A return to the Grey Cup – not redemption – is fuelling receiver Chad Owens.
He will suit up for the Saskatchewan Roughriders when they visit Toronto in the East Division final this weekend. And Owens’ focus will be helping the Roughriders advance to the Grey Cup and not proving the Argos were wrong to let him leave almost two years ago.
Owens spent six productive seasons in Toronto (2010-15) before being allowed to walk away in free agency and sign with the archrival Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Time has allowed the 35-year-old Honolulu native to get over that disappointment and now his focus is on getting Saskatchewan back to the Grey Cup for the first time since the Riders won the championship in 2013.
“I’m two years removed,” Owens said from Ottawa on Thursday. “Last year was a different story.
“They’ve got a totally different staff there, new management. This is another game and I’m focused on us. It’s an opportunity to go out there and win a football game and have a chance to play in the Grey Cup.”
Jim Barker and Scott Milanovich, who were Toronto’s GM and head coach, respectively, when Owens was allowed to leave town, are no longer with the organization. Barker was fired shortly after last season before Milanovich resigned to become the quarterback coach with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jim Popp and Marc Trestman, the former GM and head coach of the Montreal Alouettes, were hired in the same capacities with Toronto during the last off-season.
Owens, affectionately dubbed The Flyin’ Hawaiian, helped Toronto win the 100th Grey Cup game in 2012, the same year he captured the CFL’s outstanding player award after accumulating a record 3,863 all-purpose yards.
Owens was named a league all-star four times with the Argos and in 2010 received the John Agro Award, given annually to the league’s top special-teams performer.
In January 2015, Owens, a married father of three children, moved his family from Hawaii to live full-time in Mississauga, Ont. By that time he’d become the face of the franchise and a huge fan favourite for his on-field brilliance, engaging personality and tireless efforts in the community.
Owens admits he played with definite purpose in June 2016 when Hamilton opened its season with a 42-20 road win over Toronto at BMO Field. Owens had six catches for 67 yards and a TD in that contest.
The 2016 season was shaping up quite nicely for Owens, who had 55 catches for 808 yards and five TDs with Hamilton before suffering a foot injury.
After signing with Saskatchewan, Owens began the season on the six-game injury list with an apparent foot ailment. Owens finally cracked the lineup late in the regular season, registering 17 catches for 235 yards and a TD in three games.
On Sunday, he had a 16-yard reception and 19-yard run in Saskatchewan’s 31-20 win over the Ottawa Redblacks in the East Division semifinal.
The Riders are trying to become the first crossover team to reach the Grey Cup since the rule was adopted in 1996. Saskatchewan (10-8) finished fourth in the West Division but gained the third and final playoff seed in the East after amassing more points than third-place Hamilton (6-10).
Toronto (9-9) finished the regular season atop the East, earning home-field advantage for the division final.
“It’s huge for us as a team to be in this position,” Owens said. “We’re one win away from having an opportunity to go for the ultimate goal.
“That in itself is very motivating.”
So too will be playing before more than 20,000 spectators at BMO Field, where the Argos averaged roughly 14,000 fans per game this season.
“That will be exciting,” Owens said. “I think every team in the CFL deserves to have a sellout in the playoffs.”
Owens said the key to victory for Saskatchewan will be to play clean football offensively and take advantage of whatever chances they get. The Riders were an opportunistic squad in 2017, scoring 130 points off 40 takeaways registered by the defence.
“It’s always important to win the turnover battle,” Owens said. “Our defence has been very good at doing that this year.”
Owens is under contract with Saskatchewan through next season but said he’s not thinking past that at the moment.
“I don’t know what (the future holds),” he said. “I’m just focused on winning a Grey Cup.”