Thursday, June 28, 2018

Top 10 Moments When America Could Have Embraced Soccer, But Didn't -- and Why

The World Cup is underway, and the United States of America is, well, not playing in it. We didn't win the games we needed to win in order to be 1 of the 3 teams from the CONCACAF region to qualify. Those 3 turned out to be Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama.

Of course, this saves Donald Trump the trouble of having to decide between his favorite country, the host country, and the country he was "elected" to lead, ours.

America has never truly embraced soccer. There have been 9 occasions when we could have, but didn't:

1. 1874: Harvard vs McGill. Essentially, McGill University, in Montreal, is Canada's answer to Harvard University, right down to the Crimson color. Both Harvard's men and McGill's men believed themselves to be sporting gentlemen, in the tradition of the Victorian Era that was pretty much at its peak in the 1870s.

As citizens of the British Empire, McGill's men believed themselves to be honest, brave, and examples for the youth of the world to follow. The University's motto is Grandescunt Aucta Labore, Latin for "By work, all things increase and grow."

As citizens of the United States of America, Harvard's men believed the same things of themselves, with the added touch of being the inheritors of the American Revolution. The University's motto is Veritas, Latin for "Truth."

Having heard that Harvard had one the best football teams in America, McGill invited Harvard to come up and play "football." It would be the 1st-ever "football" games between American and Canadian teams. Wishing to maintain their appearance as honorable sportsmen, Harvard happily accepted.

But when they got to McGill's Jarvis Field on May 15, 1874, they discovered that the game they'd been invited to play was rugby. They'd expected that they would be playing association football -- which got shortened to "assoc." and eventually to "soccer." (Rugby has frequently been called "rugger.")

Being "sportsmen" and "gentlemen," the team captains met to discuss the discrepancy with civility. There may have been tea involved, or perhaps a stronger beverage.

They came up with a compromise: They would play a game under Harvard's "Boston game" rules, and another game under the "code" of "rugby union," the version of football most familiar to Canada at the time. (Indeed, the predecessor to the CFL, the Canadian Football league, was the CRU, the Canadian Rugby Union.) Harvard won the soccer game 3-0. The rugby match ended 0-0.
The Harvard men liked the rugby version, including the "try." When they returned to the U.S., their officials met with officials from other schools, and the rules were combined with those of the soccer generally considered "football" in America, and carrying the ball was officially allowed, and the "try" became the "touchdown."

So if you want to know why America plays the gridiron game instead of "football," blame Harvard and McGill.

You could also blame another Harvard man, the Rough Rider himself:

2. 1905: Theodore Roosevelt. On October 7, 1905, the University of Pennsylvania hosted nearby Swarthmore College in a football game at the original Franklin Field. (Built in 1895, it was replaced by the current structure in 1923.) Penn won the game, 11-4.

Swarthmore guard Robert Maxwell, known as Tiny for being so big and fat, got his nose broken, but played both ways the whole game. It was the only game Swarthmore lost all season, and it would probably be forgotten today, especially since Swarthmore is now a Division III school.

Except a photograph was taken of Maxwell's bloody face, and the wire services put it on the front pages of newspapers all over the country. One of them made its way to President Theodore Roosevelt. A former athlete himself -- he had been on the Harvard boxing team in 1880, and played tennis even while President -- he requested figures, and found out that 18 young men had died playing college football in 1904.

So the Rough Rider hauled the presidents of Harvard, Yale and Princeton -- then the nation's leading football-playing universities -- into the White House, and, in a meeting on October 9, told them point-blank: Either you do something to make football safer, or I will take action.
You want to tell him he's bluffing? I don't.

TR -- he did not like the nickname "Teddy" -- didn't have to actually threaten to ban the sport. Given his reputation as a man who got things done and didn't let anything stand in his way, just the possibility that he would be taking over their sport, taking their power away, was enough to spur them into action. The safety measures they took over the next year are now considered the founding of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Had the gridiron game been stopped at this time, in the Progressive Era, the world's game might have caught on, and, like so many other things that began elsewhere, been given an American touch, so it wouldn't have carried the "foreign" label.

One of the rule changes that the proto-NCAA recommended was widening the field. This might have made a football field, 160 feet (53 1/3rd yards) wide, as wide as a soccer field, usually around 222 feet (74 yards).

But, again, Harvard is involved. Harvard Stadium was built in 1903, and it was the first modern football stadium. The field could not be widened without tearing down half the stadium and essentially starting over. Harvard was not willing to do that and, at the time, the influence of Harvard was roughly the same as the influence of Notre Dame, Michigan, Alabama, Texas, and USC combined. In other words, if Harvard wanted something, it usually got it. So the field was not widened. Instead, the forward pass was legalized, which made the game considerably safer.

3. 1918: World War I. There are many stories of impromptu soccer games being played between teams of British and German soldiers in the "No Man's Land" stretches between the trenches in France and Belgium during the Christmas Truce on December 25, 1914.
A re-enactment

Then known as The Great War, The World War, and, erroneously, The War To End All Wars, this conflict was the first chance for many Americans to not merely see a foreign land, but to meet foreigners, not merely immigrants from those places, and to get to know them and their ways.

A popular song of 1918 expressed the question many had on the effects of the boys they sent off to battle: "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" (Paris.)

Well, the American authorities of a century ago had 2 answers, 1 they thought of, and 1 that they stumbled onto. They one they came up with themselves was to point out that America won the war, whipping the Germans after a combined force of British, French and Russians hadn't.

This was the real beginning of the concept of "American exceptionalism," and the dismissiveness of everything foreign: Why should we give a damn about what the Limeys and the Frogs like, when we're better? American stuff should be good for our boys. Be a "100 percent American," and ignore foreign things. In other words, ignore British and French clothing styles, art, music... and sports. Baseball and football are your games, not cricket and soccer.

And so, despite the foundation in 1913 of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and the establishment of teams on what we would call the minor-league level, most Americans chose to ignore the sport as "foreign," and not "100 percent American." This was among the things that led the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw to say, "The 100 Percent American is a 99 percent idiot."

Yes, Shaw was Irish, not English. And there was the solution that dropped into the laps of the the hyper-patriots. A lot of the boys who went overseas were of Irish descent, and identified with the people trying to separate from the United Kingdom and found the Republic of Ireland. And so, they wanted nothing to do with English things, like soccer.

This was true not just of the Irish-Anericans, but of the natives of the Emerald Isle themselves. To this day, the most popular sports in Ireland are rugby, Gaelic football (which closer to rugby than to soccer, and remains all-amateur), and hurling (sort of a cross between field hockey and lacrosse, and not to be confused with the iceborne sport of curling).

There had always been a few Irish players in England's Football League, but it was the growth of television that led to Irish boys overruling their adults in large numbers and saying, "We want to beat the English at their own game, just like we do in rugby."

So while American soldiers, Irish and otherwise, coming home were ready to help start and play in a new football league, it was going to be "American football." On September 17, 1920, the American Professional Football Association was founded in Canton, Ohio. It was renamed the National Football League in 1922.

4. 1929: The Great Depression. There were 12 teams in the NFL at the start of the 1929 season. In late October, the stock market crashed. There were 10 teams in 1933 -- but only 4 of them were in the League just 4 years earlier: The Chicago Bears and Cardinals, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants.

The Depression killed off teams in the smaller markets, except for the Packers, who were saved due to the friendship between their boss Earl "Curly" Lambeau and Bears owner-coach-GM and former end George Halas.

Oddly, American soccer survived. But it's possible the NFL might not have. If it hadn't, then it wouldn't have still been there from September through December. And, with hockey not yet big business in America, and pro basketball still very much minor-league, something else could have stepped in for October through April, to fill in the gap between baseball seasons.

5. 1945: World War II. American troops were in Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, all soccer-mad countries. They could have absorbed the culture and taken it back, just as they could have after World War I.

But, just as after World War I, they didn't. By this point, the problem wasn't a disdain for foreign things. We now values our alliances too much for that.

No, this time, the issue was that there were too many big sports: Baseball, college football, pro football, college basketball, hockey, boxing and horse racing. On June 6, 1946, pro basketball joined them, with the founding of the Basketball Association of America. In 1949, the Eastern-based BAA merged with the Midwestern-based National Basketball League to form the NBA. There was no place for soccer in America. Yet.

6. The 1950 World Cup. America stunned England 1-0 at Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The whole world was shocked. Except us: There was only 1 American reporter covering it. It should have shaken us up, and we didn't even know it happened.
Even as late as 2002, when the famous "Dos a Cero" win over Mexico happened, Jay Leno could joke on The Tonight Show, "Half of California went into mourning! And the other half said, 'There was a game?'"

7. The 1966 World Cup. This was the 1st one to be broadcast on worldwide satellite TV. And it was in England, a country America knew and liked. 

And there were heroes that America could have embraced. England's Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst. Brazil's Pelé. Portugal's Eusébio. Spain's Luis Suárez (not related to the current Uruguay star of the same name). West Germany's Uwe Seeler. Italy's Gianni Rivera and Sandro Mazzola. Even the political arch-nemesis, the Soviet Union, had the charismatic goalkeeper Lev Yashin.

