The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles, Chapter 2: Playing through the streets of Toronto

It is August, and Tim Tebow has signed with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. The stadium walls have opened beyond the end zone, and now the Argos must continue their drive northeast, running and passing through the streets of a strange metropolis.

Dear reader,

You are reading Chapter Two of Tim Tebow's memoirs. Herein, he chronicles his career with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts, which began in August of 2013.

In Chapter One, which you can read here,

  • Tebow was signed to the Argonauts by head coach June Jones, and took his first snap only minutes later.
  • He found that the game was different -- the ball weighed three pounds, and featured a long, telescoping fin that pulled out of the end of the ball like a javelin, if the quarterback wished. The culture was also quite different: fans followed the games not by TV or radio, but by networks of "shouties" -- children who would relay play-by-play commentary by yelling through a network of pipes that spread all across the region.
  • He found that many of his teammates were familiar faces, including Garrison Hearst, Freddie Mitchell, Dante Hall, and Bam Morris.
  • Upon running to the end zone, Tebow found that he had not scored a touchdown. In fact, no CFL player had reached the end zone since 1986. The wall behind the end zone was pulled apart, and the Argonauts were to continue their drive northeast, into downtown Toronto, and as far as they could go.

Tebow continues his memoirs in Chapter Two, in which he and the Argonauts navigate downtown Toronto.

September 4th, 2013.

Freddie Mitchell had never even shot a gun before, and you could tell, because the webbing of skin between his thumb and forefinger was bloodied when the pistol's hammer shot back. You could also tell from his face, and from the way he slowly set it on the ground, not knowing what else to do with it.

"I'd never even shot a gun before."

"I know. I could tell." I knelt down to return the safety and place the pistol back in its case. The wolf hadn't moved in five minutes, and Hall, finally convinced it was dead, stood over it. He'd shot the damn thing a half-dozen times. "I didn't even know if it was coming at me or not," he said.

"Can't take any chances. I think you did good."

"It's just so damn ... pretty."

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

August 19th, 2013.

Downtown Toronto was a mess. It was like the end of Cal-Stanford, trying to push the line of scrimmage through the city grid. Every sidewalk was lined with fans, many of whom were sitting in the detachable seats they'd ripped out of the Rogers Centre, and many more who'd heard the shouties. Every street was in happy gridlock: people had jumped in their cars, flooded in from the suburbs, driven as far into the city as they could get, and killed the engine.

That was Hell for us. It was Pac-Man, really, darting in front of bumpers and through medians, but the people in the cars loved it. Kids would press up against their windows and make funny faces at us. My folks used to yell at me for doing that, but people tend to be more permissive about stuff up there.

Simcoe_medium

After a bit, we decided to jump on top of the cars, which gave us a little more space to work. Somewhere on Simcoe Street -- about 500 yards from the Rogers Centre, I guess -- I called a huddle on top of a U-Haul truck. ("See historic Greenland," it said on the side. "Don't fall in!" Wasn't sure what to make of that.)

Hearst nodded toward a Toyota, about 20 yards ahead, with an open sunroof. "See that? They got an Argos sticker on the back of their car. Think they'll help us out. There's something I wanna try. I'll streak out, cut back in to that car, and you hit me?" Through 18 plays, Garrison Hearst hadn't so much as touched the ball. He was a 42-year-old running back, you know? I didn't plan on handing him the ball every other down. But sure, I said, I'd find him.

We broke the huddle. I stayed on top of the U-Haul with Hearst behind me and Bam Morris at center. The rest of my line fanned out. Freddie Mitchell stood on an old Ford Taurus on the left side; on the other end, Carl Pickens climbed on top of a Volkswagen. And then, reader, it was quiet.

See, what they do up there, is they got people who hold up big signs that say, "SHHHHHH ..." during offensive drives. I certainly appreciated being able to call my audibles in peace, but it was the oddest thing to me. Everyone on the streets was still. People stared at us in silence from below, in the cars, and above, from the skyscrapers. Across from me, a Stampeders defensive end slipped and lost his footing on a Camry windshield, the squeak of his rubber soles echoing against the buildings, and he picked himself back up.

