Predicted by many to finish in the East Division basement, the Toronto Argonauts silenced many critics on their run to the 100th Grey Cup.
A first-year head coach; new assistants; a different, albeit very talented gunslinger under centre; along with many starters not just new to the Argos, but who hadn’t even played a down of CFL football before this season.
But against the odds, here they are: fresh off a 27-20 win over the Montreal Alouettes and back in their own city to play host in the Grey Cup.
The Argos’ run to the 2012 Grey Cup is a great story – albeit, as veteran safety Jordan Younger says, it’s far from being complete.
After all, unless you’re the ’71 Argos, no one remembers a loser.
“We’re trying to accomplish something,” said Younger. “We’re trying to win the 100th Grey Cup at home, that’s what we’re trying to do. Making a contingency plan is not even a possibility.”
“We’re not even thinking about what’ll happen if we lose this game. Not to disrespect Calgary, our opponent, or the moment – but our only goal is to win and that’s all we want to keep working towards.”
Younger was part of another team that overcame a lot to get to the Grey Cup, too.
Led by Hall of Fame quarterback Damon Allen; one of the league’s most dominant defences in recent memory; and of course some of the most boisterous receivers around, the 2004 Grey Cup Argos also didn’t play their best football until the late stages of the season.
After a 10-7-1 record in the regular season, they won at home in the Eastern Semi-Final before traveling to Olympic Stadium to face the class of the league, Anthony Calvillo and the Montreal Alouettes.
It was the third straight season they’d face off in that venue, that late in the season – but the first year the Boatmen would finally get the win.
Younger said the comparison ends there though, and while both the 2004 and 2012 versions showed plenty of character to get to the Grey Cup, this year’s cast has its own separate identity.
“I keep saying the ’04 team was the ’04 team,’ said Younger. “It’s really important to me that this team has its own moment because they’ve earned it.”
“But there are some similarities, like the way we got hot and the way we were underdogs,” he continued. “In that sense it was very similar. There are a lot of experiences from the ’04 Cup that we could pull to help these guys out.”
Differences aside, one thing that does remain the same is the feeling of going into Olympic Stadium and winning, in a building that’s historically been a nightmare for the Boatmen.
“So much of my football aspirations have ended in that stadium, or at the hands of that team, so it’s personal,” said Younger. “For all the guys who’ve spent some time here, they understand that Montreal was our nemesis.”
“So now that we were able to get over this hump, this moment, it doesn’t feel like pressure. It feels like we accomplished getting here, now let’s enjoy it, have fun with it, and just make the most of the opportunity.”
Current Argos Special Teams Coach Michael O’Shea was one of the league’s top linebackers playing for that vaunted Double Blue defence in ’04, and if anything hasn’t changed, it’s the satisfaction of being back in the Grey Cup.
“What’s the same is the feeling,” said O’Shea. “Being back here is a great feeling, I wish I was playing but I’m done with that. It really is truly, you know you get that same intensity, that same excitement, it’s fantastic.”
O’Shea is one of five current Argos, along with Younger, Jeff Johnson, Orlando Steinauer, and Noel Prefontaine, who was also there eight years ago when the team stormed to a 27-19 win over the BC Lions at Frank Clair Stadium in Ottawa.
For Younger, it’s a feeling that a lot of the guys on this team might not quite understand in the same way. He cited this team’s youthfulness as the biggest difference between this year’s squad and 2004’s.
“The ’04 team was all older guys, all veteran guys and leaders,” said Younger. “I think the ’04 team was mainly about sacrifice, everybody sacrificed personal success so that the team could succeed. This team is too young to understand any of what the ’04 team was doing. This team is completely different.”
“In some ways it’s good, in some ways it’s bad, but they don’t know how big this moment is,” he continued. “They don’t understand the magnitude of the event. They’re just having fun, they’re just having a good time and it’s fun to sit back and watch.”
True, most of the players on this roster haven’t experienced it before, but 2004 was one of the most memorably Grey Cup teams in recent memory, in a season flooded with many great challenges and tribulations along the path to the title.
The men on this squad have a chance to build their own legacy, and up to now, it’s been exactly the kind of season that players and fans alike will likely never forget.
There’s only one more goal left, and that’s to win on Sunday. Otherwise, this is a story that never really gets written – meanwhile, all of the hype and enjoyment of Grey Cup week becomes virtually meaningless.
“We’re not here to collect t-shirts and swag, we’re here to win and finish it off,” said O’Shea.