But only 16 teams qualified for the World Cup at the time. In qualification from CONCACAF, the region covering North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, only the winners of the 3 groups advanced to a round-robin, and only the winner of that went to the World Cup.

The U.S. was placed in a group with Mexico and Honduras. We got a 1-0 win and a 1-1 draw with Honduras, but only a 2-2 draw and a 2-0 loss with Mexico. Had that 2-2 draw with Mexico in Los Angeles on March 7, 1965 -- which was also "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama -- been a 3-2 win, we would have advanced to the round-robin with Costa Rica and Jamaica. Could we have won that? We'll never know.

Here's what Mexico did: Drew 1-1 with France, lost 2-0 to England, and drew 0-0 with Uruguay, playing all 3 of their Group Stage games at the old Wembley Stadium in London. They did not advance to the knockout round. If the U.S. had matched that, the difference would have been the draw with Uruguay: A 1-0 win would have put us in the Quarterfinal with -- West Germany, which ended up taking England to extra time of the Final, before losing on the controversial goal by Geoff Hurst. (I've seen the replay many times, and I think it was legit.)
Queen Elizabeth II -- with Prime Minister Harold Wilson,
Prince Philip, and Katharine, Duchess of Kent, a big "football" fan -- 
awards the Jules Rimet Trophy to England Captain Bobby Moore,
at the old Wembley Stadium in London, July 30, 1966.

8. The 1970 World Cup. The world got turned on by the 1966 World Cup -- and by the 1970 edition, the 1st to be broadcast worldwide in color, with Brazil's bright yellow shirts standing out against the green of the field.

America didn't qualify for that one, either, despite the fact that Mexico was the host meant that they qualified automatically, and a 2nd CONCACAF place was opened.

The U.S. won its group in the Autumn of 1968, thanks to a 1-0 win over Canada (but also a 4-2 loss to them), and 6-2 and 2-0 wins over Bermuda. But we lost both legs of the Semifinal to Haiti, 2-0 in Port-au-Prince on April 20, 1969 and 1-0 in San Diego on May 11, and that was that. After a series that literally resulted in a 2-day war between El Salvador and Honduras, El Salvador beat Haiti in the Final to qualify.

If we had beaten Haiti, and then El Salvador? We would have been put in a group with the host nation, Mexico; and with the Soviet Union, each a major rival in a different way; and Belgium. If we had matched El Salvador's results, that would have been a 3-0 loss to Belgium, a 4-0 loss to Mexico, and a 2-0 loss to the Soviets, all at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. And there would have been no one-goal loss, or draw, that altering by 1 goal that would have made a difference.

That might have being a depressing set of results, especially the last one, that could have set American soccer back so much that we didn't make the World Cup again until... 1990, which is exactly what happened.

9. 1977: Pelé. For a brief time, O Rei do Brasil was filling American football stadiums with people who wanted to watch the greatest player in the history of futebol. Even after he retired, the original North American Soccer League did fairly well.
But his successor as the leading player of the New York Cosmos, Giorgio Chinaglia, had an even bigger ego than Pelé, and saw himself as the man who could make soccer's destiny as America's next great sport come true. When he found out one of the Cosmos' owners was ready to sell his share, Chinaglia bought it. Soon, he was, while still a player, essentially controlling everything.
And he ran the team into the ground. They lost gobs of money, and began to lose. Attendance had been 47,856 per game at Giants Stadium in 1978, the year after Pelé retired. Even in 1983, it was still 27,242. In 1984, it was 12,817. The team had to fold. Without its New York team, so did the League.

This did incalculable damage to American soccer. Somehow, we were still awarded the 1994 World Cup. But we had to establish a new top division. To do that, we had to find people willing to ignore how badly the NASL was run, and commit their money and their time. That wasn't easy.

Surely, the World Cup was going to help. Right?

10. The 1994 World Cup. At first, it looked like it would. It remains the World Cup with the highest per-game attendance, 68,991. And what an array of talent, not dampened in the slightest by England failing to qualify for the 1st time since 1978.

From finalists Brazil: Romário, Ronaldo, Cafu, Bebeto, Dunga, Leonardo, and Claudio Taffarel. From finalists Italy: Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Gianfranco Zola, Mauro Tassotti, Roberto Donadoni, Antonio Conte, and Roberto and Dino Baggio (not related). From semifinalists Sweden: Henrik Larsson and Tomas Brolin. From semifinalists Bulgaria: Hristo Stoichkov.

From quarterfinalists the Netherlands: Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman, Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, Danny Blind, Edwin van der Sar, and the twins Frank and Ronald de Boer. (Marco van Basten had already had to retire due to injury.) From quarterfinalists Germany: Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann, Jürgen Kohler, Rudi Völler, Thomas Häßler, Andreas Brehme, Matthias Sammer and Oliver Kahn. From quarterfinalists Romania: Gheorghe Hagi and Gheorghe Popsecu. From quarterfinalists Spain: Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique.

From the Round of 16: From Argentina: Diego Maradona (who ended up getting suspended for drugs), Gabriel Batistuta and Claudio Caniggia. From Ireland: Roy Keane, Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton, John Aldridge, Steve Staunton, Ronnie Whelan, Tony Cascarino and Packie Bonner. From Nigeria: Jay-Jay Okocha.

From teams that didn't make it to the knockout round: Roger Milla from Cameroon, and Carlos Valderrama and his hair from Colombia.

And from our own team, which did make it past the group stage for the 1st time since 1930: Alexi Lalas, Eric Wynalda, Cobi Jones, Marcelo Balboa, Paul Caligiuri and Jersey Boys Tony Meola, John Harkes, Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna. True, we got knocked out by Brazil, on home soil, on the 4th of July no less, and we wore horrid uniforms. But it was still a big boost for American soccer, just what the upcoming founding of Major League Soccer (MLS) needed going into 1996.
Yes, we actually wore these things.

Certainly, we got the pageantry right. Having America play on the 4th of July worked out well, despite the loss. And the New York market got lucky, as 2 of the country's, and particularly the Tri-State Area's, biggest ethnic groups ended up having their ancestral homelands playing at the Meadowlands: The Republic of Ireland and Italy.
Ireland vs. Italy, Giants Stadium, June 18, 1994. Attendance: 75,338.
Ireland pulled the upset, winning 1-0.

But the 2 worst things that could have happened did happen. Someone got killed. Not in the stadium, or in the streets; it wasn't a fight between hooligans. Not even in the country. After his own goal sent Colombia down to defeat against us, Andres Escobar went back home, and was shot and killed.

The other was that the Final ended scoreless. There were the 2 best teams in the world, Brazil and Italy, and, after a full 90 minutes, plus extra time making it 120 minutes, the final score was 0-0. Nil-nil. Nothing to nothing. Americans like scoring, and any American watching this Final, not knowing all that goes into a soccer game, would have found it boring as hell. It probably set interest in the sport back several years.
The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California, July 17, 1994. Attendance: 94,194.

Roberto Baggio blasted a penalty kick over the crossbar, and Brazil won. And Americans not already into soccer shrugged their shoulders, and either went back to watching baseball or began preparing for a new NFL season.

How to Be a Red Bulls Fan In Toronto -- 2018 Edition

Last season, Toronto FC won the MLS Cup. Earlier this year, they lost the Final of the CONCACAF Champions League to Mexican side C.D. Guadalajara, a.k.a. "Chivas." D.C. United in 1998 and the L.A. Galaxy in 2000 remain the only teams north of Mexico to win that tournament. (Indeed, not since Costa Rica team Saprissa in 2005 has it been won by a team outside Mexico.)

This Sunday afternoon at 4:30, the Red Bulls visit the titleholders. It should be a good test for both teams.

Before You Go. This game is being played on July 1, Canada Day, the anniversary of the nation's 1867 independence from Britain. Keep in mind that many places and services will be closed, and there may be revelry going on.

This is Canada, the Great White North, but, being early July, it can be hot. According to the Toronto Star website, temperatures will be in the mid-80s in the afternoon and the low 70s at night. 

Toronto is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to reset your watch or fiddle with your smartphone's clock.

Make sure you call your bank and tell them you're going. After all, Canada may be an English-speaking country, and a democracy (if a parliamentary one), and a country with a Major League Baseball team, but it is still a foreign country. If your bank gets a record of your ATM card making a withdrawal from any country other than the U.S., it may freeze the card, and any other accounts you may have with them. So be sure to let them know that you will, in fact, be in Canada for a little while.

And, since June 1, 2009, you need a passport to cross the border in either direction. Even if you have a valid driver's license (or other State-issued ID) and your birth certificate, they ain't lettin' you across into the True North Strong and Free. Not even if you're a Blue Jays season-ticket holder living in Buffalo or if you sing hosannas of praise to Wayne Gretzky. You don't have a passport? Get one. You do have one? Make sure it's valid and up to date. This is not something you want to mess with. Canadian Customs officials do not fuck around: They care about their national security, too.