I began a snap count I didn't really have any use for, and then I called for the snap. In front of me, Bam rose from his stance and put his hands out ... on top a damn U-Haul truck. Nobody else was up there. We all sort of stopped and laughed. Everyone did. The Stampeders started laughing, too, and Bam pointed a stubby finger at them with mock indignance: "y'all try to climb up on this truck, I'll stomp your damn knuckles!" The whole crowd had a laugh at that.

My receivers stumbled over hoods and spoilers to complete their routes. Hearst reached the top of the Toyota, spun, and turned around. And remember, this ball weighed three pounds, but I still hit him right in the gut. When a Stampeder grabbed his ankle, he simply dropped the ball through the sunroof and into the hands of some lady in a business suit. "Roll it down," he called as he jumped off the window on the passenger's side.

"What?"

"Roll down the window!"

She gestured emptily. "I ... you can't!"

Hearst grimaced. "Shit." He had lived in Canada for some time, but he was still an American, and adaptation is not among our strengths.

You see, in most Canadian provinces, car windows don't roll down. Ostensibly, this is because it's so cold so often that you'd never want to. In truth, during the summer months it can get every bit as hot and humid up there as it can in Nashville, but unlike the junk we drive in the States, their air conditioning never fails. None of their machinery ever does, really: if your microwave quits on you and you set it on the curb, neighbors will ask you if everything's all right, and if a car dies, it makes the papers.

The Canadian roadways are a gorgeous living collage in that way. Down south, cars don't last longer than eight years anymore, and they're all built to resemble warped little oblong bubbles that blew halfway out of the bubble wand and just stuck like that. But stop at a red light here, and you'll see a chrome-skirted 1977 Ford Granada idling next to you and a 1990 Nissan Sentra rolling past in front, and that Sentra will be spotless. You ever flip through an old magazine and see an ad for a 20-year-old car? You only know it as a dinged-up, metal-bumpered old thing, but there it is brand-new. It's like seeing a possum in daylight.

So. This lady couldn't roll down her window right then and there, because in Canada, "rolling down your window" means taking it to a shop and having government workers remove it with a set of wedges and window keys. Instead, she spoke into the voice-activated buckle of her seatbelt -- "Thank you, seatbelt, that will be all" -- and it popped apart. (Canadian cars are different in that way, too.) She scooted to the passenger's side, kicked open the door, and tossed out the ball. Hearst scooped it up and ran another 40 yards.

Shortly thereafter, we decided to turn right and proceed down King Street, through the heart of downtown Toronto. I don't know what we were thinking.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I feel as though I'm getting ahead of us, reader. I should explain: under "sandbox rules," which took effect the minute our drive advanced beyond the Rogers Centre turf, the following must be taken into consideration:

  • Crowd interference is entirely legal. Non-players cannot run far with the ball or hide it, but they can hold it, hand it off, or throw it. Tackling a non-player is considered poor form.
  • There is no play clock.
  • The offense must continue to advance, in the same direction they moved while in the stadium, until there is no land left to gain. You might wonder what, exactly, that means. A map might be helpful here.

Trajectory_medium

Along the way, it was entirely possible that the Stampeders would retake possession. We'd just stop them and keep going. The distance between Toronto and the Labrador Sea was about 21,100 football fields. Ten-hour days would surely slow us down, but if we could drive a hundred yards every 15 minutes, we'd be on pace to reach the end in about a year and a half. Accounting for off-days and the unknown, Hearst and Coach June rounded it up to two years, maybe two and a half.

I know you're asking me why.

Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-grumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
'Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain't been there before.

- Shel Silverstein

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

We really should have made a beeline straight out of downtown, even if it meant going 10 miles out of our way. June and Hearst had spent years drawing up a drive route, but they didn't anticipate that the entire city would take the day off work and clog downtown to see us. Around noon, we found ourselves on King Street, trapped on all sides by seas of people.

I've heard it said that Toronto is a city that doesn't know how to riot. I've heard that said pejoratively, and I never understood it: what's so great about a riot? What's so great about breaking bones and wearing handcuffs and skyrocketing insurance premiums? No, Toronto does not riot, and I'd never seen a more peaceful mass of people. They realized that they were in the way, and that they'd overcrowded King Street. The shouties did their best to disperse the crowd, banging into their shout-pipes and yelling, "Argos tryin' to drive! Make way! Find you a shout-pipe out in the 'burbies!"

