Toronto Argonauts

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Toronto Argonauts
2014 Toronto Argonauts season

Toronto Argonauts logo

Founded October 4, 1873
Based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Home field Rogers Centre (1989-present)
Exhibition Stadium (1959–1988)
Varsity Stadium (1916–1958)
Varsity Athletic Grounds (1898–1907)
Rosedale Field (1874–1897, 1908–1915)
League Canadian Football League
Division East Division
Nickname(s) Argos, Boatmen, Double Blue, Scullers
Head coach Scott Milanovich
General manager Jim Barker
Owner(s) David Braley1
Grey Cup wins 16 (1914, 1921, 1933, 1937,
1938, 1945, 1946, 1947,
1950, 1952, 1983, 1991,
1996, 1997, 2004, 2012)
Current uniform
CFL TOR Jersey.png
Colours Oxford blue (dark), Cambridge blue (light), White
              
Mascot(s) Jason
Website www.argonauts.ca

The Toronto Argonauts are a professional Canadian football team competing in the East Division of the Canadian Football League. The Toronto, Ontario, based team was founded in 1873, and is the oldest existing professional sports team in North America still using its original name.2 The team's origins date back to a modified version of rugby football that emerged in North America in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The Argonauts have played their home games at Rogers Centre since the stadium opened in 1989; it is the fourth stadium site to host the team. The current team is coached by Scott Milanovich and led at quarterback by Ricky Ray.

The Argonauts have won the Grey Cup championship a record 16 times and have appeared in the final 22 times. Most recently they defeated the Calgary Stampeders 35-22 at home in the 100th Grey Cup in 2012. The Argonauts hold the best winning percentage in the championship game (72.7%)3 and have the longest active winning streak in games in which they've appeared at five. The Argonauts have faced every current western CFL team at least once in the Grey Cup, while their most celebrated divisional rivalry has been with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The football team was the property of the Argonaut Rowing Club for its first 83 years and has been owned by a series of business interests since 1956. Its current owner is David Braley. The Argonauts were a fixture on the Toronto sports scene for decades, with attendance peaking in the 1970s. Recently, the team has been troubled by attendance and stadium concerns.

Given the length of franchise history, dozens of players, coaches, and management have been honoured in some form over the years. The team recognizes a select group of players with retired numbers: early greats Joe Krol and Dick Shatto, stalwart offensive lineman Danny Nykoluk, and Michael "Pinball" Clemons who has been the most recent face of the team.

Name and colours

The "Boat Logo" was used in the 1970s and 1980s

Since the team's foundation in 1873, the Argonauts name has been in continuous use, a record in North American professional sports.2 The Chicago Cubs (1870) and the Atlanta Braves (1871) franchises of Major League Baseball are older, but both teams have changed their name more than once, and the Braves have also changed cities. The Argonauts also claim to be the oldest professional football team in North America.4 The claim is debatable, as the Hamilton Tigers date to 1869; they merged with the Hamilton Wildcats in 1950 to form the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.5

The Argonauts name is derived from Greek mythology: according to legend, Jason and the Argonauts were a group of heroes who set out to find the Golden Fleece aboard the ship Argo sometime before the Trojan War. Given its nautical theme, the name Argonaut was adopted by a group of amateur rowers in Toronto in 1872. The Argonaut Rowing Club, which still exists today, would go on to found the football club with the same name a year later. Given their roots in a rowing squad, the team is often referred to as the "Boatmen" and less often the "Scullers".6

In the 19th century, the most renowned rowing teams in the world were from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in England. The Toronto rowers, many of whom had associations with the English schools, adopted uniforms incorporating the light blue of Cambridge and the dark blue of Oxford.7 In turn, the footballers adopted the colours and the phrase "double blue" would become synonymous with the team.note 1 Blue has become the traditional colour of top-level teams in Toronto (e.g. the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Blue Jays).

The team's other official colour is white. Its current helmet design features an Oxford blue background, with an Oxford blue and Cambridge blue round shield inscribed with a white, capital letter "A". For most of the team's history, the logo featured some form of a boat, often incorporating a football.8

Franchise history

1873–1906

"On Saturday afternoon a game of foot ball, Rugby rules, was played on the University ground, between the Argonauts, of Toronto, and the Hamilton club. After a most exciting contest, one goal was secured at five o'clock by the Toronto men, the ball being kicked through the Hamilton flags by Buchanan."

The Toronto Mail, October 20, 18739

The first recorded game of what would become known as Canadian football was played in Toronto on November 9, 1861, featuring University of Toronto students. The game at the time was a modified version of English rugby and it gained popularity throughout the 1860s. Rugby itself was still an infant game having evolved out of association football (soccer) in the 1830s.10 Seeking a way to keep fit after summer, the Argonaut Rowing Club (ARC) formed their own rugby-football squad on October 4, 1873. The Argonauts Football Club would play their first game against Hamilton on October 18 of that year (a victory), beginning a storied rivalry.note 2 H.T. Glazebrook served as their first captain and head coach. Establishment of the football team was formalized by the ARC on September 17, 1874, with a subscription fee of one dollar charged per player.1314

The football team played a handful of challenge matches—one team inviting another to play—as an amateur squad against university and city teams every year throughout the 1870s, with one dormant year in 1879, likely due to injuries.14 In 1883 the Argonauts and university squads in Toronto formed the Ontario Rugby Football Union (ORFU); it was the first rugby football organization with a league and playoff structure in North America.15 The Argonauts were league victors in the first year.16 Starting in 1884 a "Dominion Championship"—a precursor to the Grey Cup—was held, pitting the victors of the country's two organized leagues, the ORFU and Quebec Rugby Football Union, against each other; it was organized nationally by the Canadian Rugby Union (CRU) from 1892 onwards. In the first true national championship, Montreal Football Club defeated the Double Blue on November 5, 1884 by a score of 30-0. Toronto would lose again in 1901 to Ottawa College.17 The Ottawa team and the Hamilton Tigers were frequent opponents in this era.

