November 22, 2017

Argonauts touch down in Ottawa calm and collected

The Toronto Argonauts have touched down at the 105th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, their physical journey in some ways imitating their figurative one.

“Nice and short,” replied a grinning Ricky Ray when asked how the flight was. “It’s a quick trip for us which is nice.”

On a clear and balmy evening in Ottawa, the Argos emerged from the darkness of the tarmac, a fitting entrance considering the off-season murk from which they’ve sprung during what has been a remarkable turnaround season.

The airborne hop from Toronto to Ottawa is a relatively short one. The trip to the Grey Cup host city, literally, taking minutes, not hours to complete.

The football journey, by contrast, has taken almost precisely nine months from the day General Manager Jim Popp and Head Coach Marc Trestman took over in the wake of a dismal 2016 season.

 

Longer in temporal terms but by football standards, almost as swift.

“It’s just a testament to the work that we put in,” said linebacker Marcus Ball, the first in a line of four Argos who served the media scrum in a mostly chill and purposeful way. “We put in a lot of work, we came together on short notice. It was imperative that we get to work early and put a major focus on putting things together quite quickly.

“It’s good that we were able to do that and earn this spot.”

The Argos were still feeling exhilarated in the wake of their 25-21 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a game in which they coughed up a sizeable lead only to rescue the affair with a touchdown with just seconds remaining. That success, in that way, might lead a group of athletes to hit Grey Cup Week in a swaggering fashion, but the Argos who came through the media area of this small, private hangar could not have been more serene.

“Ten,” said a soft-spoken James Wilder Jr., when asked to rate his excitement level. His voice was barely moving the meter on the recorder.

“Of course, ten.”

Wilder, like Ball, is a force of energy on a football field but understated off it, at least in the days that precede a big game. And then there’s Marc Trestman, a generally placid, mild-mannered coach, who was actually the most-animated of the four. He had a reason for that.

“They’re grown men and they’re professionals,” said Trestman, assuring the gathering that his team is comprised of deadly serious, mission-aware athletes. “They know why they came here but their responsibilities are to each other.”

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“We know why we’re here,” Trestman said of any message he may have had for his players before they stepped on the plane for their short flight.

“We’re here to get ready to play a game.”

While the Argos have been cresting at the right time, they know that they will need to continue to ride that wave this Sunday if they are to be successful in besting a determined Calgary Stampeders squad, one that is most certainly experiencing renewed memories of a bitter failure a year ago.

Ball was reminded that this current edition of the Argos was oh and two against the Stampeders during the regular season, stretching some recent futility that goes back beyond the 2017 season.

“Not just us,” he replied. “Everybody’s pretty much had difficulty consistently beating those guys. They’re a great team. Great program.
They do what they do and they do it well.”

The Argos have also been doing things well of late but will nonetheless enter this game as the underdog. That can feed the motivational fires of some. Not these Argonauts, said Ray. That card is not one they like to play.

“We haven’t really talked about being underdogs very much this year,” the 38-year-old quarterback said with a slight shake of the head. “We just try to focus in on playing to the best of our ability.”

Doing that takes a number of things and one of them – the most important one next to actual execution on game day – is preparation. The short flight from Toronto helped in that regard.

“Today we had a good day of preparation, kind of our normal meetings and walk-through and gettin’ a game plan in,” said Ray, adding that a lot of the other details – like connecting with family and friends and lining up tickets – happened on Monday.

“We worked a full day today, and certainly that goes into the equation,” nodded Trestman, who was ready to head to the hotel.

His laptop would not be cracked open once he settled in, however. Not until the morning.

“I’m gonna go to sleep,” he chuckled. “I’m an early person.”