Argonauts’ Josh Bourke Prepares for ‘Emotional Game’ Against Alouettes
TORONTO — The Argonauts threw plenty of money at Josh Bourke last February when he was a free agent. He would have been foolish not to take the bait.
But as the veteran offensive-tackle prepares to play his first game against his former team Monday night, Bourke, who spent nine seasons with the Alouettes, admits there’s some anxiety and mixed emotions.
“I’ve been anticipating it. I knew the day was coming. I’m trying to treat it like a normal week as much as I can, but I know it’s not a normal week,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to myself. For a number of different reasons, it will be an emotional game. I’m happy we’re playing the first one in Toronto. When I go to Montreal, it’ll be even more emotional.”
Bourke was selected by the Als in the third round (21st overall) of the 2004 Canadian college draft, but didn’t make his debut with Montreal until three years later, following a stint with the Green Bay Packers.
The 6-foot-7, 315-pound behemoth enjoyed much success with the Als, including consecutive Grey Cup championships in 2009-10. Bourke, a two-time Canadian Football League all-star, was named the league’s outstanding lineman in 2011 and was the East Division nominee a year later.
But the last few years in Montreal weren’t so good, the Als struggling on the field while going through a myriad of head coaches and offensive co-ordinators. At age 33, Bourke could be excused for leaving because he believed the Argos are closer to a championship than are the Als — although he denied that was a contributing factor.
“It’s too early in the season to say that. We’re 2-2. It’s not like we’re 4-0. We’ve had our struggles and issues. We have a lot of things to correct before we can worry about going to a Grey Cup,” Bourke said.
While a lucrative contract played a part in his decision, Bourke, a native of Windsor, Ont., also now is closer to home. He’d like to settle in southern Ontario following his career and admitted Quebec’s language restrictions would have made a similar decision difficult.
“I left for a number of reasons,” he said. “Obviously, the last few years in Montreal were frustrating. Maybe I felt like I needed a change as well.”
While Bourke had the choice, Toronto tailback Brandon Whitaker was a surprise release by the Als at the end of training camp in 2015.
Whitaker spent six seasons with Montreal. While he proved to be serviceable, rushing for 1,381 yards in 2011, that also proved to be the only season in which he remained healthy, playing all 18 regular-season games.
Whitaker rushed for 636 yards with Toronto in 15 games last season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He also caught 53 passes for 440 yards, combining to score six touchdowns. And Whitaker emphatically stated getting cut by Montreal was the best thing that happened.
“With the current situation going on, it’s been a blessing to be out of there,” he said.
Whitaker said the Als still have a formidable defence that’s capable of winning games. But he said he’s not surprised the offence has struggled since the retirement of quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
“I’ve seen it before. I’ve been there and been a part of it. That’s how things go over there, I guess,” he said.
This isn’t to suggest the Argos haven’t had their own offensive issues this year. With 95 points through four games, the team has performed in fits and starts.
“Inconsistent,” head coach Scott Milanovich stated. “Little things are keeping us from staying on the field and limiting our points. We’re doing things you don’t expect a relatively veteran offence to do.”