Finding my way back to my first love: the Argos

Royson James, Toronto Star

Took the subway to Nathan Phillips Square last week — not to listen to political palaver from our peripatetic mayor but to celebrate the sports team Toronto almost forgot.

I used to bleed Double Blue. Ed Harrington and the Big Zee. Granny Liggins and Jim Corrigall and Jim Stillwagon; Joe “The Throw” Theismann, Leon “X-Ray” McQuay and Tricky Dick Thornton; Condredge Holloway and Terry Greer and the bittersweet Leo Cahill years when 50,000 wretched souls would pack Exhibition Stadium to watch Anthony Davis and a succession of fake Saviours.

Lovable Losers the Argos were during the 1970s — a decade when the Argo Bounce was a bad thing and the cry of Aaaaarrrgooossswas the anthem of the cursed as we boarded the express buses up Bathurst St. after another befuddling, incomprehensible snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory.

I had arrived in 1969, 17 years after the Argos’ last Grey Cup victory. Three decades would pass before the curse was lifted, but how was I supposed to know that when Coach Cahill said only “an act of God” could keep the Argos from winning, it took, seemingly, an act of God, over and over again.

In those days I could rattle off the names of the entire squad. But so much has changed, despite six Grey Cup victories since the curse was exorcised in 1983 and legends like Flutie and Pinball and Rocket were led by Bob O’Billovich and Don Matthews and Adam Rita.

My sons migrated to hoops heroes named Vince and MJ and Kobe and Mighty Mouse and looked south for gridiron gladiators — one latching on to the San Francisco 49ers; the other, led astray by his father to the Dallas Cowboys.

And, yet, here we are again, seeking to relight the flame between the Argos and me.

The Argos lit the football spark in a kid fresh from Montego Bay where football is, y’know, FOOTball. That fall, the junior team from Harbord Collegiate made it to the city football championship for the first time in 75 years and I was hooked.

The summer of 1970 I went to the library, signed out a book by Mel Profit, the Argo tight end, and learned to catch a football, my buddy Donald Coleman perfecting a spiral that landed in the greatest pair of hands on the planet. Harbord coach Dave Grace was ecstatic to get a rookie that September and promptly named him Sticky Fingers ’cause he wouldn’t drop either of the two passes the run-dominated team threw in a game.

And so, my son and I are in Nathan Phillips Square, half-hour early, wondering if Toronto is going to show up to show the Argos some love. And what do we see? A fan wearing a pristine Mel Profit #75 jersey. I shook his hand. “You are my vintage, sir,” I said. And we shared memories and swapped stories of Argos past and the sheer joy of this unexpected championship.

I haven’t been to BMO Field. Have not bought an Argo ticket since Darrell K. Smith was catching balls and Pinball was making tacklers look silly. But the team always has a comfortable place in the heart. They are a lovable bunch, easy to like, so family, so down to earth, so tight-knit, so fun, as wholesome as violent people playing a violent game could be.

Over the years we see them at community events, mentoring kids, sharing positive messages. They are more community-oriented than professional sports personalities we’ve come to know — probably because all but a few play for so little money.

Quarterback Ricky Ray I know. Coach Trestman, too. But Declan Cross? James Wilder Jr., Marcus Ball, DeVier Posey, Cassius Vaughn, Matt Black, Chris Van Zeyl?

Over time, the images and memories blur: Rocket Ismail dodging snowballs on the way to the end zone, John Candy and Bruce McNall delirious. Pinball hauling in the winning TD. Terry Greer catching everything. Anthony Davis for one marvellous day at the Ex. The guaranteed heartache of Labour Day at Ivor Wynne with the damn “Oskee wee wee, Oskee wa wa” chant casting a spell that would discombobulate even the most sure-handed Argo running back.

Then, driving home from Hamilton and, as therapy for the misery that loves company, listening to fans dissect the putrid entrails on the radio, Bob McCown hosting the post-mortem.

All that came back last Tuesday at Nathan Phillips Square.

The fan with the Mel Profit jersey says he sits around the 10-yard line at BMO Field and his season tickets cost about $500. Flabbergasted, I go to Argonauts.ca and, blimey, it’s true. Eleven games, including one playoff game. $500. Can you get a good single Leafs ticket for that little?

