By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Nov. 19) – It was the third week of November in 1982 and the Argonauts dominated every corner of this city.
Could it happen again? We’ll soon find out.
Though times have clearly changed over the past three decades – when the infant Blue Jays hadn’t yet asserted themselves and the Argonauts were on a plane with the Maple Leafs in popularity – a flashback may well be in order. For as long as most young fans in Toronto can remember, there hasn’t been a darn thing to celebrate on the pro sporting map. Nada. Zilch. Bubkas.
• Leafs haven’t made the playoffs since 2004 or won the Stanley Cup since 1967 (as if that is news).
• Blue Jays haven’t appeared in the baseball post-season since Joe Carter “touched ’em all” at SkyDome in October 1993. SkyDome is now Rogers Centre. Carter is 52 years old.
• Raptors are in their 18th season in the NBA. Five times they have made the playoffs and only once – in 2001 – have they advanced beyond the opening round (remember Vin-canity?).
• Toronto F-C, to this point, needs to look up “playoffs” in the dictionary.
That leaves us the Argonauts: the last Toronto club to participate in – and win – a major pro sports title. It was eight years ago, in 2004, when the Argos knocked off B.C. Lions at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa. Now, the Boatmen are back – this time, on home turf – for the 100th version of the Canadian Football League championship. Toronto Argonauts vs. Calgary Stampeders. Next Sunday, at SkyD… er ah, Rogers Centre.
ARGOS’ CHAMPIONSHIP TICKET: QUARTERBACK RICKY RAY.
Given how Twitter was buzzing yesterday afternoon, a whole lot of CFL fans in this city rushed forth from the closet. And, not a moment too soon. It may be unreasonable to expect the same level of football fever as back in 1982, when Argos last played at home in the Grey Cup game. On the Saturday of that tumultuous weekend, Metro police had to close Yonge Street from Bloor south to Front after Winnipeg Jets beat the Leafs, 6-3, at Maple Leaf Gardens. I attended the hockey game and then joined the 50,000 or so people marching up and down Yonge – high-fiving – and shouting “Arrrrrrrgos!” It was nothing at all unruly. Just good sporting fun. And, this city was Argo-nuts.
Is it beyond reason to expect another football frenzy – 30 years later?
Back in ’82, the Argos and Edmonton Eskimos collided at Toronto’s “mistake by the lake” – Exhibition Stadium – cobbled together haphazardly in the winter of 1974-75 for the arrival of the Blue Jays. As a football stadium, it was terrific for baseball. While the Eskimos manhandled the Argos, 32-16, for their fifth consecutive Grey Cup title, it pored rain – a cold, miserable, driving rain that prompted our municipal ring-leaders to move determinedly toward what became SkyDome 6½ years later. And though Rogers Centre is hardly the Taj Mahal of professional sport, it will provide Grey Cup revelers a hell of a lot more comfort than 30 years ago.
For those who weren’t yet around in 1982 – or for those who cannot comprehend this city going insane over the Argonauts – I dug into my scrapbook closet Sunday night. See for yourself:
1982 EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
After a 2-14 disaster in 1981, Argos GM Ralph Sazio – spirited away from Hamilton – hired Bob O’Billovich as head coach. With Condredge Holloway (University of Tennessee) at quarterback; Terry Greer (Alabama State) at wide receiver and a newfangled offensive scheme – the run ‘n shoot – in place, Argos improved to 9-6-1 (first place in the East) and earned a buy into the Conference championship. In light rain – and dense fog – at Exhibition Stadium, Argos shellacked Ottawa Rough Riders, 44-7, to earn a Grey Cup berth for the first time since 1971. As mentioned, this city went berserk.
NEWSPAPER HEADLINES AFTER ARGOS ROMP OVER OTTAWA.
FANS CELEBRATED ON CITY STREETS FOR HOURS AFTER ARGOS DEFEATED OTTAWA ROUGH RIDERS IN 1982 EASTERN FINAL AT EXHIBITION STADIUM.