Over the thirty years from 1880 onwards, rule changes were incrementally introduced into the game, including the adoption of the line of scrimmage, scoring that began to resemble the modern version, and the down and yardage structure. Popular personalities of the era included player-coach Joe Wright Sr., one of the best all round Canadian athletes at the turn of the century.18 One major outstanding issue within the CRU at the time was the role of professional versus amateur players; this dispute caused the Argonauts to withdraw from the league from 1895–97 and eventually led to the establishment of a new league.1617 Alongside the professionalism dispute, there was serious disagreement over the adoption of the Burnside rules, with Ontario, Quebec, and the Intercollegiate league often not in alignment.19 Amongst other critical innovations, the Burnside rules reduced the number of men per side to 12 and introduced the ten yards in three downs structure that is central to the modern game.20

1907–1952

Seeking looser rules regarding the employment of professional players, Toronto and other cities split from the ORFU and formed the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (IRFU) in 1907. These clubs were the vaunted "Big Four"—Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Montreal—that formed the precursor to Eastern Division of the Canadian Football League.16

The IRFU continued under the larger auspices of the Canadian Rugby Union. Beginning in 1909, the CRU champion was awarded the Grey Cup, with the Big Four competing against university squads and eventually teams from Western Canada. The Argonauts first competed for the Cup in 1911, losing 14 to 7 to the University of Toronto in front of a then record 13,687 spectators at the newly opened Varsity Stadium. The team would claim their first championship in 1914, exacting revenge on U of T with a 14 to 2 victory. Their star runner and kicker in their first championship year was Jack O'Conner, who scored a league record 44 points.21

The Argonauts playing the Ottawa Rough Riders at Varsity Stadium in 1924

After play was halted during World War I, the Argos again achieved success in the early 1920s on the back of one Canada's greatest ever sportsmen. Lionel Conacher, the "Big Train," led the team to two perfect 6-0 seasons in 1921 and 1922. In the first season he accounted for 85 of his team's 167 points, and 15 of the points in the Grey Cup game, a 23-0 drubbing of the Edmonton Eskimos. It was the first east-west Grey Cup championship in Canadian history.22

The 1921 Grey Cup victory was their last until 1933, at which point the Argonauts became the dominant team of an increasingly nationwide sport. They put together a number of Grey Cup dynasties in the 1930s and 1940s, winning eight of twenty Grey Cups between 1933 and 1952. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were most often on the receiving end of Argo Grey Cup victories in this era.23 From 1933 to 1941 Lew Hayman coached the team with a still unparalleled winning ratio of 45-15-2. Their first back-to-back Grey Cups came in 1937 and 1938. This was also the era of the famed Stukus brothers—Annis, Bill, and Frank—who proved a potent all-purpose trio in the Argonauts' championship years.24

A threat at quarterback, running back, defensive back, and kicker, Joe "King" Krol has been called the most versatile Argonaut ever to play the game.25

Joe "King" Krol and Royal Copeland, the so-called Gold Dust Twins, were the best-known players of the 1940s. In an era where players still played multiple positions, they were a threat in every capacity: running, passing, catching, kicking, and playing defence. Often connecting with each other for points, they led the Argos to a Grey Cup threepeat between 1945 and 1947.26 1949 and 1950 marked a watershed in Argonauts history as the team began large scale importation of American players for the first time.2728 The team also broke a cultural barrier in 1950 with the signing of their first black player: Ulysses "Crazy Legs" Curtis would play five strong years with the team.29

Frank Clair was brought in as coach in 1950 and left his mark on the revamped roster; he led the team to Grey Cup wins in 1950 and 1952.3031 The first of these was a 13-0 victory over Winnipeg in the notorious Mud Bowl. A November snow storm followed by mild conditions turned Varsity Stadium into a bog and the play was a shambles; one Winnipeg player is reported to have almost drowned in the muck.32

At some time during this period, the phrase "Argo Bounce" came to refer to the Argonauts' propensity to receive a lucky bounce of the football. The phrase may date to the Grey Cups of the 1930s, all of which featured improbable bounces and fumbles favouring the Argos; the phrase was popularized in print by Annis Stukus in the 1940s. It is still in use today, with a number of fortunate on-field happenings attributed to the "bounce".33

1953–1988

The Argonauts have won a record 16 Grey Cups, but suffered through a 31 year championship drought from 1952 to 1983.

