player, it’s comforting to have a true fan on your side, someone who is not patting us on the back when we’re doing well and talking behind our backs when we’re going bad.”
Bursey travels for most road games — her license plate reads ARGOZ — and has been to 21 straight Grey Cups. She is as well known around the C.F.L. as some of the star players. On July 1, the newly arrived Ricky Williams, serving a one-year suspension from the N.F.L. for a fourth violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy, wasted no time becoming acquainted.
“Ricky walked over to me and wished me a happy Canada Day,” Bursey said. “He seems like a pretty nice guy.”
Bursey was asked by her extended family to handle coin-tossing duties before the season opener against archrival Hamilton.
Now living in Markham, a Toronto suburb, Bursey has a home with a room dedicated to her first love. She has been married to Ron Keffer for 20 years, and they take two cars to home games.
“We go separately because I stay too long,” Bursey said.
The Argos room, she said, is filled with “tons of footballs,” autographed jerseys and other memorabilia. She owns a necklace with a diamond-and-sapphire pendant that mirrors the Argos’ championship ring from the 1997 Grey Cup, a reward from the team for her unwavering loyalty.
She also owns a 1991 Argos championship ring from an auction. “I put in a winning bid of $1,800,” she said proudly.
But Bursey could not put a price on the second-row seat she occupies at the Rogers Center, some 30 feet behind the Argos’ bench.
“I need to be close enough to have my guys hear me rooting for them,” she said. “When I start screaming, they just kind of laugh, but I usually get my message across, if not during a game, then after.”


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