The CFL Commish Does It Right

TORONTO (Nov. 21) — It’s a number the Toronto Maple Leafs want to desperately avoid. Yet, one the Toronto Argonauts carry with pride. Seven. The streak of Grey Cup appearances that has ended in triumph for Canada’s oldest professional sports team. 1991 over Calgary (at Winnipeg); 1996 over Edmonton (at Hamilton); 1997 over Saskatchewan (at Edmonton); 2004 over B.C. (at Ottawa); 2012 over Calgary (at Toronto); 2017 over Calgary (at Ottawa). And, now, 2022 over Winnipeg (at Regina). Not since 1987, at Vancouver, has the Double Blue come up short in the Canadian Football League championship game. The Maple Leafs, by comparison, need to win a playoff round next spring to sidestep their own Number 7… for consecutive defeats in the opening Stanley Cup series.

Also, the eight championships by the Argos in the past 40 years (starting in 1983) leads the CFL. The Edmonton Eskimos and B.C. Lions are next, with six. Winnipeg has lifted the Cup on five occasions.

The ending to Sunday night’s classic encounter at Mosaic Stadium could not have been scripted. Chad Kelly coming off the bench in the fourth quarter to replace the injured McLeod Bethel–Thompson and engineer the winning drive. Kelly, the back–up quarterback all season and nephew of Buffalo Bills legend, Jim Kelly, could be Toronto’s starting pivot next year… if the Argos do not pursue veteran free agent Bo Levi Mitchell. Toronto sacking Zach Collaros on third–and–long in the waning moments, only to provide the Blue Bombers a new set of downs when defensive lineman Robbie Smith was flagged for a facemask infraction on the Winnipeg quarterback. Then, Smith ending the Bombers last–gasp at winning three consecutive Cups by blocking a field goal with 45 seconds left.

Final: Toronto 24, Winnipeg 23.

Hollywood, as mentioned, could do no better.

And, when it was over, the most correct and becoming moment of all: CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie presenting the fabled trophy to the Argonaut players rather than the absentee owners, Larry Tanenbaum and Bell Canada. In 2017, at Ottawa, it was Lucky Larry who raised Earl Grey’s bauble in apparent ecstasy. Not on Sunday. Yes, Tanenbaum was in Regina and on the field after the game. All smiles. He’s a nice man and universally respected among owners in the CFL, the National Hockey League (he holds 25% proprietorship in the Leafs) and the National Basketball Association (his baby, as Toronto Raptors chairman). He has long–been a beacon of the Toronto Jewish community. But, Larry should never again answer questions about his football club after deeming the product “of no [economic] value” in a Globe and Mail interview prior to the season. Even if true, the optics of such a remark from the principal owner did nothing but harm. It was followed by the typical lack of publicity and advertising from the “promotional might” of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The football club, terribly mediocre in the early going (which included a 44–3 humiliation at B.C.), improved as the schedule progressed, going 8–2 in the final 10 games to clinch first place in the CFL East. A thorough, 34–27 victory at BMO Field over the Montreal Alouettes in the Eastern final last weekend led to the Grey Cup clash with the Winnipeg dynasty in waiting; the Blue Bombers — favored by 5½ points and leading, 20–17, midway through the fourth quarter. When the dust cleared, however, this improbable Argonaut team won the championship mostly in spite of ownership.


For yours truly, it was another wonderful scene.

The Argos are the lone Toronto sports outfit for which I’ve maintained an emotional attachment. I have season tickets with my son, Shane… as I once did with my dad, Irv, at the old CNE Stadium. I still revel when the Argos win and get aggravated when they lose. Like years before with the Leafs and Blue Jays, only to lose such involvement while covering both teams during my radio career. After the victory over Winnipeg, I couldn’t help but reflect on the torture I endured throughout the 1970’s as the Boatmen invented new and miraculous ways to tear at my heart. Such as going into the regular–season finale of 1975 at Hamilton needing only to lose by less than 16 points in order to make the playoffs. The Tiger–Cats prevailed, 26–10. I swear. Not long afterward came the diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, for which I have long blamed that cursed ’75 team. Since 1982, however, it’s been mostly a gas. The Argos have made 10 appearances in the CFL final, winning eight. I was on hand at the new B.C. Place in Vancouver when Toronto edged the host Lions, 18–17, to finally capture the first Grey Cup of my life. In 1983. Then, I walked out of the dome and into silence. It was three time zones east where all the noise occurred, as the city of Toronto stopped in its tracks. The way Toronto did when the Raptors won the 2019 NBA crown. Euphoric though I felt, I wanted to snap a finger and magically return to my home town. Amid the bedlam.

While working for The FAN–590, Canada’s first all–sports radio station, I covered the Argo Grey Cup triumphs of 1991, 1996 and 2004. The middle encounter stands out most: Doug Flutie and Co. somehow putting up 43 points against Edmonton during a snowstorm at the old Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton. Then, the past two championships — 2017, while a massive underdog against Calgary, cinched with an end zone interception in the final minute. And, Sunday night, with the blocked field goal attempt that may have provided Winnipeg the edge.

There were no car horns blaring late last night, as through the entire night when the Raptors won their title in Oakland. The Argos aren’t that important anymore. Not to the masses, anyway. But, the current club taught the Maple Leafs yet another lesson about the qualities of heart, desire and the elevation of performance in the clutch. That’s what wins championships. Not pretty goals in the regular season and overpaid forwards at the cost of defending the puck. Since the Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup, 55½ years ago, our city has celebrated 13 professional championships — eight by the Argos; two by the Blue Jays; one by the Metros–Croatia of the North American Soccer League (in 1976); one by Toronto F.C. (in 2017) and the Raptors’ NBA conquest in 2019.

Yet, this somehow remains a hockey city.

Go figure. Or, try to figure. Logic will not prevail. I promise.



2 comments on “The CFL Commish Does It Right

  1. The game was very entertaining, and the effort put forth by the players (on both sides) was sincere. The Argos showed real emotion in their victory; it obviously meant something to them. That, to me, speaks to the coaching of the team and their spirit. I saw a lot of togetherness. Kind of like the Canadiens a couple of years ago. Players on the Argos don’t make the kind of money that players on the Jays, Leafs or Raptors make. Yet they were the players who showed up and won despite of adversity. Proud to be an Argo fan.

  2. Your list of 13 championships since the Leafs last won omits the NLL’s Toronto Rock who have won six times in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2011.

    Meanwhile the Grey Cup saw a second/and-long scramble by a backup QB, an interception and back-to-back blocked field goals, all in the few minutes of the fourth quarter. Yikes!

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