A football season can be a long, arduous affair. Practice after practice, meeting after meeting, film session after film session. The days run together and any break from the tedium is much appreciated.
In the 2012 season, the Toronto Argonauts had a class clown. Cornerback Ahmad Carroll kept things loose with his razor-sharp sense of humour. If you saw a player laughing so hard that he was on the verge of tears and you asked why he was busting a gut, the answer was usually one word: "Carroll."
Then, on October 17th, with the season more than half over and the daily repetition making the day-to-day grind even tougher, a life force unlike any other in the CFL was unleashed on the club.
The Argos signed Adriano Belli.
Belli was known as a talented, yet sometimes dirty player on the field. His well-deserved off-field reputation was as a person who would do anything to get a laugh. Anything. Head coach Scott Milanovich says that last year's arrival of the man known as 'The Kissing Bandit' came at a key time.
"Certainly Belli's arrival last year was well-timed" Milanovich told TSN.ca. "At the time, we were struggling and we needed a little levity."
Coincidence or not, Belli's added life to the locker room came at the same time the team started to show signs of life as a contender. It lost Belli's first game, then ran off five straight wins en route to a Grey Cup championship.
Does the team have a comedic 'go-to guy' this season? In a word, no.
"I don't know that you can replace an Ahmad Carroll or a Belli" continued Milanovich. "I don't know if we have that guy, but we've got some guys who, behind closed doors, can at least take a stab at it."
Multiple players pointed the finger at members of the linebacking corps as the guys to keep things loose. Robert McCune, Jason Pottinger and Marcus Ball all received more than one mention as the class clown. The latter didn't mind being cited one bit.
"It's very important to have a guy to loosen up the load a little bit" said Ball, the team's top defensive player a year ago. "You have meetings most of the work day, you're out here (at practice) battling with big, strong guys, and when coach is yelling at you, you need someone to loosen you up, so those guys help out a locker room and help brighten the day."
Who does Ball feel provides the most comic relief?
"I don't think it's one" continued the linebacker, "I think we've got a handful of guys who can light the locker room up. Khalif (Mitchell), myself, Pottinger and McCune, he's the sleeper."
James Yurichuk was with the B.C. Lions a year ago, missing out on the Carroll/Belli experience. Another member of the linebacking corps, Yurichuk was also pointed out as someone who breaks up the monotony of daily routine. That was news to him.
"I didn't know they thought about me like that" said the native of Brampton, Ontario. "I always thought it was Pottinger, a.k.a. Dr. Evil, taking on that role. It's a grind out here, so whatever you're able to do to loosen things up and keep spirits high, it's good overall for the team. I just try to be myself within the lines and if they laugh, they laugh."
Offensive lineman Jarriel King is another newcomer, who added his own sense of humour when asked about how he felt about his teammates.
"I got tired of them very early. I stay away from a lot of the guys, I'm a loner" deadpanned King, before talking about how important it is to keep things loose.
"We just have fun a lot" King told TSN.ca. "That's the best thing you can do during a long season like this. With bodies aching and everything, you just have to come to a common ground and just have some fun. As much as you would think that we do stay away from each other (away from the locker room), we kind of do stay together. It's the camraderie, but we joke around a lot."
King pointed to Ball and McCune as being the "big two" when it came to comedic relief. They may not be as outrageous as Carroll and Belli were, but may be equally important to the disposition of the team as it attempts to repeat as Grey Cup champions.