QB - Ottawa 75-81,
For many years, the Toronto Argonaut football tradition was one of misery and lost chances. For fans, players and brass alike, the pain was as varied as it was cruel. And in 1981, when the Ottawa Rough Riders traded spectacular quarterback Condredge Holloway to Toronto, the news seemed only to be future texture for the club's woeful ways.
What's blue, has 68 legs and lives in the cellar? In 1981, as in many years following 1952, the answer was the Toronto Argonauts Football Club. Across Canada, the football joke was a sure way to get the Argonaut fan riled and kept anti-Hogtown sentiment tinged with a sense of mirth. The Argonauts were indeed monstrous in '81, finishing 2-14 under 2 Head Coaches; Willie Wood (0-10) and Tommy Hudspeth (2-4). In fact, in the 30 seasons following the last Argo Grey Cup win in 1952, the Double Blue had managed only 7 winning seasons with only 6 playoff wins and one lonely Grey Cup berth, a loss.
By contrast, their provincial rival, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats had, in those same 30 seasons, mustered 18 winning seasons, 20 playoff berths and 12 Grey Cup berths, 6 of them resulting in a national championship.
It was like being a Maple Leaf fan. Not easy work.
And into this melange, in 1981, appeared Condredge Holloway.
By 1982, this agent of success would have a system. Coach Darrel "Mouse" Davis was hired as Offensive Coordinator and installed the Run and Shoot offence. Holloway's career was rejuvenated and the Argonauts made the most dramatic single-season turnaround in club history, winning 7 more games than in 81 and appeared in the Grey Cup for only the third time in 31 seasons. Holloway flourished and would win League MVP in swashbuckling style. And although Toronto would lose the Grey Cup in 1982, for Toronto fans, there was much more magic to come.
Condredge Holloway Jr. was born in Huntsville, Alabama on January 25th, 1954 to Dorothy and Condredge Sr. Holloway. A promising young athlete, he attended Lee High School in Huntsvillle prior to enrolling at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He would be joining a school with a proud tradition and would play quarterback under Head Coach Bill Battle.
In joining the Vols in 1971, Holloway eschewed a first round draft selection by the Montreal Expos. It was a tough decision for the baseball enthusiast who was drafted as a shortstop. Said Holloway, "I really enjoyed playing baseball and after high school that's what I wanted to do. My mom wanted me to get a college education, so I played football instead. Hindsight is 20-20, but I had a great time playing football."
Holloway quickly secured a reputation as a masterful open field runner and earned the nicknames the Artful Dodger, and the Huntsville Houdini for his masterful escapes. Holloway would lead the Vols to 3 Bowl appearances and, notably, would confront future Argo teammate, Joe Barnes, quarterback of Texas Tech in the 1973 Gator Bowl.
Holloway's elusiveness was of prime concern as evidenced by Tech Head Coach Jim Carlen's assertion that Texas' hopes lay in stopping Condredge. In the second half, Holloway brought the team back from a 14-3 deficit, closing the gap to 21-19 with a flat pass to Vol tailback Haskel Stanback but it wasn't enough. Barnes was named Texas Tech's MVP on the strength of 8-11 passing (2TDs) and 16 carries for 73 YDS (1TD). Holloway was a solid 17-27 for 190 yards but was stymied on the ground carrying 14 times for -3 YDS. The 28-19 loss was offset somewhat by Holloway's 14th place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Perhaps one of Holloway's greatest plays for Tennessee came on September 9th, 1972, in his opening game as a Vol. Facing Georgia Tech, Holloway threw an interception which was almost certainly going to be returned for a score. But the determined pivot chased down the Tech. defender, tackling him at the UT six-yard line. The Orange and White held Tech. to a field goal and would go on to win resoundingly, 34-3.
Mike Strange, colourful chronicler of UT football stated, "By the time Holloway dodged his last tackle in a Tennessee uniform in 1974, he had accounted for more yards (4,068) than any Vol in history. Added Head Coach Battle "...the only way to describe him was 'indescribable'." And, also from Strange, "From that debut until his finale in the 1974 Liberty Bowl, Condredge Holloway was remembered for more great individual plays than perhaps any Tennessee player of the past 30 years. To this day, in saloons and living rooms across the nation, Holloway's name continues to be brought up in comparison with other college option greats including Turner Gill, Jamelle Holieway and Tommie Frazier."