Maybe it’s an outgrowth of disgust with the way the NFL has blacklisted quarterback Colin Kaepernick for daring to protest police brutality. Maybe it’s the special feel of this Argo team — all family and love and teamwork and so endearing. Maybe one naturally returns home.

But I miss these guys. In 2018 I’ll return to my first love. Arrrrrggoooooosss.

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27 Comments on Finding my way back to my first love: the Argos

  1. Matt Harvey // December 5, 2017 at 5:30 pm //

    First, Shame on you for abandoning those Argos. Second, great article, 3rd. Put your money where your mouth is and buy you and a friend Argo Seasons Tickets for Christmas ……a Ticats fan.# Oskee Wee Wee.# Congrats Argos #see you in Labour day

    • Why shame on him? We owe nothing to sports teams. Teams owe the fans respect, appreciation, value, and a meaningful effort at putting the best product on the field. At various times all CFL (and NFL/NHL/NBA/MLS) teams have failed in this obligation and the fan owes them nothing.

      Currently, in the CFL, Montréal and BC are failing the fans and fans owe them nothing. Until we start making it universal that there are consequences to taking us for granted, we will continue to be treated as afterthoughts by franchise decision makers.

      Good on him for walking away, good on him for coming back.

  2. Excellent article. More are needed.
    Welcome back.

  3. Bestcflfan // December 5, 2017 at 5:48 pm //

    Hey I go to games wearing a Montreal Jersey, number 75, with the name Patterson on the back. What does that have to do with your first paragraph? Most of those names are from the days before the salary cap when they could outbid for the biggest stars. Canadian football can’t afford those larger than life legends anymore. Too bad.

    • I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, but in general those were not super high profile players who were obtained as big dollar FAs. Maybe you’re thinking about Theismann but he was only a 4th round NFL pick, and at the time the CFL regularly paid more than the NFL, so yes he came north for the money but it wasn’t out of line with what was going on around the league at the time. It was nothing like the signing of Rocket Ismail, for example. And as far as high profile American players go, they don’t get much more high profile than Vince Young and Trent Richardson.

  4. Solara2000 // December 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm //

    Oskeeweewee! Even for a TiCat fan, it wouldn’t be the same without the Argos. Without the sound of Arrrrgos! Without all the great paersonalities they have showcased. Without the perpetual pursuit of trying to drop the hammer in the Hammer. Fun. Comaraderie. Community. Thanks to the Argos and their fans for marking the League and my team matter.

    • First of all do you even know the names on each NFL team that are the stars of today? I know I can’t. The CFL is a great league with great athletes. I guess if you roll that way with always thinking if you don’t have the best of everything you have nothing then go ahead but I think your missing something pretty great that’s right under your nose.

  5. 2017 GREY CUP CHAMPIONS = TORONTO ARGONAUTS!!! I’m loving it!!!!!!!!

  6. SouthamptonCat // December 5, 2017 at 7:00 pm //

    whoever you are drew should keep you on a retainer for a story now and then. very heartwarming, I have an old knitted Tom Clements sweater that follows me around. oh it doesn’t fit But I still remember. The games are still fun. I tell my son how they have changed over the years.
    Imagine trying to sneek a flask of anything in now for a cold November game.

    thank you more stories please! Less of the trash and bash.

    • Southhamptoncat: Royson James is a Toronto Satr writer and a good one as evidenced by this story.

      Thanks, Royson for confirming my memory from the 70s of the original use of the ‘yell’ ARGOOOSSS.

  7. Craig Campbell // December 5, 2017 at 7:24 pm //

    My Terry Greer replica sweater c1982 has shrunk….
    The game day fun is terrific. The tail gating opportunity, thanks to the team and support of government, compliments the stadium and quality of play like no other league or team in the city. (A nod to the TFC supporters though for making their game experience tremendous)
    Buy season seats, renew your season seats or simply come on down to enjoy a quality product in a very nice setting. The stadium does not compare to those in Regina or Winnipeg but it is very nice with quality sight lines nevertheless.
    We enjoy all thoroughly at each and every game.
    Hopefully Royson will enjoy the Argos all over again.