The three decades after the 1952 Grey Cup victory have been called the Argonauts' Dark Ages.34 The team went thirty-one years between championship victories and nineteen without even making an appearance in the final. Part of the reason was a salary cap introduced in 1953 that cost them many talented players. For the first time in decades, they began ranking at the bottom of the Eastern Division.34 The management style under new owner John Bassett has also been blamed: young talent was traded or allowed to leave and the team could not form a nucleus of championship players; coaches came and went rapidly.35 Two notable events occurred off-field at the end of the 1950s: in 1958 the Argonauts became a founding member of the Canadian Football League and a year later found a new home at Exhibition Stadium.note 3

The Argonauts did have some standout players in the 1950s and 1960s. The stalwart of the era was Dick Shatto, an Ohioan who played twelve seasons from 1954 to 1965. Listed as a running back, Shatto was a dual threat to run and receive and continues to hold the team regular season records for touchdowns (91) and total yards gained (6,958).36 Living in Toronto year round, Shatto set down deep roots in the city and would eventually serve as the Argonauts general manager.37 Another American, Tobin Rote, set numerous passing marks in three years at quarterback from 1960 to 1962. Known for his good living off the field, Rote still holds the Argos single game passing record with 524 yards against Montreal on August 19, 1960.3638 A pillar on the offensive line was Danny Nykoluk at tackle who appeared in an incredible 17 seasons from 1954 to 1971, including one stretch of 12 years where he didn't miss a single game.39 Despite these veterans, the era was marked by losing seasons and high attrition on the roster. By the 1960s, the annual (and often desperate) mid-season addition of American imports had become known as the "Argo airlift"; American imports often wouldn't last a game before being cut.4041

Eventually, the team became competitive again under head coach Leo Cahill in the late 1960s. They scored a coup over the National Football League (NFL) with the signing of a young Joe Theismann (and other American stars) in 1971. The team also saw an attendance bounce, consistently selling out Exhibition Stadium.42 The Boatmen's best chance to end their Grey Cup drought came that year, when they faced the Calgary Stampeders in the 59th Grey Cup, the first to be played on artificial turf. In a defensive struggle at Vancouver's soggy Empire Stadium, a now infamous late fumble by Leon "X-Ray" McQuay and a possession changing kick out of bounds by Harry Abofs sealed a 14–11 Stampeder victory.43

The 1970s were tumultuous for the team, with numerous hirings and firings of head coaches and consistent losing records. There were stellar players over this era, including all-stars on defence such as Jim Stillwagon, Jim Corrigall, and Granville "Granny" Liggins, but the team could not return to winning form.44 High profile moves such as hiring Canadian football icon Russ Jackson as head coach in 1975 or signing running back superstar Anthony Davis the next year turned into busts.45 Ironically, the Argos reached historic attendance highs in this losing decade—regular season average per game attendance reached 47,356 in 1976.46 The enlargement of Exhibition Stadium over 1975 and 1976 in anticipation of the Blue Jays expansion baseball team allowed for these massive crowds.47

The Argos reached an all-time low in 1981 when they finished 2–14; this despite having such talented players as quarterback Condredge Holloway, running back Cedric Minter, and receiver Terry Greer.48 The team began the year 0-10 and there was talk of a "perfect" losing season. The team had been inept so long by this point (29 seasons without a Grey Cup win) that the notion of an "Argo Bounce" had become inverted; now "it was the unluckiest bounce in the world, the one that usually arose from the Argos' uncanny ability to lose critical games in the dying minutes by committing an improbable blunder."49

However, with the 1982 season came the hiring of Bob O'Billovich as head coach and Mouse Davis as offensive co-ordinator. Davis implemented the run and shoot offense,50 and the Argos enjoyed an unprecedented turnaround, going 9–6–1 that year; Condredge Holloway was the CFL's most outstanding player. The team ultimately fell short in their quest for a Grey Cup, losing 32–16 to the mighty Edmonton Eskimos in the final in front of a disappointed crowd at Exhibition Stadium.51 The 1983 season finally brought the championship home. The Argos finished 12–4 and Terry Greer set a CFL record with 2,003 receiving yards.52 Joe Barnes and Condredge Holloway were a potent duo at quarterback. The Double Blue returned to the Grey Cup, this time facing the BC Lions at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. Despite the hostile crowd, Toronto defeated BC 18–17 to win their first Grey Cup since 1952. The Argos were generally competitive for the remainder of 1980s, thanks in large part to talented players such as Gill "The Thrill" Fenerty and Darrell K. Smith,53 but a return to the glory of 1983 proved elusive.

1989–present

Michael "Pinball" Clemons twice set a league record for combined yards. He is one of just four players with his number retired by the Argos.

The 1989 season saw the Argonauts move into the SkyDome, a multi-purpose downtown stadium with a retractable roof. It marked the beginning of an eventful few years. In 1990, one of the most beloved figures in Toronto sporting history emerged on the team: Michael "Pinball" Clemons set a CFL record for all purpose yards with 3,300 in his first full year, a record he would break in 1997 with 3,840.54

In 1991 Hollywood prestige arrived in the form of a new ownership trio. Bruce McNall, owner of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, bought the team. One of his players, hockey great Wayne Gretzky, became a minority owner, as did Canadian-born comedian John Candy. The group stunned the league with the signing of Raghib "Rocket" Ismail for an unheard of $18.2 million over four years.55 Ismail immediately impressed, particularly on kickoff returns, and was named player of the game in the 1991 Grey Cup, which the Argos won 36-21 over the Calgary Stampeders. Clemons and quarterback Matt Dunigan (who played the final with a broken collarbone) were the other critical pieces to the championship.23

