SIZZLE TO FIZZLE
It was a beautiful day in Toronto on Sunday, and the Canadian Football League's Argonauts rolled back the roof of SkyDome. Heaven knows the Argos, the defending CFL champs, could use a little sunshine. But only 29,004 fans showed up to watch a matchup featuring Toronto runner-receiver-returner Raghib (Rocket) Ismail and Calgary Stampeder quarterback Doug Flutie, and the crowd went home disappointed. Calgary beat Toronto 31-0, the first time the Argos had been shut out in 15 years.
Flutie completed 19 of 36 passes for 281 yards, threw for one touchdown and ran for another as he guided the Stampeders to their seventh win in 10 games. He has thrown 22 interceptions this year, but he's on pace for his second straight 6,000-yard passing season, with 3,658 so far. He also ranks fourth in the league in rushing.
But Ismail, the $18.2 million import from Notre Dame, continued to have a disturbing second season as a pro. Rocket's performance on Sunday was typical: two catches for 18 yards, one carry for minus five, three punt returns for 38 yards and five kickoff returns for 111. Early in the fourth quarter, after players from both teams got into a brawl along the Toronto sideline, Ismail was thrown out of the game for repeatedly trying to kick Calgary fullback Andy McVey.
In seven games this season Ismail, who missed three other games with a hyper-extended knee, has only 410 yards from scrimmage (98 on 20 rushes, 312 on 19 receptions), though he's still among the league leaders in punt returns (9.6 yards per return) and kickoff returns (26.3). He fumbled five times in a loss at Hamilton two weeks ago. The 3-7 Argos aren't getting much bang for their buck.
"We haven't gotten him the ball nearly enough," Toronto general manager Mike McCarthy said Monday. McCarthy confirmed a report in Sunday's Toronto Sun that he has fined Ismail this season for being late to team meetings and missing treatments for his knee, but he said the part of the story that said the Argos couldn't handle Ismail's $3.4 million salary and were looking to dump Rocket is false. "We've never talked about getting rid of him. The kid's been great. We still have 10,000 more fans in the seats than we did before he came. Plus, why would he leave? He's doing three national commercials in Canada. He's probably making $5 million combined this year."
Ismail, whose NFL rights belong to the Raiders, says he intends to fulfill his four-year agreement with Toronto, but he issued this typically (for Rocket) cryptic quote about his future: "It ain't over till the extremely fat person sings, or until the extremely fat person cuts you."