THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO - The truth is finally out: It was Joe Theismann who cost the Toronto Argonauts the 1971 Grey Cup.
The Calgary Stampeders cemented a 14-11 victory Nov, 28, 1971 at Vancouver's Empire Stadium by recovering Leon McQuay's late fumble on a soggy field. McQuay's miscue remains the most memorable in Grey Cup history.
Last Friday, Theismann and 12 other members of the '71 squad gathered at the Argos' practice facility and it wasn't long before many of his former teammates began suggesting if Theismann hadn't handed the ball off, McQuay wouldn't have fumbled.
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One of the most revered and fascinating teams in CFL history met again for the first time in over four decades as the 1971 Argonauts reunite. Former head coach Leo Cahill spoke with CFL.ca about the reunion.
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"They blame me for everything,'' Theismann said with a chuckle.
"They blame me for climate, they blame me for weather, they blame me for financial disasters.
"That group of guys could figure out a way to say, 'Aw, it's Joe's fault.' But that's what you love about them. It's a very unique group of guys. It's a collection of players, a collection of men that have never forgotten where they've come from or the friendships we've developed. For many of us, it was our first foray into professional football.''
Theismann, who looks years younger than his age of 62, was among the members of the '71 Toronto squad who were recognized at halftime Saturday when the Argos hosted Calgary at Rogers Centre in a thrilling 39-36 win by the home squad. Theismann and his former teammates were also in town for the filming of a documentary about their squad that is scheduled to be aired by during Grey Cup week in November.
"It's great to be home,'' Theismann said of his return to Toronto. "I consider it home.
"Two of my three children were born in the city of Toronto, this is where I started my professional career and to be able to come back and attend the game, it's ironic the Calgary Stampeders are going to be here. They're the ones that sort of stole the ring from us in Vancouver...It's great to be back and to be part of an organization that appreciates the guys who got here before.''
The Miami Dolphins selected Theismann in the fourth round of the '71 NFL draft out of Notre Dame but when contract talks broke down Theismann signed with Toronto. Theismann guided the Argos to a 10-4 regular-season record and Grey Cup berth as a rookie.
Theismann spent three years with Toronto and was an all-star in 1971 and '73 before going to the NFL with the Washington Redskins. Theismann spent 12 seasons in Washington, twice being named to the Pro Bowl and leading the club to two Super Bowl appearances (winning one) but even now the sting of the '71 Grey Cup loss remains.
"I do think about the Grey Cup,'' he said. "Every time football season rolls around, having won a world championship and lost one, it doesn't sit with me like losing the Grey Cup sits with me.
"It was the first chance to be a part of something really special. Had we been able to deliver, what would it had been like? That's the thing you ask yourself.''
He might not have a Grey Cup ring, but Theismann said he has a lifetime of memories regarding his time in Toronto, thanks in large part to Leo Cahill, the colourful former Argos head coach.
"I define that group of guys, they're characters with character,'' Theismann said. "We never did things in a conventional way because Leo wasn't a conventional coach.
"You are who your coach is, you're a reflection of your coach and we really were a reflection of his personality, his love, his effervescence, our enthusiasm for the game. He was the architect of the CFL back in the 70s...he's the one who made it exciting for guys to come up here, to come to the city of Toronto. Leo was the guy who made it possible for so many people. He was a visionary, to be perfectly honest with you. I would've felt at some point Leo being commissioner of the CFL would've been a great move because of his ability to communicate with people, because of his charm.''
And, Theismann added, a devilish smile.
"Anybody that knows Leo, you just look at him and he puts that sly smile on you and you know there's something devious going on behind it,'' he said. "You're convinced there's something devious but you're just not quite sure what it is.