  8. Awsum that you remember some of the old legends from the Argos. They had some incredible talent from years gone by. Now get in the game, buy some tickets (Those prices are really cheap) and enjoy the show. The Argos today have some legends in the making. S.J. Green, Ricky Ray, Van Zeyl, James Wilder, Victor Butler, Shawn Lemon, Devier Posey, Marc Trestman. Perhaps if enough of you remember the glory of the past and appreciate the talent they have right now, you can start a ground swell of support for the Argos. The Argos deserve that. After all, in the last six years, the Argos are the only team with two Grey Cup victories. And with Trestman at the helm, anything is possible.

  9. Lovely piece Royson. Touching for me as my heroes were your heroes. Went to all the games at the CNE for 20 years with my Dad. How I miss those years. My compliments to an ex-colleague on a great article. Who am I? We worked on the
    paper together until I retired in 2010. You are one of the few people there that I still know. Cheers.

    • Hey ‘BalmyBeacher’, remember when the team from the Beach was in the ORFU? Ted Reeve played for them, I think. He later became a journalist, too.

  10. Argos Rule // December 5, 2017 at 8:16 pm //

    Welcome back, just dont get why you left in the first place. The cfl has always been entertaining.

  11. Scottsask // December 5, 2017 at 8:46 pm //

    Get your butts in the seats! Make the CFL great again!

  12. DoubleBlue1873 // December 5, 2017 at 10:03 pm //

    Welcome home, Royson! ARRRRRRRRRR-GOOOOOOOOOOOOOS!

  13. All CFL fans are pulling for supporters to come back to the Argos.
    The Grey Cup game was much more exciting than any Blue Jay game this season ten fold.

  14. Great article Royson. Welcome back.

  15. Edward Leslie // December 6, 2017 at 6:53 am //

    Great article. The CFL shouldn’t be just trying to lure younger fans, but bring back fans like Royson too.
    After that great Grey Cup, and the promising outlook of the Argos (James Wilder, Martese Jackson, Clean Laing, Dylan Wynn, Declan Cross,Devier Posey, Sean Mcewan, Jermaine Gabriel, etc.) hopefully there will be no sub-20,000 crowds at BMO stadium
    In 2018.

  16. antoine lussier // December 6, 2017 at 8:05 am //

    remember bobby knox? dick shatto? jackie parker? who all played for the boatmen—those were the days.

  17. Drew, This article and others I’ve been reading here, since I subscribed this year, really prove that ‘3downnation’ is the premier site for Canadian football aficionados.
    Thanks for your efforts.

  18. To Flanker 41: Yes, I remember The Balmy Beach Marines from the ORFU. One of my neighbours was Crash Commins who won a Grey Cup with Balmy Beach. As for Ted Reeve, I used to deliver fish and chips to his home on Glen Manor Dr. from the long-gone Willow Fish Store circa 1963.

    • Flanker41 // December 6, 2017 at 3:23 pm //

      You might remember my uncle, Vic Griffiths. He had a hair salon at 2116 Queen East and was a Balmy Beach Club member for many years.

  19. Instead of hiding and waiting for a winner you should have been there helping them sell tickets, buying your own and promoting the team via your position in the media. Or maybe you did not want to be “that guy” so you hopped on the “big” teams wagon

  20. Great article. This is a real window on the times. There is sooo much here to comment on. The Big Zee was Zenon Andrusyshyn, for those who may not know. James says his sons “migrated to hoops heroes named Vince and MJ and Kobe and Mighty Mouse.” Note that he didn’t say they migrated to 2 time league MVP Steve Nash or 3 time league champion Bill Wennington, both Canadians, but instead Americans Vince Carter and Michael Jordan, and someone named Mighty Mouse who I’m guessing was American too. This was the era of Americanization in Toronto sports and culture, where Toronto as a whole, led by the Toronto media, started worshiping all things American and turning its back on Canadian sports and culture, and in turn the rest of Canada started turned its back on Toronto. Is Toronto now starting to come back to the fold?

  21. Good article. Hope many more Argo- CFL football fans follow suite and get those great seats for bargain prices at BMO for the 2018 season.

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