April 13, 2024

Landry: McManis fueled by last season’s Eastern Final loss

Christian Bender/CFL.ca

For Wynton McManis, it is possible the grass could have been greener elsewhere had he decided to test free agency this off-season. But he wasn’t all that interested in the grass outside Toronto. He found he had plenty of personal and professional reasons to stay with the Argonauts.

As the veteran linebacker gets set to begin his third season with the Boatmen, the two-time CFL All-Star talked with me about his decision to stay put, about the changes that have come to the team’s defence for the upcoming campaign and about the bitter taste left over from last year’s Eastern Final loss to the Montreal Alouettes. And about toothpicks, of course. The ever-smiling veteran is well-known for the way he can dart and deke a toothpick in and out of his mouth in mesmerizing fashion while chatting up a storm.

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Q: You could have made a move in free agency. There would have been no shortage of phone calls had you opted to test the market. Were you tempted?

A: Of course I was tempted. My relationship with Coach Mace (former Argos defensive coordinator Corey Mace, now head coach in Saskatchewan), that’s a really strong relationship. He’s a guy that’s more than a coach. He’s a friend of mine. So I wanted to be sure of what my decision would be. And I had to talk it over with my fiancée (Diamond) first. It took a while for me to weigh my options. And another thing, with the birth of my daughter this off-season, it was kind of hard to pick up and move. You know, with a newborn.

Toronto is home, I love it there. The fans, they welcomed me in. I feel like the things that we had in Toronto, the fans and, you know, how everything was going, I feel like we’re onto something good there. I didn’t want to just kind of start over and begin rebuilding again.”

Q: Congratulations to you and Diamond on the baby. Is your fiancée from Toronto? Is that part of what makes it home?

A: Yes, she’s from Toronto. But we met in college. She played soccer at the University of Memphis, where I played football. She’s a really good soccer player.

(Important Note: Diamond Simpson is indeed a very good soccer player. She played for the Canadian National Women’s team, winning gold at the Pan American Games in 2011. Prior to that, she was named the Canadian Women U-17 Player of the Year in 2010, after leading Canada to gold at the World Under-17 Championship).

Q: You and Diamond named your baby girl Aalyn (Ay-lin) Sixx. Is the Sixx part of that because of the city of Toronto’s nickname?

A: (Laughs). Yes, actually. My son’s middle name is Memphis. Just kind of wanted to have some roots somewhere. You know, naming kids is not easy at all. That’s one thing that we kind of agreed on, middle names of you know, Memphis, and then… how to kind of get her city, her upbringing in there. And you know, Sixx is a creative way of playing on a word and also it’s a beautiful name.

The linebacker told Landry that the identity of the Argos defence won’t change despite Mace’s departure (Christian Bender/CFL.ca)

Q: With Coach Mace, as well as a few members of that 2023 defence moving on, how do you see the Argos defence shaping up in 2024?

A: Losing Coach Mace, that’s losing a guy who’s a leader, losing a guy that is for the players. A great football mind. (But) I think we did a really good job just keeping some guys around. The coaching staff, we didn’t make too many changes. We kept Coach (Kevin) Eiben, my linebacker coach, and Will Fields, who was with the defensive backs, as well, last year. So it won’t be too much changing. And then we’ve kind of got some guys like me in the room and Folarin (Orimolade) and Shawn Oakman who still understand what it takes and who we are as a defence. We don’t want our identity to ever change or ever waver.

Q: Do you set personal goals before a season?

A: I set personal goals but I don’t like to focus on them because I feel like once I begin focusing on those personal goals I kind of lose sight of the team goals. But, (Most Outstanding Defensive Player) is always a goal of mine. I’ve been close a few times.

Q: Last season was something else. 16-2 over the regular season. But the Eastern Final did not, obviously, go the way the Argos had planned. Are you still pissed off over that?

A: I’m still pissed, man, and I’m not gonna get over it. I don’t think it’s for me to get over. I think it’s for me to learn from it and to let it burn. And to always have that feeling. To understand everything that glitters isn’t gold. And I think that’s what last year was for us. It was a lot of glitter. We did a lot of shining but underneath all that where did we really go? So, I think, going into this season we want to make sure that we are who we are throughout, no matter who we’re playing, no matter how many times we beat a team. Each game is different and we have to treat it as such.

McManis says he’ll use last year’s loss to the Alouettes in the playoffs as fuel (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca) 

Q: You’re very well known for the omni-present toothpick in your mouth. When did that become a Wynton McManis trademark?

A: I don’t think I know. I just kind of gravitated towards it. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. I’ve got pictures of me no older than eight or nine years old and I’ve got a toothpick in my mouth. It’s just something that keeps me calm and just keeps me sane. It’s part of who I am now.

Q: I have to say that I find it terrifying to watch you being interviewed, with that toothpick disappearing into your mouth from time to time. Ever have a scary moment?

A: I guess I’ve had a couple of mishaps throughout time, but none of ‘em life-threatening (laughs). I like to call myself a pro at it now. I can do tricks. I can flip it around and spin it and all of that. But yeah, man, it’s gotten stuck a few times and you kind of scare yourself and your eyes get wide.

Q: What’s your longest relationship with one toothpick? A day? Two?

A: Oh, I can get past way longer than two days. I can keep a ‘whittle’ for a really long time. A week. You know, that sounds disgusting. But sometimes I put them down, come back to ‘em or I put it behind my ear. And it stays there for, you know, however long. Whenever I need it again.

Q: Did you have a toothpick in your mouth through this whole phone conversation?

I have a cinnamon-mint toothpick in right now. I’ve got a company, called Daneson, that sends me toothpicks. I’ve got bourbon flavour, I’ve got salt-malt, whiskey… quite a few. I’m workin’ on some flavours myself. So be prepared.

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