Do yourself another big favor: Change your money before you go. There are plenty of currency exchanges in New York City, including one on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue.

Leave yourself $50 in U.S. cash, especially if you're going other than by plane, so you'll have usable cash when you get back to your side of the border. At last check, on the evening of June 27, 2018, US$1.00 = C$1.33 – or, C$1.00 = US 75 cents. (Yeah, already, Trump is reducing the value of the U.S. dollar, whether he realizes it or not.) However, since the currency exchanges need to make a profit, the current rate may actually favor Canada.  (I was actually in Canada on the day when it most favored the U.S.: January 18, 2002, $1.60 to $1.00 in our favor.)

The multi-colored bill were confusing on my first visit, although we have those now, too. The $5 is blue, and features Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister 1896-1911). The $10 is purple, and features John A. Macdonald (the 1st Prime Minister, 1867-1873 and again 1878-1891, essentially he's their George Washington without having fought a war for independence). The $20 is green, and features the nation's head of state, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. The $50 is red, and features William Lyon Mackenzie King (the longest-serving Prime Minister, 1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948, including World War II). And the $100 is yellow, and features Robert Borden (Prime Minister 1911-1920, including World War I).

The tricky part is going to be the coins – and you'll thank me for telling you this, but keep your U.S. coins and your Canadian coins separate, for the simple reason that their penny, nickel, dime and quarter are all the same colors and just about the same size as our respective coins. (To make matters more confusing, as we recently did with our States, they had a Provincial quarter series.)

All coins have Queen Elizabeth's portrait on the front, but she's been Queen since 1952, and depending on how old the coin is, you might get a young woman, or her current 91-year-old self, or anything in between. You might even get a penny or a nickel old enough to feature her father, King George VI. Such a coin is still legal tender, however.

They have a $1 coin, copper-colored, bigger than a quarter, and 11-sided, with a bird on the back. This bird is a loon – not to be confused with the people lunatic enough to buy Maple Leafs season tickets. The coin is thus called the "loonie," although they don't say "ten loonies": They use "buck" for "dollar" the way we would.

In fact, the term is connected to Canada: Their first English settlers were the Hudson's Bay Company, and they set the value of a dollar to the price of the pelt of a male beaver, the male of the species being called, as are those of a deer and a rabbit, a buck. (And the female, a doe.) The nation's French-speakers (Francophones) use the French word for loon, and call it a "huard," but since the Montreal Expos are gone, you probably won't hear that term unless you're a hockey fan and go to see the Rangers, Devils or Islanders in Montreal – or maybe Ottawa, which is on the Ontario-Quebec border and has a lot of French-first-speakers.

Then there's the $2 coin, or "toonie." It's not just two dollars, it's two-toned, and even two-piece. It's got a copper center, with the Queen on the front and a polar bear on the back, and a nickel ring around it. This coin is about the size of the Eisenhower silver dollars we used to have. This is the coin that drives me bonkers when I'm up there.

My suggestion is that, when you first get your money changed before you begin your trip, ask for $1 coins but no $2 coins. It's just simpler. I like Canada a lot, but their money, yikes, eh?

Tickets. Since their establishment in 2007, Toronto FC have been very successful at the box office, regardless of how good they've been on the field. They are averaging 26,295 fans per home game this season -- a sellout. Capacity has been expanded so that the Argonauts could move in, and they're still selling it out.

Part of this is due to Toronto's status as an "international city." Large French, Italian, Russian and African communities love to watch soccer, both in the stadium and on TV from around the world at pubs. And, with Ontario still being part of the British Commonwealth, the English pub culture is strong.

Fortunately, this being soccer, sections are set aside for visiting fans. Specific to this stadium, it's the tops of Sections 203 and 204, in the northeastern corner. According to the source I have, tickets for those sections are $32 -- but already sold out. You may have to find an alternate means of getting them, or sit among home fans (which are still available, at prices running from $84 on up. In each case, these prices are listed in Canadian dollars, as they're quoted by, not

Getting There. The best way is by plane. (Note that these prices, unlike the preceding, will be in U.S. dollars.) Air Canada runs flights out of Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia International Airport to Toronto's Lester Pearson International Airport (he was Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968 and won the Nobel Peace Prize), and the flight takes about an hour and a half. Book on Air Canada today, and you can get a round-trip flight for under $600. On an American carrier (including, but not necessarily, American Airlines), it will be more expensive, and it probably won't be nonstop.

Greyhound runs 9 buses a day from Port Authority Bus Terminal to the Toronto Coach Terminal, at 610 Bay Street. (Countries in the British Commonwealth, including Canada, call a local bus a "bus" and an inter-city bus a "coach.") The ride averages about 11 hours, and is $232 round-trip -- although an advance purchase can drop it to $116.  The TCT is big and clean, although a little confusing, as it seems to be two separate buildings. You shouldn't have any difficulties with it. It's one block down Bay to Dundas Street, and turn left to get to the Dundas subway station.
Amtrak, however, runs just one train, the Maple Leaf, in each direction each day between New York and Toronto, in cooperation with Canada's equivalent, VIA Rail. This train leaves Grand Central Terminal (not Pennsylvania Station, due to track work there until September) at 6:40 AM, and arrives at Union Station at 7:41 PM, a trip of 12 hours and 25 minutes – 8:21 of it in America, 56 minutes of it at Customs (4:01 to 4:57 PM) and 2:46 of it in Canada. The return trip leaves Toronto at 8:55 AM, reaches the border at 10:57, and gets back to Grand Central at 9:55 PM.

So if you want to see, for example, this game, you would have to leave New York on Saturday morning and leave Toronto on Monday morning, and spend 2 nights in a hotel.
So, while Toronto's Union Station, at 65 Front Street West, is one of the world's great rail terminals, and is the heart of the city (it's the centerpoint of the city's subway system, so it's not just in the heart of the city), taking Amtrak/VIA to Toronto is not particularly convenient. Especially since the Maple Leaf is one of Amtrak's most popular routes, and it could sell out. If you still want to try it, it's US$283 round-trip. That's a lot more than Greyhound.
If you're driving, it's 500 miles – well, 492 miles from Times Square to downtown Toronto, and 479 miles from Red Bull Arena to BMO Field. It's 79 miles from downtown to the closest border crossing, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge at Niagara Falls. (It's 458 miles from Times Square, and 45 miles from the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, to downtown Hamilton, home of the CFL's Tiger-Cats.)

Get into New Jersey to Interstate 80, and take it all the way across the State. Shortly after crossing the Delaware River and entering Pennsylvania, take I-380, following the signs for Scranton, until reaching I-81. (If you've driven to a game of the Yankees' Triple-A farm team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, you already know this part.) Take I-81 north into New York State. (If you've driven to a game of the Mets' Double-A farm team, the Binghamton Mets, you already know this part.) Continue on I-81 past Binghamton and to Syracuse, where you'll get on the New York State Thruway, which, at this point, is I-90. Continue on the Thruway west, past Rochester, to Buffalo.

What happens next depends on where you cross the border. But first, let's discuss what you should do when you're actually at the border. Because you need to take this seriously. Because Canadian Customs will.

You'll be asked your citizenship, and you'll have to show your passport and your photo ID. You'll be asked why you're visiting Canada. Seeing a Yankees vs. Blue Jays game probably won't (but might) get you a smart-aleck remark about how the Jays are going to win, but they won't keep you out of their country based on that alone.

If you're bringing a computer with you (counting a laptop, but probably not counting a smartphone), you don't have to mention it, but you probably should. Chances are, you won't be carrying a large amount of food or plants; if you were, depending on how much, you might have to declare them.

Chances are, you won't be bringing alcohol into the country, but you can bring in one of the following items duty-free, and anything above or in addition to this must have duty paid on it: 1.5 litres (53 ounces) of wine, or 8.5 litres (300 ounces or 9.375 quarts) of beer or ale, or 1.14 litres (40 ounces) of hard liquor. If you have the slightest suspicion that I'm getting any of these numbers wrong, check the Canada Customs website. Better yet, don't bring booze in. Or out.

As for tobacco, well, you shouldn't use it. But, since President Obama ended the ban last year, either way over the border, you can bring up to 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, and 200 grams (7 ounces) of manufactured tobacco. As for Cuban cigars, last year, President Obama relaxed the embargo: Now, travelers may return to the United States with up to US$100 worth of alcohol or tobacco or a combination of both. Products acquired in Cuba may be in accompanied baggage, for personal use only.

If you've got anything in your car (or, if going by bus or train) that could be considered a weapon, even if it's a disposable razor or nail clippers, tell them. And while Canada does have laws that allow you to bring in firearms if you're a licensed hunter (you'd have to apply for a license to the Province where you plan to hunt), the country has the proper attitude concerning guns: They hate them. They go absolutely batshit insane if you try to bring a firearm into their country. Which, if you're sane, is actually the sane way to treat the issue.