ARGOS/ESKIMOS GREY CUP WEEK
QUARTERBACK CONDREDGE HOLLOWAY (PICTURED ABOVE) BECAME ONLY THE SECOND ARGO TO WIN THE SCHENLEY AWARD AS CFL’s MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER – JOINING HALFBACK BILL SYMONS, WHO WON IN 1968.
LEAFS OWNER HAROLD BALLARD – WHO ALSO OWNED HAMILTON TIGER-CATS – NEVER MISSED AN OPPORTUNITY TO POKE TORONTO FOOTBALL FANS.
What a scene it was in downtown Toronto the night before the Argos-Eskimos Grey Cup. Could fans paint the town double-blue as they did in ’82?
DOWNTOWN TORONTO STREETS WERE PACKED WITH FOOTBALL REVELERS THE NIGHT BEFORE ’82 GREY CUP GAME.
I was among the 54,741 fans getting drenched at Exhibition Stadium on Nov. 28, 1982, as Edmonton Eskimos trampled the Argos, 32-16, to win the Grey Cup for a record fifth consecutive year. The weather misery of that day prompted an all-out municipal government blitz for a covered facility – SkyDome – which opened less than seven years later.
FOR ARGOS, IT WAS NEXT YEAR, AS THEY WON THE 1983 GREY CUP IN VANCOUVER OVER THE HOST B.C. LIONS.
THE STORY INSIDE THE STORY (ABOVE).
ARGOS WERE NO. 1 IN 1982, EVEN AFTER FINISHING SECOND.
MONDAY MUSINGS: I was very proud of my Friday notes-blog prediction for the CFL Eastern Final: 27-24 Argonauts over Montreal. Actual score: 27-20 Argos. Not so proud of my Western Final prediction: 31-13 B.C. over Calgary. Actual score: 34-29 Stampeders… Argos and Calgary will meet in the Grey Cup for the third time. In 1971, after a legendary fumble by Leon McQuay, Stampeders prevailed, 14-11. In 1991, at sub-freezing Winnipeg Stadium, Rocket Ismail returned a kickoff for a touchdown and quarterback Matt Dunigan incredibly played with a fractured collarbone in a 36-21 Argos victory. It could well be the most courageous performance by a professional athlete in Toronto sports history. I covered the ’91 game and it may still rank as the coldest day of my life… Argos began their home schedule this season with a win over Calgary and will end it against the Stampeders, whom they also defeated on the road… Can’t be particularly fun in Vancouver these days. Though the Lions won the Grey Cup last year, they were a prohibitive favorite against Calgary on Sunday after compiling the CFL’s best record in 2012. Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, blew a 2-0 series lead to Boston in the Stanley Cup final two years ago and lost Game 7 on home ice. They followed with the No. 1 regular-season mark in the NHL last season and were crushed in five games by Los Angeles in the opening playoff round – losing the first two, and the series-clinching fifth game, at home… Alouettes have nothing to be ashamed of. They have shown the way in the CFL for a decade – led for much of that time by two of the best and classiest figures in the league: quarterback Anthony Calvillo and coach Marc Trestman… Argos are in the Grey Cup for the ninth time in my life (1971-82-83-87-91-96-97; 2004-12) winning five of eight, including the past four. That’s nine Grey Cup appearances in my 53 years. Edmonton went to nine Cups in 13 seasons between 1975 and 1987, winning seven… Among the Leaf players I most enjoyed dealing with through the years was Ian White, now a defenseman with Detroit Red Wings. Apart from being a super-nice guy, he was rarely hesitant to speak his mind – a reporter’s delight. But, I thought it was unbecoming of Ian to call Gary Bettman an “idiot” over the weekend. Stooping to such a level is not the least-bit constructive. Nor does Ian have to be reminded that Bettman is acting on behalf of the owners… I constantly read and hear how a swarm of NHL governors are blatantly opposed to the lockout. Given league by-laws, such commentary is irrelevant. Bettman requires nothing close to a numeric majority to carry out his mandate. Only eight of 30 teams need to be on-side for any lockout-related matter – a slam-dunk for the commissioner… Pat Burns died two years ago today. I remember being on a train from Toronto to Montreal when I got the news. Burns’ first two NHL teams – Canadiens and Leafs – played the following night at the Bell