Cauz: Argos short-lived dynasty of the 90s was one for the ages
July 18, 2017
The next time we humans will be able to see Halley’s Comet is in 2061 as it only comes around Earth every 75-76 years. When trying to come up with how I feel about or remember the 1996 and 1997 Toronto Argonauts the first image that leaps to my mind is Halley’s Comet. No one saw it coming, it was a glorious spectacle of winning and talent that went away far too soon and I wonder if we’ll ever see another team quite like that.
In 1995 Toronto went 4-14 completing a four year run of abject failure to the tune of a 20-52 record. After it was all over the Argonauts would go seven more years before they managed to have a winning season. But in the middle, wow what a show!
Oh there have been great teams since. The Montreal Alouettes under Anthony Calvillo is the greatest dynasty I’ve ever seen in the CFL and present day Calgary keeps cranking out 12-14 win seasons but no team over a two-year period had more success than those Doug Flutie led Toronto Argonauts. Before that team no franchise had won back-to-back Grey Cups since Warren Moon did it in the Rain Bowl way back in 1992. It would be well over a decade before another team would successfully defend its Grey Cup crown.
96/97 Reunion Promotions
As part of the celebration of the back-to-back Grey Cup Champions, fans in attendance will get a free Doug Flutie Bobblehead. The Argonauts are also offering a throwback pricing structure which allows fans to purchase two tickets for $19.97 …Click here for more.
Everything starts and ends with Doug Flutie. If it wasn’t for the serious financial trouble that Calgary Stampeders owner Larry Ryckman found himself in 1995 that led to Flutie moving from Calgary to Toronto this article and the 20th anniversary by the Argonauts of that magical two year run would never be happening. This is not to take away from the additions of such players like RB Robert Drummond or DE Reggie Givens or the return of Don Matthews as head coach but none of the Argonauts success occurs without Flutie under centre.
During his two years at the helm of the Argonauts attack Flutie put up 11,225 yards passing, ran for 1,298 yards, accounted for 90 total touchdowns and was durable starting all 36 games.
My favourite memories of those two years were just how much fun it was to have your very own “super team” to root for. The Toronto Argonauts were the villains of the rest of the league because of their new found success and because let’s face it, it’s easy to hate Toronto if you are not from around here. Cheering for a winning team packed with oodles of talent is fun but what makes it even better is the knowledge that everyone else is rooting for your team to fail. It’s great being a part of the “us” in the “us against the world” equation when you’re banging out back-to-back 15 win seasons. That’s another part of those two years that was so special, you remember the losses so much more because you never expected this team to lose.
That’s why the home opener in 1996 will always stick out for fans of a certain age.
For those who don’t remember let me take you back to July 4th 1996 where the coronation of Doug Flutie and the Argonauts in front of the home crowd was spoiled by Matt Dunigan in a 38-36 shoot-out that saw these rival quarterbacks light up the opposing secondaries to the tune of just under 800 yards and nine touchdown passes.
It was just spectacular watching these teams go back and forth affair with two Hall of Famers who hated the idea of losing to one another giving us a fireworks display that would rival anything going on that same night south of the border. For those of you who enjoy visual accompaniments for your memories here’s the highlights of that game courtesy CFTO!:
Sadly, this would mark the final time that Flutie would battle Dunigan but we got to see Flutie wearing the double blue take on Jeff Garcia in Calgary, Danny McManus in Edmonton and Tracy Ham in Montreal. Every week was an event if you were following the Argonauts as they were suddenly relevant for the first time since 1991. Beyond all the statistics and impressive new players the most striking aspect of this team was the basic fact that they once again mattered.
The denouement of the first Flutie season saw the Argonauts defeat Edmonton 43-37 in a wild snowy affair in Hamilton that featured 41 points scored in the second quarter, five touchdowns of 49 yards or more, a 64 yard touchdown grab by Eddie Brown where I still don’t know how it happened and of course the controversial third down conversion by Flutie that clearly was a fumble that the officials missed.
Going from gift calls to gift seasons that is exactly how 1996 felt. We’re given this gift of Matthews, Flutie and company. Every week it seemed someone else made a big play from Robert Drummond and his 17 touchdowns to Jimmy “The Jet” Cunningham who teamed up with Pinball Clemons to scare the hell out of Special Teams coaches.
Speaking of Pinball his role with the Argonauts grew exponentially with the arrival of coach Matthews and Flutie. Before he had always been a dangerous return man and a solid running back but until 1996 he had never had a 1000 yard receiving season. Well in 1996 that all changed as Pinball was finally turned loose becoming a match-up nightmare for linebackers and defensive backs alike. During those two years Clemons became Flutie’s favourite target catching 238 passes for 2353 yards.
Of course sports is littered with one hit wonders. We have seen so many teams fall after their championship year. It’s hard to defend your championship, rosters get broken up, players get complacent, assistant coaches become head coaches somewhere else and critical injuries are always looming. There’s a reason there has only been one back-to-back Grey Cup Champion since 1997 … it’s hard!
So what happened the following year? They got better.
Flutie was named the 1997 MOP, Mike Kiselak nabbed Most Outstanding Lineman, Derrell Mitchell exploded onto to the scene giving Flutie yet another weapon en route to winning Most Outstanding Rookie and finally the man in charge of it all, Don Matthews, was named Coach of the Year. Oh but it doesn’t end there. Eleven different Argonauts were named to the All-Star team, they beat the Western Division champion Edmonton Eskimos twice in the regular season and dominated Saskatchewan 47-23 in the Grey Cup.
Now that is how you defend your Grey Cup championship!!! The only real tense moment of the season was the final minutes of the Eastern Conference Final where Montreal could have upset the Argonauts until Clemons scored the game winning touchdown on a long catch and run, the greatest play of his career.
I started this column by comparing the Argonauts to Halley’s Comet because as quickly as it appears for all to see it just as swiftly disappears most likely to never be seen again. In 1998 Flutie, Robert Drummond and Mike Vanderjagt all left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Mitchell put up ridiculous numbers (160 rec – 2,000 yards!) playing with Kerwin Bell and his ridiculous moustache. The team went 9-9 as they slowly crept back to being an average team robbing fans of years of watching Flutie battle Jeff Garcia or Anthony Calvillo.
It didn’t last a long time but darn it was such a fun ride while it lasted.
I miss that team.
Photo by CFL.ca