You think I'm being ridiculous? How about this: Seven of the 45 U.S. Presidents -- 9 counting the Roosevelts, Theodore after he was President and Franklin right before -- have faced assassins with guns, 6 got hit and 4 died; but none of the 23 people (including 1 woman) to serve as Prime Minister of Canada has ever faced an assassination attempt. John Lennon recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in Montreal and gave his first "solo concert" in Toronto, but he got shot and killed in New York. In fact, the next time I visit, I half-expect to see a bumper sticker that says, "GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, AMERICANS WITH GUNS KILL PEOPLE."

(Another note about weapons: I'm a fan of the TV show NCIS, which airs in Canada on Global Network TV. If you are also a fan of this show, and you usually observe Gibbs Rule Number 9, "Never go anywhere without a knife," you need to remember that these are rules for members of Gibbs' team, not for civilians. So, this time, forget the knife, and leave it at home. If you really think you're going to need it -- as a tool -- mention the knife to the border guard, and show it to him, and tell him you have it to use as a tool in case of emergency, and that you do not plan to use it as a weapon. Do not mention the words "Rule Number 9" or quote said rule, or else he'll observe his Rule Number 1: "Do not let this jackass into your country, eh?" And another thing: Border guards, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, most likely will observe a variation on Gibbs Rule Number 23: "Never mess with a Mountie's Tim Hortons coffee if you want to live.")

And if you can speak French, don't try to impress the Customs officials with it. Or the locals, for that matter. You're going into Ontario, not Quebec. (And even if you were going into Quebec, they're not going to be impressed by your ability to speak their first language.) A, People of French descent are a minority west of Quebec (although singers Alanis Morrissette and Avril Lavigne are both Franco-Ontarians); and, B, They can probably speak English, let alone French, and possibly another language or two, better than you can. If you try to speak French in Toronto, you won't sound like you're from Montreal, and you certainly won't sound like you're from Paris. You'll sound like a smartass. That's if you speak French well. If you don't, you'll sound like a damn fool.

When crossing back into the U.S., in addition to what you would have to declare on the way in (if you still have any of it), you would have to declare items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return, items you bought in duty-free shops or (if you flew) on the plane, and items you intend to sell or use in your business, including business merchandise that you took out of the United States on your trip. There are other things, but, since you're just going for baseball, they probably won't apply to you. Just in case, check the Canadian Customs website I linked to above.

Precisely where will you be crossing the border? It could be at the Peace Bridge, built in 1927 to commemorate the U.S. and Canada having "the world's longest undefended border," from Buffalo into the Ontario city of Fort Erie.
After going through Customs, this would take you right onto the Queen Elizabeth Way (the QEW). After the Pennsylvania Turnpike, this was North America's 2nd superhighway, and was named not for the current Queen but for her mother, the wife of King George VI, the woman most people now under the age of 65 called the Queen Mother or the Queen Mum. (You know: Helena Bonham-Carter in The King's Speech.)

This road will hug Lake Ontario and go through the Ontario cities of Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Hamilton before turning north and then east toward Toronto. Toronto's CN Tower is so tall that you may actually see it, across the lake, before you get to Hamilton.

The most common route from Buffalo to Toronto, however, is to go north on I-190, the Thruway's Niagara Extension, to Niagara Falls, and over the Rainbow Bridge, past the Horseshoe Falls. After you go through Customs, the road will become Ontario Provincial Highway 405, which eventually flows into the Queen Elizabeth Way.
At the edge of the "megacity" of Toronto (Montreal is also now a "megacity"), the QEW becomes the Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway. ("Big Daddy" Gardiner was a major Toronto politician, and was responsible for getting it built.) The Gardiner does not have numbers on its exits. If you're going for only the game, and are leaving Toronto right afterward (I don't recommend this this: Spend a day in the city), you'll take the Spadina Avenue exit to get to Rogers Centre.

If you make 3 rest stops – I would recommend at or near Scranton and Syracuse, and count Customs, where they will have a restroom and vending machines – and if you don't do anything stupid at Customs, such as fail to produce your passport, or flash a weapon, or say you watch South Park (a show with a vendetta against Canada for some reason), or call Sidney Crosby a cheating, diving pansy (even though he is one) – the trip should take about 11 hours.

Though that could become 12, because Toronto traffic is every bit as bad as traffic in New York, Boston and Washington. As Canada native (Regina, Saskatchewan) Leslie Nielsen would say, I am serious, and don't call me Shirley: Toronto traffic is awful.

Once In the City. Founded as York in 1793, it became the City of Toronto in 1834, the name coming from Taronto, a Native American name for the channel of water between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching. There are 2.7 million people in the city, and just under 6 million in the metro area; in each case, making it larger than any in North America except New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- unless you count Mexico to be part of "North America" instead of "Central America," in which case add Mexico City to those that are larger.

Since Canada is in the British Commonwealth, there are certain subtle differences. Every measurement will be in the metric system. Dates are written not as Month/Day/Year, as we do it, but as Day/Month/Year as in Britain and in Europe. So the game will be played, for us, on "July 1, 2018"; but, for them, on "1 July 2018." And it would be written not as "7/1/18," but as "1/7/18."

They also follow British custom in writing time: The 4:30 kickoff is listed as "1630." Those of you who have served in the military, you will recognize this as, in the words of M*A*S*H's Lt. Col. Henry Blake, "all that hundred-hours stuff." And every word we would end with -or, they will end with -our; and some (but not all) words that we would end with -er, they end with -re, as in "Rogers Centre."

Another thing to keep in mind: Don't ask anyone where the "bathroom" is -- ask for the "washroom." This difference was a particular pet peeve of mine the first time I arrived at the Toronto Coach Terminal, although it wasn't a problem in Montreal's Gare Centrale as I knew the signs would be in French.

Every measurement will be in the metric system: Temperatures will be in Celsius, not Fahrenheit; distances will be in "kilometres," not miles (including speed limits, so don't drive 100 thinking it's miles); and gas prices will be per "litre," not per gallon (so don't think you're getting cheap gas, because a liter is a little more than a quart, so multiply the price by 4, and you'll get roughly the price per gallon, and it will be more expensive than at home, not less).

When you arrive, I would recommend buying the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. The former newspaper is local, the latter is national, and both are liberal enough to suit my sensibilities (or, should I say, sensible enough to suit my liberalism). And The Star has a very good sports section, and should do a good job covering the Jays, although, being a hockey city in a hockey Province in a hockey country, you'll see a lot of stuff about the Maple Leafs and nearby minor-league, collegiate and "junior" hockey teams, no matter what time of year it is.

I would advise against buying the Toronto Sun, because it's a right-wing sensationalist tabloid, and every bit the journalistically sloppy rag that the New York Post is. (It also has conservative "sister papers" called the Sun in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary, although the Vancouver Sun is not connected.) The National Post, while also politically conservative (and thus a national competitor for The Globe and Mail), is a broadsheet and thus conservative in the sense that it is calmer and more sensible with its journalism.

As if being Canada's national media, culture and finance capital wasn't enough, there's another reason why people outside it, and particularly inside the Province of Ontario, hate Toronto: It's the Provincial capital, its Legislative Building located at Queen's Park, just north of downtown. "Queen's Park" has become slang for the government, or for perceived government corruption.
The Ontario Legislative Building.
It looks more collegiate than political.

If you can get to Union Station after leaving your hotel, you may also be able to get out-of-town papers, including the New York ones, as well as Canadian papers such as the Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen.

Toronto's sales tax is 13 percent -- in 2010, this replaced the former Provincial sales tax of 5 percent and the federal GST (Goods & Services Tax) of 8 percent. In other words, the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper wanted Canadians to think he'd killed the hated GST, when, in fact, Ontarians (who only make up 36 percent of the country) are paying pretty much the same taxes that they did before. See how stupid it is to vote for conservative candidates? It doesn't work in any country.

Toronto Hydro Corporation runs the area's utilities. The city is about 47 percent white, 21 percent East Asian, 13 percent South Asian, 9 percent black, 4 percent Middle Eastern, 3 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent Aboriginal ("Indian" or "First Nations"). About 47 percent of the population is foreign-born, one of the highest percentages in the world. (For comparison's sake, it's 37 percent in New York City.)

Union Station is at the intersection of Bay & Front Streets. Bay runs north-south, and divides Toronto's east and west sides, and the street numberings thereof; the lake serves as the "zero point" for streets running north and south, and thus there's no North and South on street names. Bay Street is also Canada's "Wall Street," the center of Toronto's financial district, and is not particularly well-liked by, well, anybody who isn't conservative in Canada. Toronto has no freeway or tollway that serves as a "beltway."