Centre. Rosie DiManno has written a compelling book on Burns, a perfect Christmas gift for hockey fans young and old… My favorite NFL dart-thrower continues to be Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star, who lets it fly every week in his assessment of the 1-9 Chiefs. After a 28-6 home-field loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, Mellinger offered the following: The elevator door opens, and here comes Clark Hunt. He is dressed in a dark suit, like always, solemn look on his face as he walks through a basement hallway at Arrowhead Stadium. Over his head, a television plays the final seconds of another remarkably inept showing by the team he inherited from his father and that is now embarrassing the family name. “The Chiefs lose again,” the voice on the television says. Hunt doesn’t look up. Doesn’t speak. Just keeps walking, into the locker room of the undisputed worst team in football. The door shuts behind him. A security guard in the hallway turns the TV off, and it’s just as well because the Chiefs’ pathetic 28-6 loss to the mediocre Bengals is finally over. By now, we’ve all seen enough from a 1-9 clown show. The only things left are shame, ugly accusations about mistreatment from fans, and questions. If the Chiefs can land like an anvil at the bottom of the NFL in year four of a process that was supposed to be competing for the division championship, then what, exactly, could it possibly take for major changes? If not after this, then what? Arrowhead used to be one of the toughest places in the NFL to play. Television executives loved having games here, the barbecue smoke in the parking lot and screaming fans inside making for some of the league’s best theater. Now, fans are literally dressing for a funeral – an organized statement to wear black in mourning of the franchise they fell in love with. Pure gold. Look forward to reading Sam every week… Best part of Sunday’s CFL action? No question: Alouettes linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouillette Tweeting he is okay after laying motionless on the Olympic Stadium field for 20 minutes and being removed on a stretcher – his neck and limbs immobilized… Rarely will you see the commissioner of a major professional sports league as euphoric as the CFL’s Mark Cohon after the Argonauts victory. In fact, you could almost hear the ecstatic wailing in league headquarters every time Ricky Ray, Chad Owens, Chat Kackert or Marcus Ball made a big play. Though Cohon – for obvious reasons – won’t admit it, nothing would have taken the air out of the 100th Grey Cup celebration here in town like an Argo loss in Montreal. Quietly, yet unmistakably, the entire CFL marketing approach to the Centennial Grey Cup has involved home-town participation. The Boatmen came through. And I don’t blame Cohon one bit for his expression of delight…. I’ll ask again: Why was Argos’ rookie coach Scott Milanovich rewarded a contract extension to the exclusion of GM Jim Barker? Ray, Owens, Kackert, Ball, Mo Mann, Dontrelle Inman and just about every key player on the football club was acquired by Barker. Show me a CFL manager that has performed better in the past three years… Rather unusual sports day here in the Big Smoke: Argos, Raptors and Marlies all won on Sunday. Had there not been a lockout, the Leafs would have played Ottawa at Air Canada Centre on Saturday before embarking on a week-long road trip to Carolina, Colorado and Minnesota… Best-case scenario in the NHL right now: a labor settlement by Dec. 5 and a season of 60 to 66 games beginning on Dec. 15. Always reason to embrace hope when the owners and players are meeting, as they will on Monday night in New York… Argos should be a solid nine or 10-point favorite over Calgary in the Grey Cup… Feeling superbly confident about my New England-Green Bay Super Bowl pick, though I wouldn’t have imagined the Patriots putting up a 59-spot on Indianapolis.
MATT DUNIGAN (ABOVE), HEROICALLY LEADING ARGOS TO THE 1991 GREY CUP CHAMPIONSHIP WHILE PLAYING WITH A FRACTURED COLLAR-BONE.
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