It was with this reputation that the Little Magician began his pro career in the CFL.
In 1975, the Ottawa Rough Riders were coming off a 7-9 season but were 1973 Grey Cup Champions. The nucleus was essentially unchanged and 2nd year Head Coach George Brancato had good reason for optimism for 1975. Capable veteran quarter, Jerry Keeling was projected as the number one man in the Capital while Holloway was hoped for as the quarterback of the future. The NFL New England Patriots had drafted Holloway in the 11th round but were projecting him only as a wide receiver or defensive back.
Ottawa pursued Holloway, who showed interest, but the contract signature was slow in coming for Frank Clair, Rider GM. "Between George and I, we made five trips down there and on the fifth one, Holloway said to me, 'I don't know why you're here Mr. Clair, I already told you I was coming to Ottawa''". To sleep easier, Clair pursued another college phenom, Notre Dame Irish quarterback Tom Clements. Clements had just been dropped from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers negotiation list and following a substantial bonus offer, signed with Ottawa. Holloway's own signature soon followed and the Ottawa quarterback situation appeared bright. Keeling, in his short time with Holloway, would influence Holloway positively. " He was my mentor in Ottawa; I hope I passed on to others his attitude on how to treat new people. He was more than helpful."
Surprisingly, both rookies developed so quickly that Brancato decided to trade Keeling to Hamilton prior to the season-opener. The decision was sound. Clements and Holloway would provide the nation's capital with a "two number-one QB" look that worked well until Clements' trade in May 1979 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The generally positive reception of the Clements-Holloway partnership was a big difference from the Rough Riders' divisive attempt in the early 60's to run the club with premium quarterbacks Ron Lancaster and Russ Jackson. And in July, the Ottawa Citizen's Tom Casey predicted, "...Condredge Holloway could be the class of the league."
Ottawa, under Holloway and Clements would compile a 38-24-2 record from 75-78. Two Eastern Division championships and a Grey Cup win in 1976 over Saskatchewan would lend credence to the "two number-ones" stratagem and demonstrate both quarterbacks' team-first attitude.
To this day, Holloway and Clements are good friends. They lived within 25 yards of one another in the early '80's in Oakville and in Ottawa it was their professional approach, which allowed the uncommon partnership to work.
The first year of that partnership saw Holloway tabbed as the starter, but after a 2-3 start and an injury during a 26-3 loss to Calgary, Brancato went with Clements. By early November, "Touch of Class" had led Ottawa to an 8-2-1 record.
Over the next three years, Brancato was able to rely on a one-two punch that became increasingly threatening to defences. Each quarterback was starting material and each was mobile yet both possessed unique talents. Montreal Alouette safety Randy Rhino found the two-pivot system a challenge and opined, "Both scramble well, but Clements scrambles to avoid a pass rush and Holloway scrambles to make yardage as a running play."
Clements would throw significantly more often than Holloway and see his completion percentage rise markedly each year. But Holloway's patience and reading abilities increased consistently as well. By 1978, Holloway's interception totals had dropped from 9, 6 and 5 in his first three years to just 2 on 214 attempts in 1978.
Holloway's share of Ottawa's passing yards was between 25.7 - 32.8 percent over the first three years. In 1978, it soared to 49.7 percent. Holloway's higher profile and obvious improvement would be factors in Clements' May, 1979 trade to Saskatchewan.
A key game for Holloway took place the season prior when on November 21st, 1977 the Black Riders were edged 21-18 by the Montreal Alouettes in the East Final. Holloway was inserted in the third quarter and ignited his club. In a brief period Holloway ran 6 times for 49 yards and completed 6 of 10 passes but almost inexplicably was pulled from the game. Following the game Holloway said, "I still don't know why I was pulled. I got the wind knocked out of me on the convert but I was ready to go back in."