But human beings aren't a hive of ants or a cloud of gnats. While we were evolving into the creatures we are today, we never saw more than fifty people our entire lives. We weren't designed to form crowds, and that's a hand we tip literally any time a few thousand of us crowd together. We do all kinds of things we aren't supposed to do. Anyone who knows anything about human biology will tell you, for instance, that a human being isn't supposed to play football. But sometimes you just gotta drive a Buick through the mud.

After an hour's wait, Coach June finally caught up to us, his horse slowly but surely cutting a path through the crowd. "Christ, y'all. We shoulda gone out of town, not in. Huddle up."

We asked the driver of a nearby church van if we could use it as a conference room, and he graciously obliged. Here's a rule, without exception: church vans are always at least 20 years old, and they harbor the stench of decades of youth groups. Smell brings out nostalgia in a person more than anything, I swear. It felt like I was on my way to a Jars of Clay show at the Six Flags.

June turned to face us from the driver's seat. "So. How we gonna unfuck ourselves?"

"We might just have to keep waiting," Hearst said. "Think the only way we pass through the crowd, as it is right now, is if we crowd-surf." God. I crowd-surfed at a Jars of Clay show. That might be the saddest thing anyone's ever done. I was exhausted and I had nostrils full of decade-old Wal-Mart-brand soda dust. I pressed my face against the window.

"TIMMY! Wake the fuck up!" I'd drifted off, for the shortest of moments, but felt like I'd slept an hour. My face was still stuck to the glass, and my eyes opened to the sight of First Canadian Place. I craned my neck to look as far up the building as I could. It was Canada's tallest skyscraper at the time. 72 stories, about a thousand feet. There we go. There it is. I spoke up.

"We can go into buildings, right?"

"Yeah ... nobody says we can't, I guess."

"The entrance to that building there is like 20 yards away. I can get there, head to the roof with the ball. Is that the tallest building in the city? Looks like it."

Hearst licked his thumb and flipped through a book of handwritten notes. "Yeah. That's First Canadian Place. Tallest in Toronto."

"OK. Well, y'all get through the crowd and disappear. Find another rooftop, a shorter one. And I'll throw it. We'll just go right over this crowd."

June laughed. "You know how heavy that damn ball is, Timmy. You can't throw it that far." But I was waiting for Hearst, who had taken out a pencil and started scribbling in the margins of a map.

"Damn. I really don't know."

Firstcanadian_medium

"From rooftop corner to rooftop corner, that's about a 140-yard distance on the map. What's the furthest you've ever thrown a football?"

I recalled fooling around in a spring practice in Gainesville a few years ago. "Like 80 yards, maybe? But that was a one-pound ball. This one's like three pounds?"

"I know." Hearst rapped the notebook with his pencil's eraser. "But in theory, it seems like you could get more velocity on the ball if you were strong enough. And there's a height difference here of almost 300 feet."

"June," I pleaded, "let me try this. It's first down, I have a set of downs to play with. If this works, we catch 'em totally off-guard. Huge gain."

"That thing's a bowling ball. You're gonna throw your arm out."

"No, I won't."

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Stampeders' defensive line elbowed its way forward. One of them asked, "y'all really gonna try and play in this? Thought you wouldn't try 'til tonight. Just Shoot Me! comes on at 7:30. Y'all know the streets would clear for that." And it's true that they would, because since entering syndication on Canadian television, Just Shoot Me! had become a national religious institution of sorts. The cities froze when it was on. You could ride a bicycle on the freeway if you really wanted.

I lined up behind Bam and called for the snap, and then I ran backwards and disappeared into the crowd. Freddie Mitchell, Dante Hall and Garrison Hearst joined me. Hearst and Mitchell were just decoys; we decided Hall would be the one to make his way to the Bay Adelaide roof for three reasons: he was quick, he was small enough to slip through the crowd, and he wasn't the celebrity Mitchell was in Toronto. Stealth was paramount, and we didn't want the crowd to tip off the defense.

I fought through the crowd, hit the revolving door, and ran through the First Canadian lobby to an elevator. The lift man smiled. "Up?"

"Yep."

He held on to his bellhop's hat with one hand as he looked up at the elevator's ceiling, which was a sort of windshield through which there wasn't really much to see. With the other, he gripped a steering wheel.

