Jordan Younger’s mouth was moving, but his eyes were so much more expressive — wide and unblinking. The Argonauts’ safety turned his head slowly like his mind was meticulously recording every second within the Rogers Centre following Toronto’s 35-22 win over Calgary in Sunday’s 100th Grey Cup Championship.
“The moment, the gravity of the situation — when all the pressure was on our shoulders, when everyone’s eyes were on us, all the lights were on us, we were strong enough to carry it,” Younger said.
He watched the fans in the stands, over 53,000, who stared back at him. And Younger watched the dozens and dozens of family and friends surrounding the prefabricated stage placed at midfield. And he watched his teammates on that stage lift the Grey Cup.
“Just the moment, man,” Younger said. “In 2004 [his first Grey Cup win] I was a rookie running around like a chicken with my head cutoff. Now I’m just taking it all in: The looks, the eyes, and the energy in the building.
“We did it.”
The 34-year-old dismissed any praise, because he had just two tackles Sunday and did not want the glory for himself. But Younger’s teammates, his coaches and his general manager maintain the nine-year veteran pointed the way to glory — the Double Blue just followed him.
“That is the guy you go to before the game that is the guy you go to during the game,” said defensive back Ahmad Carroll. “That is the guy keeping you composed telling you what is going on.” “He was the glue that held the group together,” said general manager Jim Barker.
“I don’t even know if [the season] was tough now,” Younger said, starring at nothing and everything. Toronto’s season was very tough, in fact.
It is easy to forget — especially after Toronto forced four turnovers and held Calgary running back, and Most Outstanding Canadian, Jon Cornish to 57 rushing yards — that the Argonauts defence was the team’s perceived weakness before the season.
Veterans defensive backs Byron Parker and Lin-J Shell moved to B.C. while safety Willie Pile retired, and were replaced with players considered too young and too inexperienced to grasp defensive coordinator Chris Jones’ man-to-man pressure scheme.
In Week 1 against Edmonton Younger was the only piece in Toronto’s secondary with substantial CFL experience. He recorded an acrobatic interception in Toronto’s opening loss.
“I asked everyone to get in front of the group in pre-season and I said ‘Tell me why you’re here,’” Argos defensive back coach Orlondo Steinauer said. “’Before you can lead,’ as [Younger] told us in the beginning, ‘you have to have followed.’”
Younger had followed veterans like Steinauer, and linebackers Michael Fletcher and Mike O’Shea. They taught him about acting authoritative without being authoritarian. Younger would never humiliate Toronto’s newest pieces, only provide eternal patience on a micro-level.
Younger taught rookie linebacker Marcus Ball how to watch game film for every detail. He showed Carroll, a former NFL first round pick, how to read the Canadian game. He told running back Chad Kackert, the 100th Grey Cup’s Most Outstanding Player, he believed in him when Kackert replaced Cory Boyd in early August.
Toronto won and lost in equal amounts during the regular season, but Younger remained unflappable. He finished with 40 tackles and five interceptions. “Trust the process,” Younger said again and again.
“Don’t go for the interception, just make the tackle. This team is about me covering my gap getting pressure,” said Ball, and it too sounded like something Younger had said throughout the season. “I want to be the best Marcus Ball, so [his teammates] can rely on me.”
“[Younger] is an extension of me out there and what I’m trying to get across,” Steinauer said. “I’ll always tell JY more than I will tell everybody else… not everybody can soak [up the knowledge] and apply it.”
“The benefit to them being young is they don’t know anything else [but a pressure defence],” Younger said. “It is all they — know bump-and-run, man-to-man. Get in their face and make it hard on them. [The Argos] bought into the system 100%”
The fruits of Younger’s careful tutelage were visible in how Ball and linebacker Brandon Isaac applied timely, but not reckless, pressure to force turnovers against Edmonton in the Eastern Semi-Final, and then against Montreal in the Eastern Final. And how young defensive back Pacino Horne and Jalil Carter nullified Calgary receivers Romby Bryant and Maurice Price in the Grey Cup.
Calgary seemed to be perpetually stuck in second-and-long situations, and Stampeders quarterback Kevin Glenn completed an unimpressive 14 of 27 passes for 222 passing yards with one interception.
“Before [the Eastern Final, Younger] said ‘If you can’t see plays in your head you haven’t watched enough film,’” said Kackert.
The reason Younger chose to lead after he had followed past Argos veterans? An enduring love for Toronto — the team and the city. Younger’s willingness to move from defensive back to linebacker to safety over his career with the Argos has been well documented, as well as his work with Toronto’s various community programs. His desire to return to Toronto after being traded to Edmonton in 2008, and take a paycut to remain, only add to his peerless reputation.
“Man, [Younger] stood up the first day [of training camp] and said ‘I’m your free safety,'” said Carter, “and I just knew this guy knew what he was talking about.”
“What he did this year with a young group of defensive backs, and a whole new group of linebackers, you can’t quantify it.”
“Right place, right time,” Younger said, still not blinking, still trying to drink in the championship moment.
He returned to Toronto’s beer-soaked dressing room minutes later, handed out a defensive game ball to defensive end Ricky Foley — who brought Younger close to say something secret — then he led the team in a celebratory prayer.
And Younger carried the Grey Cup, and laughed about what kind of precious metal Toronto’s championship rings will be made of. Backup quarterback Jarious Jackson tried to sell Younger on the beauty of white gold.
“This won’t be about me,” Younger said when he was still on the field. “This is about Toronto.”
Above and below him the blue and white confetti sparkled in the glow of the floodlights.