As the lights went out on Tim Hortons Field on Nov. 2, 2019, nobody thought we’d have to wait another 572 days before the Toronto Argonauts would lace ’em up again.
Football may have not been in the cards in 2020, but on May 27, 2021, after a year of struggle, heartbreak and healing, the Argos are planning to return to the gridiron to take on those same Hamilton Tiger-Cats in preseason action.
To get you primed for the occasion, here is a complete refresher on what has transpired over the break, and where the Toronto Argonauts stand heading into the 2021 season.
The loss of a legend
We lost a Canadian icon when longtime Argonaut and CFL analyst Chris Schultz passed away on March 4, 2021.
Schultz spent nine seasons as a stalwart on the Argos’ offensive line, protecting future TSN partner Matt Dunigan en route to a Grey Cup win in 1991.
After retiring in 1994, Schultz transitioned seamlessly to the TV world. Alongside Dunigan, Milt Stegall, Jock Climie, Rod Smith, James Duthie and others, Schultz brought a balance of professionalism and humour to the desk.
But while his professional exploits impress, they pale in comparison to what he did for his community. As the leader of the Purolator Tackle Hunger campaign, Schultz filled food banks across the country with pallets upon pallets of food.
Affectionately known as “Schultzy,” Chris Schultz left a positive impact with every gigantic step he took in life. He will be deeply missed.
Front office overhaul
After three straight losses coming out of 2019’s second bye week, Argos brass decided a change needed to be made. Out at GM was Jim Popp, and in came Michael “Pinball” Clemons.
Immediately, Pinball’s infectious energy breathed new life into the team. After winning just two of their previous 14 games, the Argos went 2-2 in their final four contests.
Now, Pinball will look to build on that momentum in his first full season as GM since 2003.
Leading the charge on the field will be first-time CFL head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. Hired by Clemons a month after the 2019 season concluded, the former Winnipeg and Saskatchewan quarterback was plucked from the Calgary organization, where he was the Stamps’ quarterbacks coach.
Both Clemons and Dinwiddie will be guided by the steady hand of Bill Manning. Also the president of Toronto FC, Manning recently signed a five-year extension to stay with both the Argos and TFC through the 2025 season.
Explosive free agent signings
Clemons, Dinwiddie and Manning wasted no time diving head-first into both the trade market and free agency.
After conceding over 300 yards per game and allowing opposing team to complete over 72 per cent of their passes, issues on defence needed to be addressed.
Pinball’s signature signing is Charleston Hughes. A wrecking ball of a defensive lineman, Hughes has posted double-digit sacks in his last five seasons split between Calgary and Saskatchewan. Sitting at 130 sacks for his career, Hughes is within range of Grover Covington’s all-time CFL record of 157. Hopefully he can break it in double blue.
But Pinball didn’t stop there. He scooped up two more veteran pass rushers in Odell Willis and Cordarro Law. With Hughes drawing most of the attention up front, Willis and Law should be living in the backfield.
The Argos also supplemented their linebacking corps, adding Henoc Muamba and Cameron Judge. Muamba, an alum of Nova Scotia’s St. Francis Xavier University, is one year removed from a 100-tackle season. Judge broke out in 2019 with the Roughriders, posting 61 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions. A native of Montreal, he adds another welcomed Canadian contributor to the team.
Toronto also brought in Ronald Ollie. The native of Shubuta, Miss. was a fan favourite on Netflix’s Last Chance U. After a brief stint on the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders’ practice squad, he was picked up by Toronto.
Flipping now to the offensive side of the ball, Clemons began the search for the first franchise quarterback since the retirement of Ricky Ray. He thought he had found his man in former Winnipeg pivot Matt Nichols, but the team decided to go in a different direction, bringing Nick Arbuckle over from Ottawa. The longtime backup to Bo Levi Mitchell in Calgary, Arbuckle spent 2020 on the REDBLACKS’ roster. He has experience working with Coach Dinwiddie and brings a dual threat skillset to the Argos’ offence.
The team added yet another former Stamp in WR Eric Rogers. The Glendora, Calif. native hauled in 85 catches in 2019 for 1080 yards and 10 touchdowns for Calgary.
The Argos got Arbuckle another certified weapon in Martavis Bryant. The former Pittsburgh Steeler is the proud owner of an iconic between-the-legs catch that eliminated the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2016 NFL playoffs. He played four seasons in the NFL before making the leap across the border.
It’s no secret that quarterbacks take a beating in the CFL, so to improve QB depth, Clemons added Martavis’ cousin, Kelly Bryant. Perhaps best known for leading Clemson to the College Football Playoff, Bryant transferred to Missouri for his senior year. In Columbia, he threw for a career-high 15 touchdown passes and earned a solid 138.5 QBR.
Along with bringing back LB Bear Woods, WR Llevi Noel and DB Alden Darby, the Argos can stake a solid claim to having won the CFL offseason.
CFL meets XFL
We can’t quite smell what The Rock is cooking yet, but a faint scent is starting to waft through the football world.
Understandably, the pandemic wreaked havoc on both leagues.
The CFL leaned on its 112-year history to weather the pandemic, but it was still impacted by the outright cancellation of the 2020 season. Though appeals to the Government of Canada for financial assistance were denied, initiatives like the Grey Cup Fan Base, where CFL fans could pay to have their name etched on a new base for the Grey Cup, helped the league make it through.
The new-look XFL had the misfortune of beginning its inaugural season just as the pandemic began to grip the globe. After completing five weeks of play, the league cancelled the remainder of its games and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on April 13, 2020.
In August, The Rock stepped in. A former CFL player himself, Dwayne Johnson purchased the XFL with intentions of jump-starting the nascent league once more. When, where and how he plans on doing this remain to be seen, but he’s the closest thing we have to a superhero in real life. Doubt him at your own peril.
With a concrete plan for a return to play, the CFL will beat the XFL back to the gridiron. The question now becomes, if the two sides do come to some agreement, what will be the relationship between the leagues? Would one be a pipeline to the other? Would teams have a shared talent pool that they could dip into at their leisure? Might a full-blown merger be in the cards?
At this point, it’s in the hands of two unlikely business partners: CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie and The People’s Champ.
TFFL and the Toronto Argonauts
A partnership born from a handshake at the 106th Grey Cup in Edmonton, the pairing of the Toronto Flag Football League and the Toronto Argonauts has helped put smiles on the faces of kids all over the GTA.
From Argos players coming out to TFFL games and signing autographs to running the kids through drills at camps, the team has had an immense impact on the quality of the kids’ experiences. TFFL players are proud to wear the Argos’ logo each and every time they step on the field. Some have even bought season tickets for the team, spurred on by the connection that they made with Argos players.
In 2020, the partnership was set to take a massive leap. Plans were in place for TFFL players to play a demonstration game on the field during halftime of an Argos game.
Understandably, the kids were gutted when the news came out that both their season and the Argos’ season were going to have some serious alterations. But we’re proud to say that both TFFL and the Toronto Argonauts are planning to return to the field, with every possible safety precaution in place. TFFL looks forward to growing the sport of football in the city alongside the Argos for many years to come!
We’re excited for both Toronto Flag Football and the Argos to get back on the field soon. It’s been a long time coming.