By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (July 20) – Having provided background in my Friday blog (http://betweentheposts.ca/the-toronto-collapse-part-1/), it is now time to offer hard evidence as to why Toronto has richly earned its place among the most inept cities in professional sport. No criterion better exemplifies incompetence than allowing prosperity to slip away. The euphemism “choking” is often applied to such incapacity and our teams have spit the bit (to borrow a horse-racing term) for as long as most can remember.
In a compelling bid to trounce the Toronto sports argument, we will be furnished with tales of woe from our sister city to the south – courtesy my long-time pal Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. I have often felt his anguish from afar. You will have the opportunity to feel it up close.
That will come in Part 3.
HAROLD BALLARD (LEFT) IN HIS HAMILTON TIGER-CATS/TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS JACKET POSES WITH SIDEKICK AND TORONTO HOCKEY LEGEND FRANK (KING) CLANCY.
ARGOS SET THE STANDARD
Though a distant fifth today in popularity among Toronto teams, the Canadian Football League Argonauts long ago formed the city standard for collapse. In the modern era, it began spectacularly during the Eastern Conference final in 1961. In the 60’s and early-70’s, the CFL East final was a two game total-points affair. The club leading in aggregate points after the second game advanced to the Grey Cup.
In the first match, at CNE Stadium here in Toronto, the Argos won handily, 25-7, and took an apparently comfortable 18-point cushion into Game 2 at Civic Stadium in Hamilton. Three hours later – and after yielding four unanswered touchdowns in overtime – Argos had lost 48-2 and the aggregate total, 56-27. The “Toronto Collapse” was underway.
Young sports fans in this region cannot comprehend the Argos of the 60’s and 70’s being every bit as popular as the Maple Leafs are today. In a two-sport town, however, that’s the way it was… and it stayed that way until the Blue Jays vaulted into contention in the mid-80’s.
Our city was a CFL wasteland through much of the 1960’s – the Argonauts, beginning in ’62, missing the playoffs five consecutive years.
In 1969, however, an excellent team evolved under coach Leo Cahill, finishing second in the Eastern Conference with a 10-4 record. Ottawa Rough Riders were first at 11-3 – largely by virtue of defeating Toronto in all three regular-season match-ups. After knocking off Hamilton in the Conference semifinal, the Argos hosted Ottawa in the first of the two-game total points East final. A 22-14 victory at CNE Stadium ended the Rough Riders’ dominance and provided Toronto an eight-point edge heading to Lansdowne Park for the second game.
ARGOS FINALLY BESTED OTTAWA QUARTERBACK RUSS JACKSON IN GAME 1 AT CNE.
At a fan-club luncheon between games, Cahill legendarily claimed “It will take an act of God to beat us now” – meaning a factor beyond the Argonauts’ control. The Divine One came through in a big way at Ottawa, providing a frozen, treacherous playing field. While the Rough Riders gripped the tundra with broom-ball shoes, the visitors slipped and slid to one of the most ignominious defeats in Toronto sports history – 32-3 – giving Ottawa a 46-25 aggregate triumph. Look at these numbers:
NOVEMBER 22, 1969 FEATURED ANOTHER EPIC “TORONTO COLLAPSE.”
Sadly for football fans in this city, the Argonauts were just warming up.
In 1973, a 7-5-2 second-place finish set up an Eastern semifinal at CNE Stadium with the Montreal Alouettes. Joe Theismann was in his third and final year as quarterback of the Argonauts. He would head south in 1974; guide Washington Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XVII after the 1982 season and later become a noted TV analyst and pitch-man. The Alouettes were sparked by Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska – the 1972 Heismann Trophy winner. A defensive struggle resulted in a 10-10 draw after regulation. Overtime resulted in another monumental Argo collapse, as Montreal blanked the Boatmen 22-0 for a 32-10 wipe-out.
QUARTERBACKS GEORGE MIRA OF MONTREAL (LEFT) AND JOE THEISMANN OF ARGOS.
The final game of the 1975 season provided not so much a collapse as a numerical impossibility. Or, so we figured. In order to make the playoffs, the Argos had to either beat the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton; tie the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton or lose by no more than 15 points to their heated rival. Final score: Hamilton 26, Toronto 10. Honestly, that’s what happened.
Then came 1986 and yet another two-game Eastern final. Somehow, the Argonauts mathematically upstaged the 1961 and 1969 calamities.
Toronto breezed to a 31-17 victory in the opener at Ivor Wynne Stadium, crafting a 14-point edge for the second game on home turf. Continuing their total dominance, the Argos rushed to a 12-0 advantage in the first quarter and a 26-0 overall lead. More than enough to sail into the ’86 Grey Cup? Yeah, right. Drawing on their shameful past, the Boatmen were outscored 42-13 the rest of the way for a combined 59-56 loss. Poring salt on the Argonaut wound was that Harold Ballard – bumbling owner of the hockey Maple Leafs – also owned the Tiger-Cats. And, he had a field day with the latest episode of the “Toronto Collapse.”
(Side note: Oaf though he was, Ballard came up with one of the great cracks in Toronto football history as the Argos – coached by former Green Bay Packers defensive back Willie Wood – staggered to an 0-11 record in the 1981 season, en route to 2-14. When asked about his hapless rival, Ballard chortled: “Willie would if he could, but he can’t.”).
END OF PART 2
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