Toronto has a subway, Canada's oldest, opened in 1954 and known as "the Rocket." (I'll bet Montrealers hated that, since it was the nickname of their beloved hockey star Maurice Richard, well before future Blue Jay and Yankee Roger Clemens was even born.) 
Along with Philadelphia, it was 1 of the last 2 subway systems in North America that still used tokens, but they have phased them out in favor of a farecard system, in their case known as the Presto Card. The fare is C$3.00 (US$2.29), and a DayPass is C$13.00 (US$9.92). They also have a streetcar system, on which the Presto Card can be used.
The drinking age in Ontario is 19. Postal Codes in Toronto begin with the letter M, and those in the suburbs with L. The Area Codes are 416 for the city and 905 in the suburbs, with 437 as an overlay.

Going In. BMO Field (pronounced "BEE-moh"), home of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and Major League Soccer's rather unimaginatively-named Toronto FC, was built in 2007, adjacent to the site of Exhibition Stadium.
Despite the stadium being in Toronto, BMO is short for Bank of Montreal, which, somewhat awkwardly, is also the jersey sponsor for TFC's arch-rivals, the Montreal Impact. This would be like if the Red Sox had replaced Fenway Park, and named the new facility BNY Mellon Stadium, as the Mellon Financial Corporation bought out the Bank of New York.

It's a little more than 2 miles west of Union Station. If you're driving in, the official address is 170 Princes' Blvd. Exhibition Stadium was across Prince's Blvd. from BMO Field. Parking is C$14. If you're taking public transportation, use GO, Toronto's commuter-rail service out of Union Station, the Lakeshore West line, to Exhibition stop.

Regardless, you'll likely be entering from the north. The stadium is a horseshoe, open at the north end. Gate 1 is at the northeast corner, Gate 2 is on the east side, Gate 3 at the southeast corner, Gate 3B at the south end (it may have been added later, messing up the sequence, like the New Jersey Turnpike's Exits 6A, 7A, 8A and 15X), Gate 4 on he west side, and Gate 5 at the northwest corner.

The field is aligned (roughly) north-to-south, and started out as artificial turf, but was switched to real grass in 2010. The arrival of the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts for the 2017 season resulted in an expansion to 30,991 seats. TFC are thus 1 of 6 MLS teams groundsharing with a pro football team.

BMO Field hosted the 2008 MLS All-Star Game, between MLS All-Stars and London club West Ham United, and the 2010 MLS Cup Final, a neutral-site game in which the Colorado Rapids defeated FC Dallas. Toronto FC has hosted England's Liverpool FC, and Italy's AC Milan and Greece's Olympiacos have opposed each other there.
In 2016, BMO Field hosted the Grey Cup, the CFL championship game, and the Ottawa Redblacks defeated the Calgary Stampeders 39-33. On January 1, 2017, in connection with the 100th Anniversary of both the NHL and the Maple Leafs, it hosted the NHL Centennial Classic, an outdoor game that the Leafs won 5-4 in overtime over the Detroit Red Wings. It hosted a record crowd for the facility, 40,148.
UPDATE: North America won a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. BMO Field was chosen as 1 of Canada's 3 sites, the others being the Olympic Stadium in Montreal and Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

In April 2019, the Canadian Premier League, Canada's attempt at a "top flight" soccer league, will begin play. It was rumored that TFC's farm team, Toronto FC II, would join it, but Toronto's team in the league will instead be "York 9 FC," playing at York Lions Stadium, home of York University. TFC II will continue to play in the United Soccer League, the 2nd tier of overall North American soccer. They play at the 9,600-seat Allan A. Lamport Stadium at 1151 King Street West, with some games at BMO Field.

Food. Toronto is an international city, and you would expect its sports venues to have good food. The north end of the stadium, the open end, is dominated by the Budweiser King Club, open only to season-ticketholders, Open to all are the RealSports Barbecue Pit, Hero Certified Burgers, Toronto-based pizza franchise Pizza Pizza, and Sal's Poutinerie (if, that is, you can eat poutine without spitting that foul stuff back out).

The east stand has Taste of Italy and Footy's Footlongs (hot dogs). The south end has another RealSports Barbecue Pit, another Sal's Poutinerie, and an El Jimador bar. The west stand has another Sal's Poutinerie and a Taco FC stand. The west stand also has an upper deck, which has a Pizza Pizza stand.

Team History Displays. As a relatively new franchise, having recently celebrated their 10th Anniversary, TFC do not yet have any retired numbers, nor a team hall of fame. It took them from their founding in 2007 until 2015 before they first made the MLS Cup Playoffs, although they won the Eastern Conference Championship and reached the MLS Cup Final the last 2 seasons. Each time, they faced the Seattle Sounders at home, losing in 2016 and winning in 2017. They also won the Supporters' Shield for best regular-season record in MLS in 2017.

Their best player ever is current star Sebastian Giovinco, a forward from Turin, Italy, who helped restore his hometown club, the scandalized Juventus, to its former glory in the early 2010s.
They have won the Voyageurs Cup, given to the winners of the Canadian Championship -- effectively, Canada's version of England's FA Cup -- 6 times: In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017 (meaning they "did the Double" last season); and finished runners-up in 2008 and 2014. They have already reached the Semifinals for this season, and will play the Ottawa Fury next month. The winner will play the Final against either the Montreal Impact or the Vancouver Whitecaps in August.
But TFC's Canadian Championship achievements become less impressive when you remember that the 3 MLS teams -- themselves, the Impact and the Whitecaps -- get byes to the Semifinal. And that it's only been running since 2008, and, except for Vancouver in 2015, either Toronto or Montreal has won it every time.

Because the trillium is the State Flower of Ohio and the Provincial Flower of Ontario, the Crew and Toronto FC play each other for the Trillium Cup. The Crew have won it 6 times, TFC 4, including last year's.
Columbus and Toronto players walk onto the field
past the Trillium Cup

There is, as yet, no display in the fan-viewable areas for any of TFC's trophy wins.

Stuff. There is no team shop, for either the Argos or TFC, at BMO Field. There are 9 souvenir stands located in the stadium, and Real Sports Apparel, located at Gate 1 of the Air Canada Centre, sells items related to all 5 Toronto major league sports teams, not just the Leafs and the Raptors.

At the dawn of the 2013 season, Tim Drodge published Toronto FC: Soccer's Big Red Machine. According to, that book is now out of print. But the title win led to a collaboration between The Athletic's Toronto correspondent Joshua Kloke and TFC (and USA) star Michael Bradley: Come On You Reds: The Story of Toronto FC, which will be published on October 30 of this year.

During the Game. You will find fans from around the world at TFC home games. They may have brought their "ultra" traditions with them. But Canada prides itself on the politeness of its people. Which of these prevails on a given day is a crapshoot.

The best advice I can give you is to be on your best behavior. So don't sing, "You can shove your CN Tower up your ass!" like you do when TFC come to Red Bull Arena. And don't make any remarks about Canada's head of state, Britain's Queen Elizabeth: Many won't care, a few might. Saying something about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might not have an effect, as he's from Montreal; but why take the chance? If you want to boo their players, that's fine. But keep the "You suck, asshole!" chants to a minimum.

The rivalry with Montreal may actually be nastier than Maple Leafs-Canadiens, and certainly more so than Argonauts-Alouettes in the CFL. During the 2016 season, a section of TFC fans -- the Inebriatti (more about whom later) insist it was not them, and the evidence backed them up -- raised a tifo (banner) showing a woman in Montreal blue kneeling before a man in Toronto red (the opposite colors from hockey and football), suggesting that she was, um, providing him with a naughty service. The perpetrators were identified, and their season tickets revoked. In 2017, Montreal got its revenge, hanging a banner reading "FUCK TORONTO." Again, the guilty parties were identified and punished.

Since you're in Canada, there will be two National Anthems sung, and the club holds auditions rather than having a regular singer. "The Star-Spangled Banner" will probably be sung by about half of the few hundred Metro Fans who show up, but "O Canada" will be sung by the home fans with considerable gusto, which is part of BMO Field having one of the most-mentioned atmospheres in the league.

When I'm at a sporting event where the opposing team is Canadian, I like to sing "O Canada" in French. Montreal Canadiens fans like this when I do it at the Prudential Center. Fans of the other Canadian NHL teams just think it's weird. When I did it in the 2 games I've been to at Rogers Centre, the Jays fans simply thought I was a twat. But then, they root for the Jays, and I root for the Yanks, so I'd rather have their opinion of me than my opinion of them. 

From 2013 to 2016, TFC's mascot was -- I swear, I am not making this up -- a live bird of prey named Bitchy the Hawk. Unlike Challenger the Eagle, Bitchy is not trained to fly around the stadium. Rather, she was chosen as, effectively, a scarecrow, to scare off the seagulls that fly off Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands, infamous for having plagued the area when Exhibition Stadium stood, by scavenging for food and... doing other things.

The seagulls don't know that she's spent all her life in captivity: They think she's a wild bird of prey. At the other end of safety, she was kept indoors at night, as Toronto's skyscrapers are known to have nests of great horned owls, who would be a threat to a tamed hawk.
I told you I wasn't making it up.