After half a minute, I had to ask. "Why does an elevator need a steering wheel?"

"It doesn't. Hey, I'm Harry. You're Tim Tebow, yeah?"

"That's me."

"Why the hell you going ... oh, you're gonna go to the roof! You're gonna chuck it off the roof!"

"Good guess!"

Harry laughed as he gave his steering wheel a couple honks. "There's an old song about that. They built the SkyDome in '89, and folks were like, hey, what if they ever get the ball through the end zone and go bound-for-street? You know it? You know that Banjo Bobbert song?"

"Who?"

Harry turned to stare at me in frustrated disbelief. "You never heard of Banjo Bobbert? They don't play Banjo Bobbert in America?" Between 1984 and 1998, Banjo Bobbert released eight albums, all of which went at least 20x platinum in Canada. He died in 1999; according to the autopsy report, it was because he drank milk too quickly, though the Canadian conspiracy-theory set will tell you it was actually because he drank it too slowly.

Banjobobbert_medium

"Banjo Bobbert did this one song -- this was in '89, right after the Argonauts moved into the SkyDome, and a couple years before he started playin' under his alter ego, Jamjo Jobbert. I like his old stuff better. Anyways, he did this song." He sung the chorus. "Go downtown, Argos, climb up the dingdangdingdangdingdangdingdang roof, a' throw it off the dingdangdingdangdingdangdingdangdingdangdingdangdingdang rooooooof!"

"And everyone knows that song?"

"Reckon so. If the Stampeders saw you come up here, they might think you're gonna do that. Just to get cute."

Well, shit. The elevator stopped, and a man with a three-piece suit and briefcase stepped inside. "Take me up, Harry-- hey! You Tim Tebow?"

"Yessir."

"Ha! Well, slap my ass! You're goin' up here like in the Jamjo Jobbert song?"

"Banjo Bobbert," Harry interjected. "He was still Banjo Bobbert back then."

"Oh, right." The man spun on his heels and turned to face me. "Hey, but you're a Christian though, right?"

"Yeah, I am."

"You wouldn't have dug Banjo Bobbert that much anyway, probably. He did a song about how God is actually a giant farting piece of toast. He wrote that right after he ran out of dish soap and got real pissed off about it, so you can't blame him all that much. But still."

"Farting toast?"

The man's eyes bugged. "Anything's possible in the world of music."

"Hey Tim." Harry pointed at the floor buttons. They were all lighting up, all at once. People wanted on. People had heard. People knew.

"Tim, don't you worry, alright? I'm just gonna drive you straight up." He hit four buttons, three of which read "UP" and the other "ELEVATOR," and away we went.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The elevator doors opened, and I darted up the final staircase and through the rooftop's access door. I leaned over the railing, and sure enough, there was Dante, standing on the Bay Adelaide rooftop. He waved his arms at me. God, he was so far away. I put the ball in my left hand and mimicked a throw as I imagined where it would go ... not far. Not far enough with planted feet, surely.

It's so far away. But I have 250-plus feet of vertical space to work with. But the ball is heavy. But this is what I am for.

I pointed at Dante. He pointed back. I gave myself 50 feet of space, broke into a sprint, lunged forward, and threw harder than I had ever thrown anything.

The ball was spinning well, and floated up with a Hail Mary arc. Up ... up ... and then down ... and then, two seconds too late, I realized:

Oh God, it's three pounds. From a thousand feet up, over a crowded street. If I miss, I will kill someone.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

June 4th, 1994.

Jenny was the only girl on our T-ball team, and it really seemed like she didn't want to be there. She wasn't any good, not even for a seven-year-old. But she was nice. One time after a game we all went to play in the park, and she and I just stopped in the middle of a game of freeze tag to play tic-tac-toe. On the side of this little play fort there was this big plastic tic-tac-toe fixture, you ever seen those? You spin these yellow panels around to mark an X or an O. We played that for a while. It was really nice.

I'm playing shortstop, and Jenny's playing second by literally standing on top of second base. The ball's hit, and I jump, and thwock, it hits me right in the glove. I'd never done that with a live ball before. Was there a runner on second? If there was, that would explain why I spun around and threw at her as hard as I could.

Jenny wasn't really looking. The ball hit her right in the face and broke her nose. She was screaming, blood was all over her face. I never saw her again.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

August 19th, 2013.