Holloway did re-enter the game but a precise and time-consuming 9 play drive by the Als left him with little time to work. But his performance left an imprint. Outside linebacker Chuck Zapiec of the Montreal squad observed, "Holloway gave us fits with his running. The game conditions were ideal for Holloway. The game was close, he was down only seven points and he didn't get greedy. He was more patient than I've ever seen him. If his receivers were covered he was satisfied to run for five yards."
Perhaps this demonstration of Holloway's skill and maturity was a factor in Brancato's decision to trade Clements. Regardless, the job was the Artful Dodger's at last. And despite being considered at wide receiver in 1976 and despite innuendo suggesting a desire to play elsewhere, Condredge Holloway would have the role he had prepared so long for.
Ottawa Citizen sports columnist Eddie McCabe offered, "Condredge Holloway is going in to GM Frank Clair this week to ask to be traded. He has seen enough of the bench to last a lifetime and he says he wants to 'go to someone who needs me.' And he won't go West. He will go to Toronto, given the chance, and they need him. Also, his contract expires now but the Riders can hold him here on his option year if they so choose, and there might be some second thoughts there because Brancato feels Holloway was his better quarterback in the last few ball games."
But there would be no happy ending in Ottawa. In 1980, Condredge would miss 4 games due to injury and would lose his starting position to newcomer Jordan Case; Ottawa finished 7-9, their first losing campaign since 1974. Case started in a 25-21 playoff loss to the 8-8 Alouettes. For the season, Case would throw 107 times to Holloway's 189 and the likable pivot would end up in Toronto after all.
Prior to the 1981 season, the dickering began. The Rough Riders wanted $100,000 and promising tackle Kevin Powell from Toronto for #7. Head coach Willie Wood of the Argos was in a tough spot and needed to improve at the quarterback position, "We used to joke about it in here. We used to say that we were the only team in the CFL who would complete two passes and still be third and six." Holdovers Mark Jackson, Tony Adams and Jimmy Streater weren't the answer in Wood's assessment.
Meanwhile, both the Montreal Alouettes and Calgary Stampeders were showing interest in Holloway. The Als were hoping to acquire Los Angeles Rams' Vince Ferragamo but delays in his signing tempted them to consider Holloway as insurance. Calgary GM Jack Gotta concluded Holloway was as good as Double-Blue, "We've made as good an offer as we can (three players) without hurting our team. But I think (the Riders) are set to make a deal with Toronto.
Gotta was right. Ottawa got both the $100,00 and Powell and Holloway would finally attempt more than 250 passes (343) in a season. The Little Magician was industrious in his attitude stating, "Mark (Jackson) will be number 1 (going into camp). Jimmy will be next and then me. I'll have to work my way up. I wouldn't want it any other way. I don't want to come in and be given the job. It wouldn't be worth having. I want to earn my job."
Holloway earned the job but the first year was a trying one. An early headline in the Star chuckled, "What Will Holloway Play Behind?". Indeed, the loss of Powell, a premiere left tackle, was crucial. Solid performers in tackle Mike Obrovac and guard Bruce Kimball were lost to the NFL. Defensively, the Argonauts would give up a crushing 506 points and ultimately win only 2 games. Willie Wood was fired after a 0-10 start. General Manager Tommy Hudspeth stepped in as Interim Head Coach and finished 2-4.
The disaster seemed complete. But the phoenix embers were quietly glowing. Second year man, Alabama State's Terry Greer, was mercurial at wide receiver. Boise State halfback Cedric Minter turned in a solid rookie year. Third year Argo tight end Paul Pearson broke out with 55 receptions. And rookie guards Tom Trifaux and Dan Ferrone showed great promise.
But no one could have predicted what would happen next.
With the suddenness of a dam bursting, the Argonaut vessel roared forward steered by Admiral Holloway and flanked by fearsome quick-strike high-scoring offensive destroyers.
The Run and Shoot offence installed by new Offensive Coordinator Mouse Davis in 1982 and implemented by Condredge Holloway would thrill fans and terrorize defenses throughout the CFL. Under new Head Coach Bob O'Billovich, Toronto would finish first in the East for the first time since 1971 and only the second time since 1952. Toronto would nearly double their points output of 1981 (241) finishing with 426.