However, the Argos slumped to 6-12 only a year later, beginning a slide that only accelerated when Dunigan and Ismail left after the season. The 1992 season was the first of four consecutive losing seasons; while they made the playoffs in 1994, they were promptly eliminated by the Baltimore Stallions in the division semifinals.14 Trouble also struck off the field: McNall was convicted of conspiracy and fraud at the end of 1993,56 while Candy died prematurely the next year. The team was sold to TSN Enterprises. Attendance also began to slide in the mid-1990s, raising questions over the team's viability that persist to this day. The per game average was just above 16,000 in 1994 and 1995, much less than half the team's 1970s peak.46

Championship material did eventually reemerge in 1996. Doug Flutie, one of the greatest quarterbacks in CFL history, was signed for the season and surrounded with key personnel. The team included linebacker Mike O'Shea, veteran wide receiver Paul Masotti, and running back Robert Drummond.57 Derrell "Mookie" Mitchell was added at receiver in 1997. The Boatmen took the Grey Cup in both 1996 and 1997. Flutie would set team records for single season passing yards with more than 5,500 in each year and for touchdowns thrown with 47 in 1997 (one less than his CFL record of 48).36 Massoti retired in 1999 as the team's all time pass reception yardage leader.57 Clemons ended his own successful career in 2000 before returning to coach until 2007.

Veteran Damon Allen set the pro football league record for career passing yards while an Argonaut. He led the team to a Grey Cup victory in 2004.

The years after their back-to-back championships saw a return to mediocrity for the Argos. Ticket sales remained flat, and there were changes in ownership. Gimmicks to attract fans were greeted with criticism.58 The Argos seemingly bottomed out in July 2003 when the CFL stripped control over the team from owner Sherwood Schwarz. The team had amassed debts of over $20 million, including $17.4 owed to Schwarz himself.59

New ownership under David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski brought immediate dividends with another Grey Cup win in 2004. Veteran Damon Allen led the team to a team to 27-19 victory over the B.C. Lions, with Jon Avery a critical running threat. Allen would continue with the team until 2007, and retired with professional football's all-time leading passing yardage (72,381).54

The Argonauts saw winning seasons from 2005 to 2007 before bottoming out the next two years. They finished 2009 with just three wins. Critical players over this half decade included receiver Arland Bruce III, defensive star Byron Parker, and all-star punter Noel Prefontaine.14 The team generated some controversy in 2006 when they lured running back Ricky Williams from the NFL. Williams had repeatedly violated NFL drug policies and was under suspension for the year; he played just one season with the Argos.60

In 2010 the team again saw an ownership change, with construction magnate David Braley, who also owns the Lions, taking control.1 After breaking even in 2010 and going 6-12 in 2011, the Argonauts again acquired a championship nucleus in 2012. Ricky Ray was brilliant at quarterback while Chad Owens emerged as arguably the league's best special teams player. Owens broke Michael Clemons CFL record for all purpose yards and won the CFL Most Outstanding Player award that year.61 The 2012 Grey Cup was played in Toronto and the team took their first championship victory in the city since 1952, a 35-22 win over Calgary.23

Championship summary

Date62 Grey Cup W/L Opponent Score Host City Victory #
Nov 25, 2012 100th W Calgary Stampeders 35–22 Toronto 16
Nov 21, 2004 92nd W B.C. Lions 27–19 Ottawa 15
Nov 16, 1997 85th W Saskatchewan Roughriders 47–23 Edmonton 14
Nov 24, 1996 84th W Edmonton Eskimos 43–37 Hamilton 13
Nov 24, 1991 79th W Calgary Stampeders 36–21 Winnipeg 12
Nov 29, 1987 75th L Edmonton Eskimos 38–36 Vancouver -
Nov 27, 1983 71st W B.C. Lions 18–17 Vancouver 11
Nov 28, 1982 70th L Edmonton Eskimos 32–16 Toronto -
Nov 28, 1971 59th L Calgary Stampeders 14–11 Vancouver -
Nov 29, 1952 40th W Edmonton Eskimos 21–14 Toronto 10
Nov 25, 1950 38th W Winnipeg Blue Bombers 13–0 Toronto 9
Nov 29, 1947 35th W Winnipeg Blue Bombers 10–9 Toronto 8
Nov 30, 1946 34th W Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28–6 Toronto 7
Dec 1, 1945 33rd W Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35–0 Toronto 6
Dec 10, 1938 26th W Winnipeg Blue Bombers 30–7 Toronto 5
Dec 11, 1937 25th W Winnipeg Blue Bombers 4–3 Toronto 4
Dec 9, 1933 21st W Sarnia Imperials 4–3 Sarnia 3
Dec 3, 1921 9th W Edmonton Eskimos 23–0 Toronto 2
Dec 4, 1920 8th L University of Toronto 16–3 Toronto -
Dec 5, 1914 6th W University of Toronto 14–2 Toronto 1
Nov 30, 1912 4th L Hamilton Alerts 11–4 35–22 Hamilton -
Nov 25, 1911 3rd L University of Toronto 14–7 Toronto -

The Toronto Argonauts currently lead the Canadian Football League in total wins and in winning percentage in the Grey Cup.3 Early success in the final can partly be attributed to the weakness of western teams: between 1921 and 1952 the Argonauts won in nine straight appearances, including six straight against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The team's success is not merely an historical aberration, however: they have won six of their nine appearances since the formation of the CFL, including their last five straight.