It's falling ... I don't know where it's gonna go ... shit, the sun's making it tough to see, I don't even know where it is ...

I look down and see Dante, head up, hands out, like he's taking in a kickoff. Then he's knocked backwards, takes a few stumbling steps backwards, and falls on his ass. It takes him a minute to get up. He takes a couple steps, then doubles over in pain and takes a knee, thereby ending the longest play in the history of the sport.

Torontostar_medium

Play was stopped for the rest of the day while CFL officials deliberated whether the play was legal. In open-field rules, players are permitted to use manually-powered vehicles -- bicycles, canoes, etc. -- but transporting the ball in any sort of motorized vehicle, unless an equal number of opponents are in the same vehicle, is illegal. They debated whether an elevator counted as a vehicle, and eventually ruled that it was a fixed component of a building.

The play stood, but Hall had to sit out a few days. You should've seen the welt on his stomach. A three-pound ball, falling from nearly 300 feet overhead, will do that. Just as I'd failed to recognize the danger I posed to the ground below until it was too late, he didn't realize what was about to happen to him until that speck started falling.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

September 4th, 2013.

The suburbs were fun. Families let us play through their yards, made us dinner, put us up for the night. The Stampeders received the same hospitality for the most part, although on one occasion, nobody would take them in. It's poor form in the open field to take shelter for the night while your opponent sleeps outside like a pack of dogs, so we excused ourselves and set up camp right next to them.

We suffered remarkably few injuries, too. Fewer than I would have thought, considering we were playing through such uneven and unpredictable terrain. Bam twisted his ankle really bad while trying to do a flip on a kid's trampoline, which sidelined him for about a week, but it didn't matter much. We were just better than the Stampeders. They hadn't prepared for this like Hearst and June had.

Thank god for Toronto's suburban grid, too. Were they laid out like the newer suburbs in the States, we would have had to deal with an endless network of cul-de-sacs that didn't go anywhere. Here, there were few dead ends, and there was more than one way to get somewhere. I never understood cul-de-sacs.

So we keep on driving -- a run here, a bootleg there, a long pass, an occasional hook-and-lateral thrown in. We implemented a team rule: unless Hearst or June said otherwise, if you got free, you could run 200 yards, but then you took a knee. We just couldn't risk separating the rest of the team from the ball like that. More importantly, if you're by yourself out in the countryside of southern Ontario, there are all kinds of troubles you can find yourself in.

It's September 4th. It took us 16 days to drive from the Rogers Centre to the Kawartha Lakes vicinity. The suburban houses had long ago given way to farmland, and now the farms were giving way to the wilderness. We put ourselves up in a series of cabins. The generators from our supply trailers, driven there by team personnel, roared on the other side of the camp.

Those things are so damn loud, but I don't know whether Freddie would have heard the wolf coming. Wolves are quiet when they approach, right? I didn't know, really. At any rate, Freddie saw one, ran to the trailer, took a revolver, and pulled the trigger. "It's jammed," he said, and someone yelled at him to take the safety off. He must've killed that wolf three times.

He stood over the carcass. "What do we do with it?"

"I don't know." I walked over to take it in. It really was a beautiful creature. "I guess we can probably skin and butcher it, have it for dinner tomorrow."

"When I was a kid," Freddie said, "I had two bad dreams. One was, we ran out of food to eat and we had to eat my dog. Tasted real sour, and we were all crying when we ate it. The other, though, I dreamed that scientists found out that when you die, you're still just lying there. You're thinking and shit. You just can't do anything. Kind of just trapped there for a million years or whatever. Like the Star Wars desert monster, except it's just you."

"God. That's awful, Freddie."

"I hadn't thought about that in forever. Guess I just thought of it because I ain't ever killed something before."

We set up a night watch after that night. The Argos and Stampeders moved their night camps closer together, and staffers would take shifts, watching the perimeter for wolves or bears or anything else. Inside the perimeter were tents and trailers, a big, ten-foot-tall campfire in the middle, and next to it was the ball, stood up like it was on a kicking tee, nose pushed into the mud. The Kawartha Lakes lay just ahead of us, and more lakes past that. Hearst figured we'd reach Quebec sometime in November.

Kawartha_medium

Chapter One of The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles can be read here.

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