October 19, 2023

Cauz: Are the Toronto Argonauts the greatest of all time?

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

I have avoided one name all year while covering the 2023 CFL season: Doug Flutie.

The greatest Toronto Argonauts teams I ever witnessed up close were those magical two years of absolute football dominance in 1996 and 1997 that saw the Argos go 15-3 in the back-to-back seasons while winning both Grey Cups and scoring a combined 90 points in the two championship games.

This season has seen the closest version of that group led by quarterback Chad Kelly, a who’s who of defensive All-Stars, a brute force running attack, and an array of big play receivers.

You always must be careful about how much stock you put in a quarterback based on wins and losses, that is a team statistic after all, but Kelly’s start eclipses even that of Flutie. I fully understand the comparisons that have been made the past couple months, I may even have uttered it during my day job on TSN Radio, but I never dared put it in print. It feels more real on this site than it does during on a random rant on a Wednesday show.

Considering the season they have had and all they have accomplished on the field, I feel comfortable wading into these Double Blue waters.

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Before we break down the tale of the tape it needs to be pointed out no one saw this coming. In 1996 it was a far easier to predict the team would be great, Doug Flutie had already won four MOP Awards (yes, four!) before he made the move from Calgary to Toronto. Kelly had those brilliant moments late in the Grey Cup, but the former Ole Miss star was a bit of an unknown heading into the year.

Before 2022’s Grey Cup winning year, Toronto did not exactly have a long track record of success. The three seasons before 2022 saw Toronto put together an uninspiring 17-33 record with one playoff loss.

So many football people questioned the team not bolstering the backup quarterback position and they started the year third in the CFL.ca Power Rankings. They remained in the bronze medal position until their 45-24 win over the BC Lions in Week 4 and since then the Argonauts have put the rest of the league on notice.

It’s funny how our perceptions of a team can change so much in a month. The team kicked off the year in style with three straight double-digit wins proving that last year’s Grey Cup win over the favoured Winnipeg Blue Bombers wasn’t a fluke.

They handed the BC Lions, a team fresh off their 30-6 dismantling of the Bombers, a 45-24 reality check intercepting Vernon Adams Jr. a whopping six times. Suddenly the team vaulted to No. 1 in the rankings but for me, I didn’t fully buy into Pinball Clemons’ greatest creation until the following week when Toronto bested the Alouettes 35-27 in Montreal. With the game tied at 27-27 with three minutes to go Kelly led his team to the game-winning score, converting a couple second and longs on the touchdown drive. Now I was a believer.


If you want to make the argument this team has a chance to surpass the 1996/97 teams you can point to so many statistics to bolster your argument. Toronto’s only two losses came with Kelly either not being able to finish the game (20-7 loss to Calgary) or when he didn’t attempt one pass (31-21 loss to Winnipeg) and for the first time since Flutie’s mullet-graced Skydome, the Argonauts will finish the year undefeated at home.

The team is first in points scored, total touchdowns, and average yards per play. The only franchise with better passing statistics is Zach Collaros’ Bombers.

No team is better at stopping the run and Toronto is head of the class in most yards gained on first down and fewest yards allowed on first down.

But wait I’m not done. Their offensive line has allowed 16 fewer sacks than the next best pass blocking team and their defence has sacked opposing quarterbacks nine more times than the next best team, and that team has Mathieu Betts on it! Most importantly as a group, Ryan Dinwiddie’s squad has committed the fewest turnovers while creating the most. I believe the most used cliché in football is all about the team that wins the turnover battle will come out victorious.

The main story behind all these positive statistics is these numbers speak more about “team” than it does about the individual. Go look at the individual statistical leaders across Canada. Beyond the quarterback, you will be hard pressed to find many Argonauts in the top-three. Chad is third in touchdown passes, second in rushing touchdowns, and second in QB Rating. AJ Ouellette is fourth in rushing yards, of course much of that is due to games missed. Toronto has a bunch of receivers who rank high in average yards per catch, this has been an explosive offence all season, but none have yet to crack a 1,000 yards receiving, though DaVaris Daniels is creeping close.

Corey Mace’s unit of destruction has the game’s most overwhelming pass rush, yet not one member has hit double digits in sacks. This is a defence that comes at you in waves (pun intended) from Folarin Orimolade, Shawn Oakman, and Dewayne Hendrix on the line to Adarius Pickett and Wynton McManis, who are always around the ball, in the second level.


The one individual you will see at No. 1 at his position is the most dangerous man returning a punt, Javon Leake, who just broke the Argos’ single-season record for punt return yardage, beating his boss and general manager, Michael Pinball Clemons. Knowing Pinball, he is thrilled that someone has overtaken him.

So, this all leads back to this one question, is it time to have the conversation of is Toronto the greatest team of all time? The answer is, of course, no. But there is a clear path for this team to easily make the case.

First, they are going to need to win their final two regular season games. 16-2 gets them into a tie with the 1989 Edmonton Elks for most regular season wins. Then comes the hard part. The Argonauts will need two more wins in the playoffs, the second will end with confetti and the raising of the Grey Cup. We don’t talk about or celebrate that 1989 Edmonton team because they lost 32-21 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the championship. Toronto is four consecutive wins away from having a legitimate football immortality conversation.

The one pushback will be a historic one. Those Flutie teams had to contend with a Montreal Alouettes team loaded with All-Stars on both sides of the field led by Tracy Ham and Mike Pringle on offence. This is no disrespect to what Danny Maciocia has built or to Jason Maas and Cody Fajardo, but this current Alouettes team is not as formidable as that one. I don’t want to go all “old man” on you but trust me, I was there, and that team was scarier. This current version obviously can upset Toronto, but I’ll give the talent edge to the former. Speaking of talent, go look back at who Flutie was surrounded by and you’ll be amazed by the all the former All-Stars.

The best part about this debate is we can have it for several more years as the team has secured a level of continuity that is rare in professional sports. The quarterback, defensive coordinator, and general manager have all signed extensions over the past month, so Toronto has several years to prove where they rank historically. And for now it’s a classic, fun sports debate.

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