For the entire Grey Cup era there has been some form of playoffs leading up to the Grey Cup game; the 22 Argonauts teams who have won a spot in the final would, in modern terms, be called "Eastern Division Champions". It is important to remember, however, that the route to the Grey Cup, participating teams, and playoff format have changed repeatedly over time.

As for the regular season, the CFL records 14 Argonauts teams at the top of the eastern divisional table since its formation in 1958.63 Earlier data for the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union provides another 9 years from 1907 to 1957 in which the Argos were the best of the "Big Four," for a total of 23 divisional wins.6465 The only pre-1958 year in which the Argos won the IRFU but failed to make a Grey Cup appearance was 1922, when they lost in semi-final to Queen's University.66

Going back to an even earlier era, the Argonauts won the Ontario Rugby Football Union championship three times between 1883 and 1906, including the league's first two seasons, 1883 and 1884. Their last victory as ORFU members came in 1901. Given their losses in the Dominion Championship in 1884 and 1901, the Argonauts would not earn the title "national champion" until their first Grey Cup win in 1914.17

Stadiums

Toronto Argonauts stadiums67
Stadium Tenure
Rosedale Field 1874–97
Varsity Stadium 1898–1907
Rosedale Field 1908–15
Varsity Stadium 1916–58
Exhibition Stadium 1959–88
Rogers Centre 1989–present

The Toronto Argonauts first home was Rosedale Field at Mount Pleasant Road and MacLennan Avenue near the city centre. The team suggests its capacity was 10,000 total with 4,000 seated,67 though O'Leary and Parrish list smaller numbers, noting that a $32,000 renovation in 1883 allowed for a capacity of 2,000.18 The field has historic significance as the site of the first Grey Cup game in 1909; the CFL lists the attendance at that game as 3,807.23 The field still exists as part of Rosedale Park, although there are no grandstands.

Sources again differ on when the team permanently moved to Varsity Stadium on the grounds of the University of Toronto. The team gives dates of 1874–1897 and 1908–1915 at Rosedale, while other sources suggest the team had moved to Varsity by 1911.note 4 Varsity would become indelibly linked with the Argonauts and the early years of Canadian football; it was the home field of the great Argo dynasties of the 1930s and 1940s. For most of the Argos time at the stadium its capacity was about 16,000, but this jumped above 20,000 with a renovation in 1950. Although it has not hosted a professional game since 1958, it still holds the record for hosting the most Grey Cups with 30.68

Exhibition Stadium, home to the Argos from 1959-88

Another home beckoned in 1959 with the renovation of the new Exhibition Stadium to accommodate Canadian football. Often remembered ruefully by Torontonians for its exposure to weather and poor sightlines, the stadium was nevertheless the site of the Argos greatest attendance in the late 1960s and 1970s. Particularly brutal conditions at the 70th Grey Cup in 1982 paved the way for the construction of a domed stadium in Toronto.69

The Skydome (or Rogers Centre since 2004) has provided the Argonauts a marquee venue since 1989, but also been criticized for its football sightlines and atmosphere. Mid-sized crowds can feel tiny in a venue that accommodates about 50,000 people. The domed environment does, at least, remove the elements and is an advantage to passers and comfortable for fans. Two critical opportunities to find a new home were missed in 2004 and 2005: plans for a revamped Varsity Stadium to accommodate CFL-sized crowds were thwarted by community opposition in 2004, while the Argonauts ultimately withdrew from an alternate plan at York University the following year.7071

It was announced in 2013 that the artificial turf at the Dome would be replace by natural grass within five years to better facilitate Toronto Blue Jays baseball. This change would make the facility unable to host CFL games. The stadium issue has generated significant press and raised concerns over the team's long-term viability. Argonauts losses have been estimated anywhere from $2 to $6 million annually.7273 The team is actively searching for a new facility, with a renovated BMO Field, which is currently not long enough to fit a Canadian football field, or an entirely new stadium both possibilities.7475 Owner Braley was widely quoted as seeking to build a new stadium in one of up to four unidentified Greater Toronto Area communities, but the logic of building a football-specific stadium for a money-losing team has been questioned. A move to BMO Field is increasingly viewed as the only viable option.7677

An Argos game in their current home, the Rogers Centre

As BMO Field is owned by the City of Toronto, their consent is required for any modifications. The City has requested that any renovations includes making the pitch compatible for the CFL, as planned in the original stadium agreement.787980 Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly has said that "the Argos have got to play there" and that "I think there is a very good chance that they will."81 Preliminary plans for a $120 million renovation were released to the public by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment on March 5,8283 and the $115–120 million renovation was unanimously approved by the Board of Governors of Exhibition Place two days later.8485 The upgrades would raise the stadium's seating capacity from 21,566 seats to 30,000 for soccer, with 25,000 seats in CFL configuration, and would be temporarily expandable with additional endzone seating to 40,000 for big events86 such as a Grey Cup.82 The agreement requires MLSE to reach a "long-term use (i.e. 20 years)" lease with the Argos for usage of the stadium starting in 2015.798086