More ominously, for supporters of the status quo, the Double Blue defeated the League titan Edmonton Eskimos in regular season play. Although it was a home victory and Edmonton avenged it at Commonwealth Stadium, the message had been sent. The four-time defending Grey Cup Champions, if they could appear in the final yet again, would likely have to contend with an electrojet offence led by eventual League MVP, Condredge Holloway.
The Run and Shoot, which relied on, among other factors, perimeter attack points, receiver recognition of coverage and a quick release by the quarterback was proving problematic for defensive lines; it was virtually impossible to generate pressure on the quarterback. Holloway asserts that it was "a very exciting offence which rejuvenated my career."
Added to that, the combined threat of defending Cedric Minter "on the bubble pattern" with a linebacker and trying to outleap or outrun wide receiver Terry Greer was too much for most defences. With Pearson as a bankable third option, the Argo offence was the best it had been since 1969. Holloway finished with only 12 interceptions on 507 attempts (2.4) and passed for 4661 yards on 60.0 percent and a whopping 31 TD passes. He ran for a slippery 7.2 average on 62 carries.
And the Argonauts would indeed meet Edmonton in the final.
But first, Toronto suffocated the Ottawa Rough Riders in the Eastern Final, possibly Holloway's best game to that point. The numbers read 20-32 for 388 YDS, 0 INTs and 3TDs. Ottawa Head Coach Brancato said, "Holloway was outstanding, just perfect....that was the best I've ever seen him and he played some great games for us at Ottawa." And on hearing of the win, Condredge's former head coach at Tennessee, Bill Battle added, "Condredge did perform miracles while he was at Tennessee. You go back now and look at some of the highlights and you will see some of the most unbelievable plays in Tennessee history. I am not surprised he turned that team - the Argonauts - around."
Greer collected 9 receptions for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns. Carl Brazley, one of the top three cover men in the CFL according to Greer said, "Condredge was throwing perfect passes. They were going to the outside of Greer." The headline in next morning's Toronto Star Sports section blared, "Bring on the Eskimos!"
It was billed as an aerial battle, an Exhibition Stadium Sunday showdown between Warren Moon and Condredge Holloway. And until the rains swept in, the contest lived up to its billing. Edmonton opened the scoring with a field goal but Holloway avoided a blitz and hit slotback Emanuel Tolbert for a short pass; Dan Ferrone eliminated Eskimo defender Larry Highbaugh on the play and Tolbert weaved ecstatically through the secondary for an 84 yard pitch and run.
Then Moon went deep to Brian Kelly for a major. It was 10-7 Edmonton. Immediately, Toronto followed with a 10 play drive ending with a scramble and chuck to Terry Greer for what was to be Toronto's final lead in the game, 14-10. Another deep pass to Kelly garnered a major. The Eskimos added a field goal and led 20-14 at the half.
A Toronto fumble in the third quarter led to an Edmonton TD drive and with the subsequent change in weather, Toronto was mired. Holloway matched Moon yard for yard, each finishing with 319 yards passing. But along the ground, Edmonton held the advantage grinding out 200 yards to Toronto's 53. It was the difference in the second half as Edmonton went on to their record fifth straight Grey Cup win, 32-16.
The loss didn't diminish the Argonauts' respect for their stout field leader. Said Paul Pearson, "He'll give you his heart and soul out there. Last year he got beat up so badly, but yet he stood in there and took more. Even last Sunday against Ottawa I looked at him after one play and he had blood coming out of the corner of his mouth. Yet he didn't say a word."
Mouse Davis effused, "I watched him on film (before meeting him) and I thought he had to be one tough sonofagun. He sure got pummeled a lot. His positive influence towards our success was his belief and confidence in our system." But Davis and his system would no longer serve Condredge and the Argonauts in 1983.
There was to have been a "Phase 2". Davis had prepared a second stage for the Run and Shoot offence to counter expected defensive adjustments to the formation in '83 but he moved on.
