August 1, 2009

Retro: Mr. Argo Dick Shatto

Rick Matsumoto
Special to

Forty-four years after he played in his final game, Dick Shatto’s name still appears among the leaders of several categories in the Canadian Football League’s record book.

The fact that he’s enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, continues to hold a number of the Toronto Argonauts’ individual records and was named to the club’s all-time team is further testament to his abundant achievements.

But Shatto’s stardom might well have reached even greater heights had he found himself pulling on a jersey other than the double blue of the Argos when he came north in 1954 after his sophomore year at the University of Kentucky. The Argos, you see, were in the early stages of what was surely the darkest period in the long history of the franchise.

Over the dozen seasons that he toiled for the Boatmen they managed to win a mere 57 games while losing a whopping 108 times. Six times during those 12 years the team put up 4-10 marks and twice they squeezed out just three victories. They finished last in the Eastern Conference in each of those years. That string of miserable campaigns did not help him gain the veneration that came to be heaped on others whose names trail his in the record books.

Shatto, who was born in Springfield, Ohio, joined the Argos shortly after his 21st birthday, bringing with him an unassuming, small town personality. While he might have had every reason to rant about the foibles of the team’s coaching and management he chose instead to go about his business in a steady, dignified manner.

Some saw that as a blandness. Writer Jay Teitel, in his book The Argo Bounce, said, “If Cookie (Gilchrist) was blessed by a surfeit of colour, then Dick was cursed by a terrible lack of it.”

Teitel went on to write: “As a fan moving into my early teens I saw Dick Shatto play on television more times than I can count, but Cookie Gilchrist, whom I saw exactly twice, is much clearer in my memory.”

His wife of 53 year, Mary Lynne, speaking shortly after Shatto died of lung cancer (he never smoked) in 2003, a day before his 70th birthday, in New Port Richey, Fla., disagreed.

“He just didn’t like to brag,” she said, explaining that her husband did not understand the inflated egos that became a part of pro football, and much of professional sports, about the time he retired. He did not like nor understand the need for the celebratory hijinks in the end zone after a touchdown.

“It used to make him sick, seeing those guys dancing (in the end zone) on TV,” she told the St. Petersburg Times. “Whenever he scored his touchdowns he’d simply flip the ball to the referee.”

Shatto “flipped” the ball to an official 91 times, still the most career touchdowns by an Argonaut. That’s six more the popular running back of more recent vintage Michael (Pinball) Clemons, who played at least 20 more games than Shatto.

His 550 total points are the most by a non-kicking Argos and his 39 rushing touchdowns head the all-time club list.

While he’s generally regarded as a running back – once carrying the ball 32 times against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats – Shatto was also a skilled receiver. He scored 52 TDs after catching the ball, the most by an Argo not listed as primarily a receiver. Clemons, who was utilized in similar fashion, finished his illustrious career with 48 receiving majors.

Many feel that in today’s game where the passing game dominates the offence, Shatto would have been a phenomenal threat coming out of the backfield or lining up as a flanker. As a receiver he accumulated 6,684 yards. His best year was 1963 when he made 67 catches for 945 yards and 10 touchdowns. He led the Eastern Conference in receptions for three consecutive years 1962, ’63 and ’64 with 47, 67 and 53 catches respectively. Because he was used so often on the receiving end of passes, Shatto never was able to reach the 1,000-yard mark as either a rusher or a receiver. He came close to that coveted mark as a rusher on two occasions. In 1958 he gained 969 yards and a year later he totalled 950 yards.

Shatto’s versatility, however, made him the all-time leader in combined yards from scrimmage with 13,423 yards when he retired after the 1965 season. Today, he still ranks seventh. He’s also in the No. 7 position in total combined yards (that includes punt, kickoff and missed field goal returns) with 15,725 yards.

Shatto’s performance earned him a berth on the Eastern Conference all-star team on nine occasions and twice on the all-league team. He was the runner-up for the league’s most outstanding player award in 1963 and ’64.

One trophy, however, eluded him. He never got to raise the Grey Cup. The closest he got to the championship game was in 1960 and ’61after the club brought in former NFL star quarterback Tobin Rote. He combined with Shatto, Gilchrist and wide receiver/punter Dave Mann to lead the Boatmen to a 10-4 first-place record in 1960. While the team slipped to 7-6-1 the following year they again advanced to the eastern final. But on both occasions the Boatmen were scuttled by improbable players by their opponents.

In 1960, the Argos had fought back to within six points of Ottawa in what was then a two-game total-points final. But with less than seven minutes remaining the Riders pulled off the now famous “sleeper” play with Russ Jackson throwing to Bobby Simpson and thwarting any chance the Argos had of pulling out a victory and gaining a trip to the Grey Cup game.

It was a similar scenario the following year. The Argos had easily taken the first half of the two-game series against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 25-7. However, they faltered badly in the second game and the series ended up in a 27-27 tie after regulation time. In the overtime Hamilton scored four unanswered touchdowns to win the series 55-27.

The Argos returned to their woeful ways the following year failing to make the playoff during the next four seasons.

Shatto retired after that season and went into the restaurant business briefly as well as doing colour commentary work on CFL games for the CTV network.

In 1976 he became the Argos’ general manager during the tumultuous ownership of Bill Hodgson, but the club managed only a 17-30-1 record during his leadership. When Carling-O’Keefe Brewery became the next owners of the franchise, Shatto left the team as quietly as he had arrived 24 years earlier.