Ownership and management

Ownership history

Ownership of the Toronto Argonauts
878889
Owner Tenure
Argonaut Rowing Club October 4, 1873 – October 1, 1956
John Bassett, Charlie Burns, Eric Cradock October 1, 1956 – January 1, 1960
John Bassett, Charlie Burns, Len Lumbers January 1, 1960 – August 31, 1971
Baton Broadcasting (John Bassett) August 31, 1971 – February 27, 1974
William R. Hodgson February 27, 1974 – June 25, 1976
William R. Hodgson, Carling O'Keefe June 25, 1976 – January 12, 1979
Carling O'Keefe January 12, 1979 – December 12, 1988
Harry Ornest, Carling O'Keefe December 12, 1988 – February 25, 1991
Bruce McNall, John Candy, Wayne Gretzky February 25, 1991 – May 5, 1994
TSN Enterprises (Labatt) May 5, 1994 – July 26, 1995
Labatt Brewing Company (Interbrew) July 26, 1995 – December 20, 1999
Sherwood Schwarz December 20, 1999 – July 29, 2003
Canadian Football League July 29, 2003 – November 5, 2003
Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon November 5, 2003 – February 9, 2010
David Braley February 9, 2010 – Present

For more than eight decades, the Toronto Argonauts Football Club remained the sole property of its namesake rowing club. By the 1950s, the complex management structure of the team made the arrangement increasingly awkward. Facing overdraft and with wealthy suitors knocking, the Argonaut rowers finally sold the team to a consortium led by John Bassett, Eric Cradock, and Charlie Burns in 1957. Each held about 20% share in the company, with the balance made up by small investors who had some affinity with the club; the initial agreement called for a long-term debenture of $400,000 to be set up that would sustain the rowing club in the absence of its football income.90 Bassett was the operating head of the franchise and is often given sole credit for the initial purchase of the Argos, but Cradock was also instrumental in spearheading the drive. He would sell his share to Len Lumbers just two years into his tenure in part because of Bassett's controlling nature.91 Bassett arranged a complete buyout of the other shareholders for $2.31 million in 1971 through his holdings in Baton Broadcasting.9293

The Bassett years of the late-50s to early-70s were marked by mediocrity on the field but consistent success at the turnstiles. An issue that has become a perennial concern in the city also emerged at this time: the possibility of a National Football League team in Toronto. Various machinations were entertained by Bassett including moving the Argos to the NFL, bringing an American expansion team to the city (e.g. the Toronto Northmen of the WFL), or expanding the CFL itself in the opposite direction. Other team owners were steadfastly against Bassett's moves and almost rescinded his franchise in 1974; angered, he sold the team for $3.3 million to hotel magnet William R. Hodgson in the same year.9495

Current owner of the Argos, David Braley

Hodgsen sold to Carling O'Keefe in 1979, who had been minority owners since 1976. The brewing company's total investment in the team was $5.8 million.96 At the time it was rapidly ramping up its sports sponsorship (it also owned the Quebec Nordiques before they moved from the World Hockey Association to the NHL) and would become a huge benefactor to the CFL itself, inking television rights deals that would reach $11 million annually by 1984. Reports at the time suggest the league became spoiled by the partnership and that when the money dried up in 1987 the transition was difficult.97 For the Argos, the Carling O'Keefe years were marked by their first modern-era Grey Cup in 1983.98

The year's following the Carling O'Keefe era were marked by increasingly short ownership stints. Canadian businessman Harry Ornest bought the team off Carling O'Keefe for $5 million at the end of 198899 and then sold to the trio of McNall (60%), Candy (20%), and Gretzky (20%) for the same amount in 1991.55100 Of the three, Candy is best remembered for his emotional investment in the team and a team player award continues in his honour.101102 Given McNall's indictment and Candy's early death, the era was tumultuous and the last in which the club regularly made front page headlines. The now money-losing team was sold to The Sports Network in 1994 for $4.5 million.103 TSN was a subsidiary of Labatt Brewing Company, who also owned the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1995, Labatt was swallowed by Interbrew of Belgium and ownership of the team was transferred accordingly.104 The Interbrew years saw two championships but also the worst Argo attendance of the modern era.46 Interbrew soon lost interest in sports ownership and the team was sold yet again at the end of 1999 to New York businessman Sherwood Schwarz.

After the debacles of the Schwarz era and brief control of the team by the CFL (see above) the Argos were rescued by David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski in 2004. There was optimism surrounding the duo's arrival and attendance figures improved in their six years heading the organization. It was also appreciated that the two were Torontonians after a quarter-century of foreign and/or corporate ownership.105 But by 2010 losses were great enough that the team was again put on the block and eventually sold to current owner David Braley. There was some controversy surrounding Braley's takeover. He is simultaneously owner of the BC Lions, raising questions of competitive integrity. It was also revealed that Braley had bankrolled half of Cynamon and Sokolowski's initial $2 million buy-in of the Argos in 2004, and covered half their subsequent losses, in exchange for half of the 2007 Grey Cup profits.106107 Braley has said that he is having discussions with potential buyers for the team and would like to sell it by his 75th birthday in 2016.108 Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, or its minority owner Larry Tanenbaum, have emerged as serious suitor for the team.109110111 Braley is reportedly asking $20 million for the team.108112