Holloway was sad to see him go. Under Davis, Argo sack totals "went from approaching a hundred to coming under 25 in 1982." Holloway adds," Without a doubt the one coach who made me enjoy playing QB in the CFL is Mouse Davis. We cut down on sacks in a big way. Our offensive scheme was a lot better. Everyone was a lot happier. Mouse brought in a great system and it made me a better player."
Without Davis, the Boatmen would revert to a more conventional form of attack although they retained some characteristics of the old formation. Holloway shared the passing duties again, this time with Joe Barnes, his former Texas Tech rival who had joined the club in '82. The tandem was highly successful and the Double Blue finished a league-best 12-4 and were favoured to win the Grey Cup.
Holloway was still the number one man on the team with Barnes seen as especially effective coming off the bench. The Argos held off the dangerous Hamilton Tiger-Cats 5-10-1 in the Final, winning 41-36. Holloway was marvelous completing 24 of 35 attempts for 374 yards 3TDs and no interceptions. This set up a Grey Cup showdown with nuclear-armed Roy Dewalt and the B.C. Lions in B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.
Unknown to viewers, Holloway suffered the flu throughout Grey Cup week and was significantly weakened by Grey Cup Sunday. Eventually, Barnes was forced into action. The Argos began moving the ball but field goal kicker Hank Ilesic was having trouble with new footwear on his plant foot and was struggling. Later he changed back to an old shoe and connected to bring the Argos within 5.
The Argonauts still trailed 17-12 late in the game when Barnes began moving the club yet again. This time he was able to drive down to the 5 yard line. Everything seemed silenced as Barnes threw his next pass; a looping flat pass to Cedric Minter. Minter summarised, "They had a rover on me and he got kind of caught up on the inside. I just went into the flat and backed into the end zone. The ball seemed to hang up there forever. Everything stopped. I didn't see anybody else or even hear anything."
The major was enough for the win. Toronto's two point convert failed but the jinx had ended. The Double Blue had hoisted their first Grey Cup trophy in 31 years.
The Argonauts were unable to defend their title in '84, losing to hated Hamilton in overtime, 14-13 in the East Final. Three key changes on the offensive line (including the losses of Tom Trifaux and Bill Norton) were factors in the Argos decline to 9-6-1. And for the first time since 1979, Holloway did not throw the lion's share of passes for his team. Barnes finished with 378 passes to Holloway's 254 but there was no animosity. Both quarterbacks were respectful friends and the Argos were still very dangerous through the air. The Argos' 5401 combined yards passing led the League.
In 1985 and 1986 injuries began to haunt Holloway. He missed 9 games in '85 and suffered throughout 1986. Rookie quarterback Ricky Turner was too inexperienced to fill the void and Toronto limped to a 6-10 record, missing the playoffs. The run defence was the worst it had been in years.
Barnes had left the club by 1985 and another scrambling Ottawa sensation, J.C. Watts was brought in by Toronto just past the midway point of 1986. Holloway would no longer start for the Argos.
But Toronto would recover somewhat, finishing 10-8, losing spectacularly to Hamilton 59-56 in a two game total points affair. Both Watts and Holloway would endure the majority of a record 103 sacks given up by Toronto. Both would cite that year as a factor in eventual retirement decisions.
But Holloway had one more tour of duty. He would join veteran Roy Dewalt in B.C. for the 1987 season as a backup for one of the powerhouse CFL teams. "I had the honor of playing with Roy, he was a tremendous athlete and he had it all. If it hadn't been for his breaking his toe and having to have it fused again, he could have accomplished even more in the CFL," reflected Holloway.
Holloway's last set of downs in the CFL came late in the West Final of 1987. In what was a changing of the guard, the Edmonton Eskimos would go on to defeat the aging but still dangerous Lions 31-7. Holloway completed 9 of 15 attempts for 110 yards.
The well-liked pivot returned to the Lions' training camp in 1988 to compete yet again for a spot on the roster. But Holloway decided ultimately that he was finished with football. Lions General Manager Joe Galat added, "What it really came down to was he felt he had enjoyed a good career and that it was time to move on to other things." B.C. Head Coach Larry Donovan stated, "He's been good for the game and he'll be missed by CFL fans."