Bitchy was retired, not due to age -- at 17, she was a bit old for a bird of prey -- but because the Argonauts objected to having her in the stadium.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), which owns TFC, the Maple Leafs, the Raptors, their respective development clubs (Toronto FC II, the Toronto Marlies and Raptors 905), and their respective arenas and practice facilities (BMO Field, the Air Canada Centre, Ricoh Coliseum, the MasterCard Centre, the BioSteel Centre and KIA Training Ground) -- but has since sold Maple Leaf Gardens to Ryerson Arena -- acknowledged the international nature of their city, and has actively encouraged "fan culture" at TFC. The result is perhaps the most intense fan base in Major League Soccer.

The oldest active group is U-Sector, named for their old section, Section U at Varsity Stadium, where they supported the Toronto Lynx from their establishment in 1997 until TFC came along in 2007. They now sit in Section 113, in the southeast corner.

The Red Patch Boys, named for the nickname of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division of World War II, sit in Section 112, which they call The Bunker, next to U-Sector in 113. They are a supporters' group for both TFC and the Canadian national team, making them a counterpart to our American Outlaws. 
Red Patch Boys in 112, U-Sector in 113

Original 109 sit in Section 109, on the east stand, and are noted for being TFC's traveling support. Formerly known as SG111 and SG114 after their seating sections, the Inebriatti -- Italian for "The Drunks" -- are in Section 114 behind the south goal. Their motto is, "We are not a fan club." Like Italian ultras, they wave flags and launch smoke. The Tribal Rhythm Nation unites local fans from the African, Latin American and Caribbean communities, and are noted for their drumming. They sit in Section 118, in the southwest corner.

Since TFC are known as the Reds, like Liverpool FC (whom they hosted in Summer 2014), and apparently chose the simple "FC" name in honor of LFC, they have borrowed Liverpool's "Oh When the Reds" chant to "When the Saints Go Marching In." They sing a version of Depeche Mode's "I Just Can't Get Enough," and adapted a classic footie chant to become "Toronto 'Til I Die." Despite their Canadian pride, they sing a song titled "Yankee General" for their Captain, U.S. star Michael Bradley.

After the Game. As I said, some of these people may have cut their teeth as sports fans in English or European soccer. But we're not talking about hooligans here. If you behave yourself on the way out, most likely, they will, too.

There's a Medieval Times a 5-minute walk west of BMO Field, but I wouldn't recommend that as a place to go for a postgame meal -- even if it's open. Most likely, you'll have to go back downtown, unless you're driving in and right back out after the game, in which case you'll get something on the road.

The only reference I can find to a bar or restaurant in Toronto where New Yorkers are known to gather is the Sports Centre Café, at 49 St. Clair Avenue West, off Yonge Street. It has lots of screens, and, supposedly, local Giants fans watch NFL games there. I know, that's a bit vague, but it may be your best shot. St. Clair stop on the subway.

At 99 Blue Jays Way, 3 blocks north of Rogers Centre, is Wayne Gretzky's Restaurant. But since he betrayed his former fellow players and sided with his current fellow owners in the 2004-05 NHL lockout, I consider him a traitor to the game of hockey, and I will not set foot in his establishment, and I would advise you to avoid it as well.

I would also advise avoiding Jack Astor's, a smart-alecky-named chain of Canadian restaurants that includes one at 144 Front Street West, about halfway between Union Station and the Rogers Centre. I ate there the last time I was in Toronto, and the food and service would be mediocre at half the price. They have only 1 location in the U.S. -- not surprisingly, in nearby Buffalo, at the Walden Galleria east of downtown.

There's the Canadian Bar & Grill, at the Hyatt Regency at 370 King Street West, 4 blocks from Rogers Centre.  It features what it calls "traditional Canadian cuisine." This includes wild game, as well as regional items like poutine and Newfoundland clam chowder. (Apparently, the word "chowder" came from the Newfies, and theirs is closer to New England's than to the tomato-based abomination known as Manhattan clam chowder. Clam chowder is one of the few things New England does better, a lot better, than New York.)

If rabbit stew isn't your cup of tea, try the Loose Moose Tap & Grill, at 146 Front Street West, 2 blocks from the stadium. There, as they say, you'll "eat like a king then party like a rock star!" You'll be dining like a typical Torontonian, rather than with guys likely to jump into the Monty Python "Lumberjack Song." (If you've never seen that sketch, let me put it this way: Don't ask, and I won't tell.) And the Lone Star Texas Grill, a block away at 200 Front Street West, is jointly owned by several former CFL players, and is a fair takeoff on the U.S. chain Lone Star Steakhouse.

Actually, your best bet may be, as Vancouver native Cobie Smulders of the TV series How I Met Your Mother would put it, "the most Canadian place there is": Tim Hortons. (Note that there is no apostrophe: It's "Hortons," not "Horton's," because Quebec's ridiculous protect-the-French-language law prohibits apostrophes and the company wanted to keep the same national identity.)

They have a 62 percent share of the Canadian coffee market (Starbucks has just 7 percent) and 76 percent of the Canadian baked goods market. They also sell sandwiches, soup, chili, and even (some of you will perk up faster than if you'd drunk their coffee) New York-style cheesecake. It's fast food, but good food. I rate them behind Dunkin Donuts, but ahead of Starbucks.

Tim Horton, a defenceman (that's how they spell it up there) for the Maple Leafs, and businessman Ron Joyce started the doughnut/coffee shop chain in 1964, while in the middle of the Maple Leafs' 1960s dynasty. He played a couple of years for the Rangers, then went to the Buffalo Sabres and opened a few outlets in the Buffalo area. He was still playing at age 44, and the only thing that stopped him was death. Specifically, a 100-MPH, not-wearing-a-seat-belt crash on the Queen Elizabeth Way over Twelve Mile Creek in St. Catharines, Ontario. (In other words, if you're driving or taking the bus from New York to Toronto, you'll pass the location.)

Joyce, whose son Ron Jr. married Horton's daughter Jeri-Lyn, joined with Dave Thomas of Wendy's and merged the two companies in 1995, becoming its largest shareholder, with even more shares than Thomas. Although the companies have since split again, it was mutually beneficial, as Wendy's gained in Canada and Timmy's poked their heads in the U.S. door.

There are now over 4,600 Tim Hortons locations, including one at Toronto's Union Station, several on Canadian Forces Bases around the world, and over 500 in the U.S. – and they're heavily expanding in New York, including 3 in the Penn Station complex alone (despite Horton himself only briefly having played for the Rangers upstairs at the "new" Madison Square Garden). They are also partnered with Cold Stone Creamery, with an outlet on 42nd Street, a 2-minute walk from Port Authority. These Hosers know what they're doing.

If your visit to Toronto is in the European soccer season (which starts again in August), you can cheer on your club of choice in one of these places:

* Arsenal: Midtown Gastro Hub, 1535 Yonge Street, at Heath Street. Line 1 to St. Clair.

* Liverpool, Everton, Newcastle United, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid: Scallywags (or "Scally's" for short), 11 St. Clair Avenue West, at Yonge Street. Line 1 to St. Clair. Why supporters of both Merseyside clubs go to the same place, I don't know. Maybe it's just a really good place.

* Manchester City: Opera Bob's, 1112 Dundas Street West, at Ossington Avenue. Line 505 to Ossington.

* Chelsea: Firkin On King, 461 King Street West at Grant Street, Line 504 to Spadina.

* Manchester United: Firkin On Bloor, 81 Bloor Street East, at Church Street. Line 1 to Bloor.

* Tottenham Hotspur: Scotland Yard, 56 The Esplanade, at Church Street. Line 1 to Union Station.

* West Ham United: The Dog & Bear, 1100 Queen Street West, at Dovercourt Road. Line 505 to Dundas.

* Aston Villa: The Oxley Public House, 121 Yorkville Avenue, at Hazelton Avenue. Line 2 to Bay. (Yeah, I know they were relegated, but I still have a listing for them.)

* Celtic: McVeigh's, 124 Church Street, at Richmond Street. 301, 501 or 502 streetcar to Queen Street. Line 1 to St. Clair.

* Barcelona: Barcelona Tavern, 109 Atlantic Avenue, at King Street West. Line 304/504/514 to King & Jefferson.

* Bayern Munich: International Sports Bar, 2480 Cawthra Road, Mississauga. Line 1 to Bloor-Yonge, then Line 2 to Islington, then Bus 1 to Dundas & Cawthra.

* Juventus: Toronto Azzurri Village, 4995 Keele Street, at Chimneystack Road. GO Transit Barrie Line to York University.

* AC Milan: St. Louis Bar & Grill, 8290 Highway 27, Vaughan. Line 1 to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, then Bus 77 to Highway 27, then a mile north.

* If you don't see your club listed, your best best is Toronto's original soccer pub, the Duke of Gloucester, at 649 Yonge Street, at St. Mary Street. Line 1 to either Wellesley or Bloor-Yonge.

