Don Landry has watched, followed and worked around the Toronto Argonauts for most of his life and he was no different than the rest of us as we watched the roster swell with talent through free agency this year.
Big, established CFL names (Cam Judge, Cordarro Law, Charleston Hughes, Henoc Muamba, Eric Rogers, John White and Odell Willis to name a few) have met names with intriguing college/NFL experience (Kelly and Martavis Bryant and Kony Ealy, to name a few from the U.S.). It seems like whenever there’s been a big move to be made the Argos have put their stamp on it in the last year-plus.
“Things are kind of a blur,” Landry told Donnovan Bennett on this week’s episode of The Waggle.
“I’m trying to remember what they did on Day 1 (of free agency), because they did stuff on Day 2 and then on Day 5. When you thought they were done, all of a sudden, Henoc Muamba has been signed by the Argos.
“It did seem pretty obvious from the get go, didn’t it? When it came time to start wheeling and dealing the Argos were going to pull out both six shooters and fire away, continually. You got the sense from Pinball that he was happy to do that, that they were all happy to do it.”
With all of that change and all of that talent converging in Toronto next month, it’s hard to guess how this team might fare. The 2017 Argos went into the season on the heels of a five-win campaign and massive changes. They won the Grey Cup. In the CFL, anything can happen. That doesn’t help things when you’re trying to make guesses a few weeks before camps open.
“I’ve no idea,” Landry said about expectations for the Argos. He thinks talent alone should have them competitive out of the gate this year and if they can gel the right way and find some momentum, they could go somewhere.
“I just think there are too many new players, too many new coaches, too much new to know exactly, to get a good read on what this team is going to be. You look at the Ticats with continuity, you can get a read, you can look at the minuses and the pluses and go, ‘I think it affects them this way.’ But the Argos just tore the house down and now they’re starting to build it. What’s it going to look like? We just have to wait and see.”
For the first time in a number of years, the QEW rivalry could have some legitimacy to it. Over the last decade, the Argos and Ticats have taken turns swapping the penthouse and the cellar in the East Division. In the second half of this week’s podcast, Bennett spoke with Louie Butko, the digital host for the Ticats, about what the 2021 season will look like for the team and the city as it sets to host the Grey Cup in December.
“There’s a buzz,” Butko said of the party that awaits the country on Dec. 12.
“I’ve felt it from the general consensus of CFL fans. I know our team, the people that I work with, co-workers and friends, they work so hard and they are working so hard to put on a world class event at the Grey Cup in December in Hamilton. I know that the people at the city are so excited to welcome the world back.
“I talked to (Ticats president and CEO) Scott Mitchell on my podcast a few weeks ago and asked him what this is going to mean and really, it’s going to be an exhale. We’re starting to see the benefits of getting vaccinated and continuing to practice social distancing and just doing our part to end this pandemic. If we’re in November, December when we’re in a good spot, it’s really going to be exciting.”
Of course, that party will be elevated if the host city is playing in the game. The 2019 Ticats posted a franchise-best 15-3 record but fell in the Grey Cup to Winnipeg. Ending a 21-year Grey Cup drought at Tim Hortons Field would be a storybook ending to this season and a tumultuous couple of years. With much of that 2019 team intact, expectations are high in Hamilton.
“I think the Ticats have set like a benchmark of like, ‘OK, if you want to come out of the East, if you want to represent the East Division at the Grey Cup, here we are. Come and get us,” Butko said.
“I really think every team in the East looked at that and stepped up their game.”
In an era of one-year contracts that can shuffle up key chunks of a team’s roster, many of the Ticats free agents stayed with their team. Butko said there’s a buy-in across the board from the returning players to take that final step this year and win a Grey Cup.
Look no further than the QB duo of Jeremiah Masoli and Dane Evans. Both are good enough to lead a team, but they’ll go into training camp pushing each other for the starting job and having each other’s backs as the season progresses.
“When you look at what good teams do and what what winners do in this league it’s have two great quarterbacks,” Butko said.
“I think regardless of who is you know QB 1a and who is QB 1b, you know after Week 1 of the season that these guys have each other’s backs. I did a podcast with with them a few months ago.
“I told them, ‘Elephant in the room: People are going to think that you guys don’t like each other because one of you is going to be the starter and one of you is not.’ Dane and Jeremiah both came out, like, ‘Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, iron sharpens iron.’
“That’s something that I’ve heard repeated from the defensive players, that’s something I’ve heard repeated from coaches. It’s something I’ve heard repeated from the scouting staff, is that iron sharpens iron and the only way you’re going to get better is if you have somebody as good as you to push you to be better.”
As Butko said, the entire East Division looks to be better as we come out of this extended off-season. If the Argos can fight their way up from the bottom of the division, we could have our first 416-905 Eastern Final in eight years. That’s something football fans in Ontario would eat up.