As Dewalt had been signed by Winnipeg, the Lions were left with several inexperienced quarterbacks. Eventually, they signed CFL All-Star Matt Dunigan and went on to a 10-8 record and a Grey Cup berth.
Holloway stayed in the Vancouver area until 1990, involved with a variety of promotions jobs. He then returned to the University of Tennessee and took a post as a Graduate Assistant Coach. It was at this time he completed his degree in Urban Studies, finishing in 1991.
Holloway then was both Director of Public and Community Relations and later the General Manager of the Central Hockey League's Huntsville Channel Cats.
Holloway later resigned from the Channel Cats to join University of Tennessee Football Coach Philip Fulmer's staff as Assistant Athletic Director/Football Operations. It is a post he continues to hold today.
In 1993, Condredge was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, joining names including Roscoe Tanner, Tommy Prothro, General Robert Neyland and Putty Overall. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in October of 1999 and has had his jersey retired by the Toronto Argonauts.
Today, Condredge's passion for baseball continues unchanged and he is able to name entire lineups at various points in Toronto Blue Jays history. The Huntsville Houdini keeps busy with his commitments to Big Brothers of America, public speaking and his golf game.
Condredge and his wife Courtney, have one daughter, Jasmine (8/3/90) and a new baby boy, Condredge III (9/22/00).
Looking back Condredge says he has very happy memories of his 15 years in Canada. He is thankful to Canada and to Canadians for his very positive experiences. He continues to promote Canada and the CFL, wherever he goes. We are certainly happy to count him as one of our ambassadors!
Grey Cup Champion: 1976, 1983
Grey Cup Finalist: 1976, 1982, 1983
Most Outstanding Player 1982
Jeff Russell Trophy
Outstanding Player in the East 1982
All-Canadian All-Star 1982
East Division All-Star 1978, 1982, 1983
Second lowest Interception Percentage Career (minimum 3000 passes) - 3.1, 1975-87
Fifth highest Pass Completion Percentage Season - 66.19, 1985
Eighth most Rushing Yards Career, Quarterback - 3167, 1975-87
Twelfth most Passing Yards Career- 25,193
Thirteenth most Pass Attempts Career - 3013
Fifth most Seasons Throwing Passes - 9
Canadian Football League. 2000 CFL Facts, Figures and Records. Toronto:General, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1990, 1988, 1987, 1986, 1985
Calgary Stampeders. Calgary Stampeders Media Guide 2000. Calgary: Calgary Stampeders 2000
Montreal Alouettes. Guide Media 2000. Montreal: Montreal Alouettes, 2000
Toronto Argonauts. Toronto Argonauts' Official Guide 2000. Toronto: Toronto Argonauts Football Club, 2000
Dowdall, Brent. Turnover, the Fumbling of the Ottawa Rough Riders. Ottawa: Baird, O'Keefe, 1999
Jones, Terry. Canadian Pro Football '83. Toronto: Paperjacks, 1983
Kelly, Graham. The Grey Cup, a History. Red Deer: Johnson Gorman, 1999
Preston, Richard A. and Wise, Sydney F. Men in Arms A History of Warfare and Its Interrelationships with Western Society. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Thiele, Stephen. Heroes of the Game. Norval: Moulin, 1997
Ottawa Citizen 1975: November 1-15, November 17-29; 1976: August 17-31, October 18-30; November 22-30; 1977: July 2-11, September 11-20, November 11-30; 1978: July 11- 20, November 11-20; 1979: July 11-20, November 11-30
Toronto Star 1981: April 15-28; 1982: November 11-30; 1983: November 11-30;
Vancouver Sun 1987: June1-10, Nov 11-30; 1988: June 1-10
CFL Slam!! Chat with Condredge Holloway, 1999
University of Tennessee Website
Interview, Condredge Holloway; January 24th, 2001
Rajeev Mullick is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. He also coaches high school football at Senator O'Connor High School and is Editor in Chief of Rouge Magazine. Mr. Mullick's full-time occupation is as a counsellor at Eva's Phoenix Shelter and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org