Senior executives

Toronto Argonauts Senior Executives87
General Manager Tenure President Tenure
Lew Hayman 1957–1970 Lew Hayman 1957–1981
John Barrow 1971–1975 Ralph Sazio 1982–1989
Dick Shatto 1976–1978 Mike McCarthy 1990–1993
Tommy Hudspeth 1979–1981 Ron Barbaro 1993
Jim Eddy 1982–1983 Paul Beeston 1994
Ralph Sazio 1984–1985 Bob Nicholson 1995–1999
Leo Cahill 1986–1988 Sherwood Schwarz 2000–2001
Ralph Sazio 1989 Pinball Clemons 2002
Mike McCarthy 1990–1993 Dan Ferrone 2003
Bob O'Billovich 1994–1995 Keith Pelley 2004–2007
Don Matthews 1996 Pinball Clemons (CEO)
Brad Watters (COO)
2008
Eric Tillman 1997 Bob Nicholson 2009–2011
Don Matthews 1998 Chris Rudge 2012–Present
Eric Tillman 1999
J. I. Albrecht 2000
Paul Masotti 2001
Gary Etcheverry 2002
Pinball Clemons 2003
Adam Rita 2004–2010
Jim Barker 2011–present

Below the ownership level, the two most senior positions within the Toronto Argonauts organization are its President and General Manager.87 The GM role was titled as Managing Director from 1957 to 1971, while the President role is now included in the title of CEO.

Adam Rita won two Grey Cups with the Argos, the 79th as Head Coach and 92nd as General Manager

Easily the longest serving executive in the organization was Lew Hayman, who had a five decade career beginning in the 1930s as coach and administrator. A Jewish-American, Hayman served with both the Argos and Montreal Alouettes and has been called "the architect of Canadian football."113 He was the team's first President and Managing Director at the insistence of Eric Cradock in 1957,114 and would continue in the former role until 1981. Ralph Sazio took over from Hayman and is another Hall of Fame builder.115

After relative stability at the senior executive level for three decades, there has been significant turnover in the positions since the 1990s. The team had eight General Managers in eight years, for example, between 1996 and 2003. The current GM is Jim Barker, who was appointed at the end of 2010.116 Chris Rudge, former head of the Canadian Olympic Committee, took over as President and CEO at the beginning of 2012.117

Head coaches

A total of 55 men have served as Toronto Argonauts head coach. The current coach, Scott Milanovich, was appointed in 2011.118 He has succeeded in reviving a stalled offence and led the team to a Grey Cup victory in 2012.

The longest total tenure at head coach belongs to Bob O'Billovich, who led the team for eleven years over three stints in the 1980s and early 90s. Other notable coaching careers include those of Joe Wright, Sr. at the end of the nineteenth century, Ted Morris and Frank Clair in the post-war years, Leo Cahill in the late 60s and early 70s, and Pinball Clemons after the turn of the millennium.

Since 1961, the Canadian Football League has awarded the Annis Stukus Trophy annually to the league's outstanding coach. (Alongside his playing career, Stukus achieved fame as a coach, promoter, and newspaper columnist.)119 Argonauts coaches have been honoured seven times: Cahill (1971), O'Billovich (1981 & 1987), Adam Rita (1991), Don Matthews (1997), Jim Barker (2010), and Milanovich (2012).120

Current team

Roster

All-Star quarterback for the Argos, Ricky Ray

The current Toronto Argonauts roster includes 60 personnel. During the season, active roster sizes in the CFL are 46 and game day rosters number 42, at least 20 of whom must be Canadian in accordance with the league's "non-import" rule. Training camp rosters are allowed to swell to 68.121

The current team is led at quarterback by Ricky Ray, who had two statistically brilliant seasons in 2012 and 2013 but also faced injury troubles. In 2013, Zach Collaros emerged as a capable QB in Ray's absence but ended the season a free agent and moved to Hamilton.122 Other offensive standouts include John Chiles, Chad Owens, and Canadian Andre Durie. Chiles led the 2013 team in TDs, Owens in combined yards, and Durie in receiving yards.123 The team released one gifted receiver in the off-season, Dontrelle Inman, to allow him to try his hand in the NFL.124

On defence, Robert McCune emerged as a tackle machine in 2013, leading the team with 99. Khalif "Colossus" Mitchell was the sack leader, while Marcus Ball continued to be a standout performer.123 Ball was also released in the off-season to allow for an NFL shot.125

Toronto Argonauts roster
Quarterbacks

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Slotbacks

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen

Linebackers

Defensive Backs

Special Teams

Inactive List

Suspended

Practice Roster


Italics indicates Import player
Roster updated 2014-03-13
Depth Chart
Transactions (argonauts.ca)
Transactions (cfl.ca)
65 Active

More rosters

Front office and coaching

Toronto Argonauts staff
Front Office

Head Coaches

Offensive Coaches

 

Defensive Coaches

Special Teams Coaches

Coaching Staff
More CFL staffs

Rivalries

An Argos game against the Ti-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium in 2010

With few teams, but a long history, it's inevitable that intense rivalries have developed in Canadian football. Far and away the greatest Toronto Argonauts rivalry has been with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and its precursor teams. Fittingly, the Argonauts first game was against a club from Hamilton,13 while the raucous Eastern Final of 2013—featuring a Tiger-Cat win over the Argos in front 35,000 at the Rogers Centre—proved the rivalry is alive and well.126 Off the field, the rivalry has been largely sustained by Hamilton fans, pitting small city, working class ethos against Toronto's opulence. It is epitomized by the Tiger-Cat fan chant "Argos suck!"127 The two teams meet in Hamilton every year in the Labour Day Classic, a league wide tradition since the late 1940s in which the game's greatest rivalries are showcased.

