Toronto Argonauts’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie believes that victory in the 109th Grey Cup could mean more than just a championship for his team.
For decades, the CFL’s shrinking footprint in Toronto has been discussed as one of the league’s most pressing issues. With a modicum of momentum behind the franchise after a strong turnout for the East Final, Dinwiddie sees a title game upset over the two-time defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers as a chance to return them to relevance in the crowded metropolitan market.
“I think you look at our last game, we had no 20,000 plus, and we hadn’t had that in my time there,” he told the media on Friday. “I think we can get it there. We’ve got to play exciting football. I think there will be a buzz around the city.”
Toronto has always been a rabid sports town but the fickle city has a preference for winners — with one notable exception.
“I think you look at Toronto when you do win, you win championships, the city gets involved with you. You look what the Raptors have done. I know they’re still waiting for the Leafs to win the big one,” said Dinwiddie to a round of laughter from reporters.
“The Blue Jays, they follow those three teams and MLSE, the soccer team (Toronto FC), those crowds are crazy. I listen to them from my office and I can hear them stomping around upstairs. That’s kind of what we want to build and I think if we can win on Sunday, I think it’s going to open up some eyes that the Argos can bring something to the city.”
That’s a narrative that’s been pedalled before, but Grey Cup victories in 2012 and 2017 did little to boost the team’s profile. While a win on Sunday would be the first title brought to The Six since the Raptors’ magical 2019 NBA Championship run, most remain skeptical of any hope of a similar effect on the city’s fandom.
Uniting the two teams is common ownership, as both the Raptors and Argonauts are among the properties controlled by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The group also owns the NHL’s Maple Leafs, AHL’s Marlies and MLS’ Toronto FC, with the CFL rarely receiving first priority from an ownership group that has been vocally critical of the league’s financial value.
While Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse is a vocal supporter of the Argos, his corporate bosses have routinely come under fire for a lack of investment in their 149-year-old football team. Nevertheless, there is some sense that things may be moving in the right direction.
“The East Final was pretty crazy, that was one of the best since I’ve been in Toronto. That’s probably one of the best fan attendance we’ve had,” said receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr.
“It felt amazing to play in front of those fans and they deserve it. Hopefully, a win would motivate more Toronto fans to come out and support us. Everybody loves a winner. Hopefully, it changes for the better.”
21,331 fans was an impressive turnout for a team that averaged a league-worst 11,875 this season but it remains just part of the equation in Canada’s largest city. The Argos are underdogs, both on and off the field, this Grey Cup week, but Dinwiddie doesn’t seem to mind.
“I think it’s kind of who we’ve been all year. When we win, nobody gives us credit. It was a good win, it was an ugly win. When we lose, they want to bury us,” he shared. “I just think our football club has found ways to get us in this situation. That shows you the leadership in that room and how those guys really came together.”
“It’s a process, it’s 18 games. We were 4-5 and we weren’t playing good football, we had a lot of issues. And then we figured it out. That’s why we’re here and I give that to the players in that locker room. Those guys found a way to get us here.”
Turning around a season is one thing, digging a franchise out of a hole several decades in the making is another entirely. Facing those long odds, it makes Sunday’s 5.5-point spread look minuscule.