Sidelights. Being the largest and most influential city in Canada, Toronto is loaded with tourist traps. This has been spoofed in "The Toronto Song," a bit by the Edmonton-based comedy trio Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. (It's often cited incorrectly, including by myself, in previous editions of this piece, as being by the Arrogant Worms. It's not obvious that 3DTB are from Edmonton until the end of the song, by which point they've said everything in Ontario sucks, as do all the other Provinces, except, "Alberta doesn't suck – but Calgary does.")

They're not far off.  Toronto is much cleaner than most American cities: U.S. film crews, trying to save money by filming there, have had to throw garbage onto the streets so it would look more like New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles, and then they have to do it again between takes, because the street-sweepers clean it up that quickly. But the city does have slums, a serious homeless problem, ridiculous rents, never-ending lakefront high-rise construction (mirroring Mayor Mike Bloomberg's similar projects in New York), and their share of metalheads, punks, Goths and chavs.

I wouldn't call now-long-parted Mayor David Miller a dork, as 3DTB did, although his predecessor, Mel Lastman, was often a Canadian version of Rudy Giuliani. With better hair. You may have heard about recent Mayor Rob Ford: He was a crook, an alcoholic and a crackhead, who was just barely able, through legal action, to keep his office. Alas, cancer prevented him from running for re-election, and he recently died. The current Mayor is John Tory, and his conservatism makes him aptly-named.

Torontonians can't quite decide whether they want to be Canada's New York (national media, culture and finance capital, home of the CBC and CTV, and Bay Street is their "Wall Street"), Canada's Chicago (a gritty blue-collar "drinking town with a sports problem"), or Canada's L.A. (movie-filming center.) Actually, Montreal is Canada's New York, Hamilton its Chicago, and Vancouver its L.A.

Toronto is... Toronto is something else. Scientists have yet to figure out what. But check out these locations:

* Hockey Hall of Fame, 30 Yonge Street, blocked by Yonge, Front, Bay and Wellington. If you go to Toronto and you don't go to the Hockey Hall of Fame, they should deport you from Canada and never let you back in. This place is great, and the actual Stanley Cup is there.
Well, 2 of them are, the original bowl that was so damaged that they replaced it in 1970, plus some of the bands with old-time winners on it, and a display copy. The one that gets awarded every year is also stored there in preparation for its annual awarding, then gets to go wherever the winning team's players want to take it for almost a year.

You'll also see why Canadians call hockey jerseys "sweaters": They used to be sweaters, as you'll see in the display cases. You'll also see why they're not sweaters anymore: Holes where they were eaten by moths. Hockey eventually got that right.

They also got the location for their Hall of Fame right: While it's not clear where hockey was invented, and the NHL was founded in Montreal, they put their Hall of Fame in an easily accessible city, unlike baseball (hard-to-reach Cooperstown, New York is not where baseball was invented), basketball (Springfield, Massachusetts is where it was invented, but it's a depressing town), and pro football (Canton, Ohio is where the NFL was founded, but it's so drab and bleak it makes Springfield look like Disney World… Sorry, Thurman Munson). Union Station stop on the TTC subway.

* Rogers Centre. Originally known as the SkyDome, for its retractable roof, and opening in June 1989, the building was renamed the Rogers Centre in 2005, for the new corporate owner of the Jays, Rogers Communications, founded by the late Ted Rogers and featuring several cable-TV networks, most notably Rogers Sportsnet (although TSN, The Sports Network, ESPN's Canada version, is the more popular).
The official address is 1 Blue Jays Way. The subway doesn't go to the dome. The closest stop is the one for Union Station. And the city's famed streetcars are no help, either. It's a great city for public transportation, unless you're going to Rogers Centre or the CN Tower, which are only the 2 biggest tourist attractions in the city, and right next-door to each other. (When SkyDome opened in 1989, somebody called them a sperm-and-egg pairing.) I'd say they're the 2 biggest tourist attractions in the Province of Ontario, or even the entire country, but, as I said, you'll have to pass Niagara Falls.
Rogers Centre hosted the Argos for 27 seasons, and hosted 4 Grey Cups. It hosted the Vanier Cup, the National Championship of Canadian college football, from 1989 to 2003, and again in 2007 and 2012. It also hosted a few Buffalo Bills "home games," and the International Bowl, once won by Rutgers. With the new grass field coming in, the stands will be fixed in place, so, no more football. The NBA's Raptors played there from their 1995 debut until the 1999 opening of the Air Canada Centre.

* Exhibition Place. The Canadian National Exhibition is kind of a nationwide "State Fair." It was on the grounds, off Princes Boulevard, that Exhibition Stadium, or the Big X, stood from 1948 to 1999. It was home to the Blue Jays from 1977 to 1989 and the CFL's Argonauts from 1959 to 1988. It hosted only one MLB postseason series, the 1985 ALCS, which the Jays lost to the Kansas City Royals.
It hosted 12 Grey Cups, although only one featured the Argos, and that was the 1982 game, won by the Edmonton Eskimos over the Argos in a freezing rain, with the fans chanting, "We want a dome!" The SkyDome/Rogers Centre project soon began, and Exhibition Stadium never hosted another Grey Cup. It hosted the Vanier Cup in 1973, 1974 and 1975. It hosted Soccer Bowl '81, which ended 0-0, and then the Chicago Sting beat the New York Cosmos 2-1 on penalties. It was demolished in 1999, and BMO Field was built on the site.

* Varsity Stadium and Varsity Arena. The home of the athletic complex of the University of Toronto, it includes the 3rd Varsity Stadium on the site, replacing one that stood from 1911 to 2002 and the one before that from 1898 to 1911. It only seats 5,000, but its predecessor could hold 21,739, and hosted more Grey Cups than any other facility, 29, from 1911 to 1957.
Old Varsity Stadium

The Varsity Blues have won the Yates Cup, emblematic of supremacy in Ontario college football, 25 times from 1898 to 1993; the Vanier Cup in 1965 and 1993; and, as with their hockey team, they were once much bigger, or perhaps the competition was much smaller, they won the 1st 3 Grey Cups, in 1909, 1910 and 1911, and a 4th in 1920. 

Unlike Exhibition Stadium, the Argos won 9 of their 16 Grey Cups at home at Varsity Stadium: 1914, 1921, 1937, 1938, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950 and 1952. (They also won at Sarnia in 1933, Vancouver in 1983, Winnipeg in 1991, Hamilton in 1996, Edmonton in 1997 and Ottawa in 2004.) It hosted the Vanier Cup from its inaugural game in 1965 to 1972, and again from 1976 to 1988.
Varsity Stadium was home to the various Toronto teams in the original version of the North American Soccer League: The Toronto Metros from 1971 to 1975, the Toronto Metros-Croatia (having merged with the club named Toronto Croatia) from 1976 to 1978, and the Toronto Blizzard from 1979 to 1984.

Despite winning the Soccer Bowl, the NASL title, in 1976, and reaching the Final again in 1983 and 1984, they went out of business after the 1984 season, as did the entire League the following year. Varsity Stadium was the location of the one and only visit to Canada thus far by North London soccer giants Arsenal, a 1-0 over a team called Toronto Select on May 23, 1973. And it hosted what turned out to be the last NASL game, the 2nd leg of Soccer Bowl '84, with the Blizzard losing 3-2 to the Chicago Sting.

It hosted the 1969 Rock 'n Roll Revival Concert, as shown in the film Sweet Toronto, featuring John Lennon and his Plastic Ono Band (of course, with Yoko Ono, but also with Eric Clapton), the Doors, Alice Cooper, and founding fathers of rock Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. This was the concert where a live chicken was thrown at Cooper from the seats, and he threw it back, thinking it could fly, but it died, thus beginning his legend.

Next-door is Varsity Arena, built in 1926 and seating 4,116 people. The Varsity Blues have won 10 National Championships in hockey: 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977 and 1984. They used to be much bigger, including serving as the Canadian team at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, winning the Gold Medal. The Arena was also the home of the Toronto Toros of the World Hockey Association in the 1973-74 season.
The current Varsity Stadium, with its blue running track,
and Varsity Arena behind the press box

Museum stop on the Yonge-University Line, or St. George stop on the Yonge-University or Bloor-Danforth Lines.

* Rosedale Park, Scholfield and Highland Avenues. This was the 1st home of the Argonauts. They played here from 1874 to 1877, again from 1908 to 1915, and again in 1919. This is where the 1st Grey Cup game was held, on December 4, 1909. The University of Toronto defeated the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club, 26-6. There's now a soccer field on the site of the original stadium.

Unfortunately, the closest subway stop is Summerhill, on the Yonge-University Line, and you'll have to walk a roundabout path to get there. If you really want to see it, you may want to take a cab.

* Maple Leaf Gardens, 60 Carlton Street, at Church Street. Home of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs from 1931 to 1999, this was arguably the most famous building in Canada. The Leafs won 11 Stanley Cups while playing here: 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967 – and they haven't been back to the Finals since.
The Gardens (always plural, never "The Garden" like in New York and Boston) also hosted the 1st NHL All-Star Game, a benefit for injured Leafs star Ace Bailey in 1934, one of the Canada-Soviet "Summit Series" games in 1972, and the 1st Canada Cup in 1976, where Leafs star Darryl Sittler stole the show.

