The Canadian Football League will test the waters for possible expansion into the Maritimes when the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts face the Hamilton Tiger Cats Saturday in a special exhibition game in Halifax.
The Argos and Ticats will play at Huskies Stadium, home of the Saint Mary's University Huskies football team, in game that has been dubbed "Touchdown Atlantic".
The stadium seats 4,000, but an extra 7,000 temporary seats have been added for the pre-season game, making the CFL's first-ever contest in the Nova Scotia capital the talk of the entire province.
When the Halifax event was announced last November, CFL commissioner Tom Wright said the game would help the league determine whether there's enough fan interest to warrant the league expanding into the region.
Wright is currently looking at the feasibility of adding a 10th CFL franchise by 2008, mentioning Quebec City or Halifax as possible candidates, but only if a 25,000-seat stadium was in place and the league was convinced the new franchise would work.
"Something worth doing is only worth doing properly," Wright told Halifax's Chronicle Herald. "If it is 2008, terrific. If it is 2009 or 2010, that's fine.
"We will know far in advance of 2008 as to whether or not this is going to happen. If 12-18 months from now there is no prospect for a stadium (and) there is no prospect for ownership, I'm not going to come down here and dangle this carrot and say that it might happen."
The CFL last expanded three years ago when the league returned to Ottawa following a five-year absence.
As for the players, they're excited about Saturday's contest.
"It's neat, especially in the future if a team does come here you'll know that you were part of the ball starting to roll a little bit," said Ticats quarterback Danny McManus.
Argos head coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons also likes the idea of the CFL expanding to the Maritimes
''I have often suggested the CFL is the most significant cultural institution in the country in bringing the major cities in Canada together,'' said Clemons. ''To be in Halifax and to have that opportunity (of CFL expansion), be it Halifax or Moncton, to be truly coast to coast is something I hope I live to see.''
This is the first exhibition game of the season for the Argos and Ticats, and even though they want to put on a good show for the fans, they are also taking the game very seriously.
Argos running back John Avery didn't make the trip to Halifax because of a sore hamstring, but Clemons said he intends to use all of his regular starters. Hamilton star slotback Mike Morreale has a similar injury and might not play.
"Toronto has beaten us the last 12 or 13 times in a row, so we came out here to win," Ticats linebacker Rob Hitchcock told the Chronicle Herald.
Toronto has 12 wins and a tie in 13 games against Hamilton since Sept. 2, 2002.
The Argos will meet the Ticats in Hamilton next Friday in the final exhibition game of the season. The regular season kicks off June 22 when the Ticats travel to Montreal to take on the Alouettes.
The CFL on CBC returns for another season on June 25 when the Argos host the B.C. Lions (6:30 p.m. ET).
with files from Canadian Press