To the east, the Argonauts have also faced off against teams from Montreal and Ottawa since their earliest days. In recent years, the Montreal Alouettes have consistently fielded strong teams and often run up against the Argos in the playoffs; the teams have faced off eleven times in the Eastern Final, with Montreal taking six.128

At the Grey Cup level, the Argonauts have faced an assortment of teams in recent decades rather than any one team regularly. The Edmonton Eskimos, for years a dominant team in the league, became a rival. The two teams' five Grey Cup match-ups include an epic 38-36 Toronto win in 1987.23 In the pre-CFL days, the Argos had a Grey Cup rivalry with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and a cross-town rivalry with the University of Toronto in the first years of the championship after 1909.

Notable personnel

Toronto Argonauts retired numbers129
No. Player Position Tenure Championships
22 Dick Shatto1 RB 1954–1965 -
31 Michael "Pinball" Clemons2 RB/SB/KR/PR 1989–2000 1991, 1996, 1997
55 Joe Krol QB/RB/P/K/DB 1945–1952, 1955 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1952
60 Danny Nykoluk OT 1955, 1957–1971 -
1 Served as Argonauts General Manager from 1976 to 1978.
2 Served as Argonauts Head Coach from 2000 to 2007, President from 2001 to 2002, and continues to act as Vice-Chairman.

The highest distinction the Toronto Argonauts can accord a player is to retire their number; just four players have received the honour. Starting in 1996, the team began another category of distinction with its list of "All-Time Argos." Twenty-two players have been rewarded so far and a banner in their honour hangs at Rogers Centre.130

Players and management personnel may be separately inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.131 A total of 56 people who have been part of the team are in the Hall. The All-Time Argos list does not extend back to before the Second War era while the Hall of Fame does. Thus, for instance, Lionel Conacher is in the Hall but not listed as an All-Time Argo.

Finally, players may be honoured on an annual basis through the CFL awards. The most prestigious of these is the Most Outstanding Player Award, awarded since 1953. Six Argonauts have been recipients: Chad Owens (2012), Damon Allen (2005), Doug Flutie (1996 & 1997), Pinball Clemons (1990), Conredge Holloway, and Bill Symons (1968).

All-Time and Hall of Fame

Toronto Argonauts Honoured Personnel
Affiliation in Hall of Fame based on team acknowledgement
All Time Argos130
Les Ascott
Michael "Pinball" Clemons
Royal Copeland
Jim Corrigall
Ulysses "Crazy Legs" Curtis
Dan Ferrone
Terry Greer
Rodney Harding
Ed Harrington
Condredge Holloway
Joe Krol
Marv Luster
Dave Mann
Paul Masotti
Don Moen
Teddy Morris
Danny Nykoluk
Jim Rountree
Dick Shatto
Jim Stillwagon
Bill Symons
William Zock
Hall of Fame Players132
Damon Allen
John Barrow
Danny Bass
Harry Batstone
Paul Bennett
Ab Box
Joe Breen
Michael "Pinball" Clemons
Tommy Joe Coffey
Lionel Conacher
Royal Copeland
Jim Corrigall
Wes Cutler
Matt Dunigan
Terry Evanshen
Cap Fear
Doug Flutie
Bill Frank
Condredge Holloway
Russ Jackson
Bobby Jurasin
Ellison Kelly
Joe Krol
Smirle Lawson
Marv Luster
Joe Montford
Frank Morris
Teddy Morris
Ray Nettles
Jackie Parker
James Parker
Willie Pless
Dave Raimey
Ted Reeve
Rocco Romano
Dick Shatto
Don Sutherin
Bill Symons
Dave Thelen
Andy Tommy
Pierre Vercheval
Tom Wilkinson
Ben Zambiasi
Bill Zock
Hall of Fame Builders132
David Braley
Frank Clair
Bernie Custis
William C. Foulds
Jake Gaudaur
Lew Hayman
Don Matthews
Jack Newton
Mike Rodden
Ralph Sazio
Annis Stukus
Frank Tindall

See also

Notes

Footnotes

  1. ^ The team continues to refer to their colours as Oxford blue and Cambridge blue for historical reasons rather than strict colour accuracy. While they have retained the very dark blue associated with Oxford, the light blue of the modern uniforms is close to azure. Cambridge blue is technically a shade of spring green and appears somewhat grayish.
  2. ^ Confusion remains over the first Argos match.9 The CFL continues to report that a game took place on October 11 against the University of Toronto.11 Citing the "definitive" research of Ian Speers, O'Leary and Parrish refute this and point to the 18th as the first date.12 The fact that the Hamilton game was played on the grounds of U of T may have led to a later journalistic error.9
  3. ^ The inaugural game at Exhibition Stadium was an inter-league match against the NFL's Chicago Cardinals. The Argos would play two more exhibition games against NFL clubs in the next two years and were losers in all three. The games were part of a wider series of interleague match-ups between CFL and NFL teams held during this era.
  4. ^ Details available from the team are contradictory: they suggest a 1916 move to Varsity in their Stadium History67 but 1911 in their Year-By-Year History.14 In his write-up on Varsity Stadium, Speers agrees with the 1911 date.68 There is no dispute that the stadium was completed in late 1911 and that the Argonauts participated in the Grey Cup at the venue that year.

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References

In Article

Further Reading

External links








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