July 26, 2010

Team Retro Profile: Toronto Argonauts

Brian Snelgrove

For Toronto Argonaut fans it was a play that would define the decade.

The scene was Vancouver’s Empire Stadium, site of the 1971 Grey Cup. The Toronto Argonauts were poised to win their first national championship in nineteen years. Trailing the Calgary Stampeders by three points with less than two minutes to play, the Argonauts were just 11 yards from paydirt.

Leon McQuay took the hand-off from quarterback Joe Theismann and ran to his left. The star running back slipped on the soggy artificial turf, the ball squirted loose and Reggie Holmes recovered for the Stampeders. McQuay, in his rookie season with Toronto had rushed for 977 yards and was a nominee for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award but in many ways this play would be the most memorable of his CFL career.

The Argos got a final chance as the Stamps were forced to punt but Harry Abofs kicked the ball out of bounds, returning possession to the Calgarians. The 59th Grey Cup went west for the first time in five years as the Stampeders ran out the clock and prevailed 14-11.

The Grey Cup loss in 1971 may have been an omen as it was a lean decade for the Argos. Toronto made the playoffs on four occasions (1970, ’71, ’73 and ’77) but could only advance to the Grey Cup once.
Despite the disappointment of the Grey Cup, the 70’s were a decade filled with highlights and memorable moments.

The 1971 Grey Cup appearance was in large part due to the outstanding play of a young quarterback from Notre Dame by the name of Joe Theismann (1971-73). Theismann didn’t win the Heisman but he did put his stamp on the CFL as he starred for the Argos for three seasons.

In a game against Saskatchewan in 1973 he hooked up with Eric “The Flea” Allen (1972-75) for a 100 yard touchdown pass, fifth longest in team history. Allen was a fleet-footed back from Michigan State who had 53 receptions for 1,067 yards his rookie season in 1972.

For two seasons Theismann and Greg Barton (1971-72) had a spirited competition for the starter’s position.

The Grey Cup was also the last game for a pair of Argo stars. Mel Profit, one of the best tight ends in CFL history, and lineman Danny Nykoluk, who ended his 16 year career and whose number 60 is one of four retired by the Argos, both headed for the sidelines.

In 1970 long-time Argo punter and kicker Dave Mann (1958, 1960-70) hung up his cleats. Two years later Wally Gabler (1966-69, 1972) threw his last pass for the Double Blue and left as the club’s sixth all-time leading passer with 8,410 yards.

Bill Symons wrapped up his CFL career in 1973 following a seven year journey (1967-73) that would land him in the CFL Hall of Fame (1997). Nearly 40 years since he last took a hand-off, Symons is still in third spot on the Argos all-time rushing list with 4,280 yards.

While Symons went boom, another high-priced running back from Southern California went bust. Anthony Davis, arrived in Toronto from USC in 1976 heralded as the next superstar. In his only year in the CFL the 1974 Heisman Trophy runner-up rushed for 417 yards on 104 carries. The following year the former Trojan returned to the States and played two forgettable seasons in the NFL.

In 1975, Doyle Orange (1974-76) became the second Argo to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season as he picked up 1,055 along the ground. He joined Symons in the exclusive club. Symons ran for 1,107 yards in 1968.

Dave Raimey came over from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and was a terrific two-way player, equally effective as a defensive back and as a ball carrier. He played for the Argos from 1969-74 and was inducted in the CFL Hall of Fame in 2000.

Jim Corrigal was the heart and soul of an excellent Argo defensive line for more than a decade (1970-81) and was a four-time CFL all-star (1971 ’73, ’75 and ’77). The Eastern Conference Rookie of the year in 1970, he followed it up by being named the CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 1975. Corrigal was named to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1990.

In his final year at The University of Toronto Mike Eben was the inaugural winner of the Hec Crighton trophy awarded annually to Canada’s most outstanding university football. The wide receiver spent nine years with the Argonauts (1968-69 and 1971-’77)) and was a reliable, sure-handed pass-catcher.

Jim Stillwagon was a highly sought after defensive tackle from Ohio State and winner of the Outland trophy (1970) as the best interior lineman in U.S. college football. He played five seasons with the Argos, from 1971-75 and was a three-time CFL all-star.

Zenon Anrusysyhn, forever dubbed ‘The Big Z’, was a graduate of Oakville-Trafalgar High School who attended UCLA on a track and field scholarship. A Canadian high school javelin record holder, he was one of the most prolific kickers in Toronto Argonaut history (1971-77 and 1980-82). ‘The Big Z’ still holds the Argo record for longest punt (108 yards) and for longest successful field goal (57 yards).

Leo Cahill coached the Argos twice in the 70’s. He held the reins from 1967-72 and returned in ’77 and part of ’78. “When Leon slipped, I fell,” Cahill famously quipped following the 1971 Grey Cup.

CFL legend Russ Jackson was Head Coach in both ’75 and ’76 but could do no better than a last place finish each year. Forrest Gregg spent his only year in charge mired in the basement as well in 1979.

For the Double Blue, the 80’s beckoned and better times lay ahead.