While standing on the field, the sense of history is palpable.
The natural grass of old Varsity Stadium may have been replaced by the artificial surface of the current configuration, but the pre-season game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Montreal Alouettes will be played on the closest thing the CFL has to sacred ground.
Before the brick facade of the old structure succumbed to the wrecker's ball in 2002, the venerable facility hosted 30 Grey Cup games, more than any other host venue, the final one coming in 1957. Ghosts of the legends that played at the stadium simply known as 'Varsity' may be eager to peek through the wrought iron fences on the north or west side of the facility on Thursday to see how players like Calvillo, Ray and Owens would stack up against Etcheverry, Krol and Copeland.
The horseshoe stands are gone, replaced by one set of bleachers on the east side. Passersby on Bloor Street West will be able to look down to the playing field to see what all the fuss is about. Kids will try to figure a way to sneak in and join the fans who will assemble on the track surrounding the field, much as they did in the stadium's heyday. Someone standing there may try to trip a player who's running down the sideline, a feat that remains another part of Varsity's history.
Technology ensures that another famous game of days gone by will not be replayed, the 'Mud Bowl' Grey Cup final of 1950. There will, however, be one constant between that soggy battle and the pre-season game that will be played there 63 years later; Nick Volpe.
Volpe was a defensive halfback and place kicker for the Argos that November day and remains with the Argos as a consultant to football operations. He also played at Varsity Stadium for four seasons as a member of the University of Toronto Blues and still scouts the OUA for the double blue. He's thrilled about Thursday's game.
"I thought it was great but I wondered where the fans would sit" Volpe joked with TSN.ca "I go and watch U of T play all the time and it's a great field. The sight lines are great. The seats are high enough that you get a beautiful view."
Somewhat amazingly, Volpe kicked a pair of field goals and also made a touchdown saving tackle in the Argos 13-0 win over Winnipeg in the 'Mud Bowl' and was presented with the game ball by Head coach Frank Clair. It remains the most cherished memento of his lengthy football life.
Volpe left the Argos for several seasons, but stayed close to the game as an isolation director for CTV Sports when it covered the CFL. His talent as a player and scout been rewarded handsomely over the years and after last November's victory over Calgary he collected his seventh Grey Cup ring; two as a player, five in personnel. Does he think he may be in for number eight this season?
"I like what we have. We lost a lot of good defensive players, but boy I'll tell you the guys that they've brought in certainly look terrific. As long as we give Ricky Ray time to throw the ball and let (Chad) Kackert run with it, the receivers look so much better this year that I have a feeling we could win it again".
Ray, Owens and the ghosts of Krol and Copeland all hope that he's right.
Notes: All-star cornerback Patrick Watkins rejoined the team on Wednesday. He had been in the States dealing with what has been described as "personal issues." He says the timing was right to come back. "Sometimes when you play football life gets in the way." He says that when he decided to come back the first call he made was to Defensive Coordinator Chris Jones. He said the coach's first words to him were "When are you getting up here? When? When? When? When?" Watkins says he doesn't know when he'll be game ready...Trent Guy is hopeful that he can follow in a new teammate's footsteps. When Chad Owens arrived in Toronto from Montreal he was looked upon as an undersized returner who had to prove himself as a receiver. We know what happened there. Can lightning strike twice for the Argos? Guy hopes so. "I have to be a well-rounded receiver as well as a good returner. Chad was looked at as one of those guys, just a returner, and he's done great things in this league. I can learn a lot from him." Guy caught four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown in the first pre-season game in Winnipeg...Andre Durie's job is safe after a 71 catch, 845 yard season. The local product spent a few days with the Grey Cup at several off-season functions, but one stop was particularly special to him, a visit to his alma mater, York University. "The people there were such a help in my recovery from my knee injury, so just bringing it back to all of the doctors and therapists who helped me out through everything (felt great)"...When asked by TSN.ca how many veterans are on the bubble Scott Milanovich replied "Seven or eight." He was quick to follow up by saying that cutting a veteran is never easy. "Guys that you have relationships with and that you care about, it's always hard with anybody, but when you've accomplished some of the things we've accomplished together, it's tougher."
Thursday's game can be heard on TSN 1050 or TSN1050.ca at 7:00pm with Mike Hogan and Sandy Annunziata.