On November 1, 1946, the 1st NBA game was held at the Gardens, with the New York Knicks beating the Toronto Huskies, who folded after that first season of 1946-47. It hosted the Beatles on all 3 of their North American tours (1964, '65 and '66), and Elvis Presley in 1957 – oddly, in his early period, not in his Vegas-spectacle era.

The Gardens hosted 2 fights for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. On December 4, 1961, Floyd Patterson defended the title by beating Tom McNeeley. (McNeely's son Peter would later lose to Mike Tyson.) And on March 29, 1996, Canadian champion George Chuvalo went the distance, but still lost, against Muhammad Ali.

But somebody who doesn't give a damn about history, only money, decided the Gardens was obsolete, and the Leafs moved into the Air Canada Centre in 1999.  A plan to turn the arena into a shopping mall and movie multiplex, as was done with the Montreal Forum, was dropped because of the way the building was built: Unlike the Forum, if the Gardens' upper deck of seats was removed, the walls would collapse.

Fortunately, it has been renovated, and is now the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens, part of the athletic complex of Ryerson University, including its hockey team, with its seating capacity reduced to 2,796 seats, down from its classic capacity which ranged from 12,473 in the beginning to 15,726 at the end, with a peak of 16,316 in the 1970s.
A recent interior photo, set up for curling

The Ryerson Rams have never won a significant hockey title. They had a football program, but it was canceled in 1964, and has never been revived.

So, while the old Madison Square Garden, the old Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, and the Olympia are gone, and the Montreal Forum has been converted into a mall, one of the "Original Six" arenas is still standing and being used for hockey. It also has a Loblaws supermarket. College stop, on the Yonge-University Line.

* Mutual Street Arena, bounded by Mutual, Shuter, Dundas and Dalhousie Streets. This arena stood at this location from 1912 until 1989, when condos were built there, and was the home of the Toronto Blueshirts, National Hockey Association Champions and Stanley Cup winners 1914, and the Maple Leafs from 1917 to 1931.

The Leafs were known as the Toronto Arenas when they won the first NHL Championship and their first Stanley Cup in 1918, and the Toronto St. Patricks when the won the Cup in 1922. Conn Smythe renamed them the Maple Leafs, after the city's minor-league baseball team, when he bought them in 1927. Queen or Dundas stops on the Yonge-University Line.

* Air Canada Centre, 40 Bay Street. "The Hangar," the home of the Maple Leafs and the NBA's Toronto Raptors since 1999 (the Raptors played at the SkyDome 1995 to 1999, with a few games at Maple Leaf Gardens), it is a modern, 18,800-seat facility with all the amenities, built between Union Station and the Gardiner Expressway. Union Station stops on the Yonge-University Line and the GO and VIA Rail systems.

* Hanlan's Point. This was the home of Toronto baseball teams from 1897 to 1925, and was the site of Babe Ruth's 1st professional game, on April 22, 1914, for the Providence Grays, then affiliated with the Red Sox, much as their modern counterparts the Pawtucket Red Sox are. The Grays played the baseball version of the Maple Leafs, and the Babe pitched a one-hitter and homered in a 9-0 Providence win.
Unfortunately, Hanlan's Point is on one of the Toronto Islands, in Lake Ontario off downtown. The stadium is long gone, and the location is only reachable by Ferry.

* Maple Leaf Stadium, at Stadium Road (formerly an extension of Bathurst Street) and Queens Quay West (that's pronounced "Queen's Key"). Home to the baseball Maple Leafs from 1926 to 1967, it was demolished a year later, with apartments built on the site.
The Leafs won 5 International League Pennants here, and it was the first sports team owned by Jack Kent Cooke, who would later own the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, and the NFL's Washington Redskins. Take the 509 Streetcar from Union Station to Queens Quay West at Dan Leckie Way.

The Raptors' D-League team, named Raptors 905 for the Area Code of Toronto's suburbs, plays at the Hershey Centre. 5500 Rose Cherry Place (named for the late wife of hockey coach-turned-broadcaster Don Cherry), in Mississauga, 16 miles west of downtown. It takes 3 buses to get there. The Orangeville A's of the National Basketball League of Canada play at the Orangeville Athlete Institute. 207321 Ontario Provincial Route 9, in Mono, about 50 miles northwest of downtown.

* Woodbine Racetrack. Opening in 1956 and remodeled in 1993, this is the only horse racing venue outside the United States that has hosted the Breeders' Cup, doing so in 1996. It is home to the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame and the annual Canadian International Stakes. 555 Rexdale Blvd., about 14 miles northwest of downtown. Hard to reach by public transit.

* Fort York, Bathurst Street and Front Street West. You should see at least one place that doesn't have anything to do with sports. With the recent Bicentennial of the War of 1812, this place has become more interesting. 

In that war, the 2nd and last time the U.S. seriously tried to take Canada away from the British Empire, the U.S. Army, led by Zebulon Pike (for whom the Colorado Peak was named), burned the fort and what was then the city of York, now Toronto, on April 27, 1813. However, Pike was killed in the battle. In revenge, the British burned Washington, D.C. 

509 Streetcar to Fleet Street at Bastion Street. Essentially, Fort York is Canada's Alamo. But not their Gettysburg: That would be Lundy's Lane, in Niagara Falls, and I recommend that you make time for that as well.

* Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queens Park at Bloor Street West. "The ROM" is at the northern edge of Queen's Park, which includes the Ontario provincial Parliament complex and the University of Toronto, and is, essentially, next-door to Varsity Stadium. It is Canada's answer to New York's Museum of Natural History. Museum stop on the Yonge-University Line, or St. George stop on the Yonge-University or Bloor-Danforth Lines.

* Canada's Walk of Fame. This consists of stars embedded in sidewalks, similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, except the honorees – 168, including 149 individuals and 14 duos or groups, since the most recent induction in 2016 – are from all walks of life. It is centered on the sidewalk in front of Roy Thomson Hall. 60 Simcoe Street at King Street. St. Andrew station.

The inductees include 30 athletes, but only 1 is a soccer player: Christine Sinclair, a forward from the Vancouver area, the current Captain of the women's national team, who plays her club soccer for the Portland Thorns. She has represented her country at 4 Women's World Cups, topping out (so far) at 4th place in 2003, her 1st appearance; and 3 Olympics, winning 2 Bronze Medals.

(Canada's men's team has made only 1 World Cup, in 1986, and did not advance to the knockout stage, although they played well enough to not embarrass themselves. As part of the joint hosting for 2026, they have been granted automatic qualification.)

* CN Tower, 301 Front Street West at John Street. It rises 1,815 feet above the ground, but with only its central elevator shaft and its 1,122-foot-high observation deck habitable, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) ruled that it was never a candidate for the title of "the world's tallest building." From 1975 until Burj Khalifa opened in Dubai in 2007, it was officially listed as "the world's tallest freestanding structure."

The CN stood for Canadian National railways, but with their bankruptcy and takeover by VIA Rail, the CN now stands for Canada's National Tower.

Like the Empire State Building, at night it is lit in colors (or "colours") for special occasions, with its standard colors being the national colors, red and white. Admission is C$44.00 -- US$33.00, making it even more expensive than the Empire State Building's $27.00. It's next-door to the Rogers Centre and accessible via a skywalk from Union Station.

Toronto has quite a few very tall actual "buildings." First Canadian Place has been the nation's tallest building since it opened in 1975, 978 feet high, northwest corner of King & Bay Streets. There are 7 other buildings in excess of 700 feet, including, sadly, one built by Donald Trump and named for himself.

Being outside the U.S., there are no Presidential Libraries in Canada. The nation's Prime Ministers usually don't have that kind of equivalent building. Of Canada's 23 Prime Ministers, 15 are dead, but only one is buried in Toronto: William Lyon Mackenzie King, who led the government off and on from 1926 to 1950, longer than anyone, and is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. 375 Mount Pleasant Road, Yonge Street Line to St. Clair, then 74 Bus.

There have been plenty of TV shows set in Toronto, but most Americans wouldn't know them, so I won't list their filming locations. Probably the most familiar, due to its being shown on PBS, is Degrassi Junior High
and its related series. Recently, ABC aired the Toronto-based cop series Rookie Blue.

Because Toronto has a lot of surviving Art Deco structures from the 1920s and '30s, it's frequently used as a filming location for period-piece movies, including the movie version of Chicago (despite Chicago also having many such buildings survive).

There were also several scenes from the U.S. version of Fever Pitch (which, being a Yankee Fan, I consider to be a horror film) that were shot in Toronto. One is the scene of the barbecue in the park: In the background, a statue can be seen. It's Queen Victoria. I seriously doubt that there are any statues of British monarchs left in Boston.


Toronto is an international city, and they love their soccer. But it's also in Canada, and the famed politeness will, hopefully, balance out the passion. Have fun, but be respectful, and they will be as well.