The Toronto Argonauts (officially the Toronto Argonaut Football Club, commonly referred to as the "Argos") are a professional Canadian football team competing in the East Division of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Based in Toronto, Ontario, the team was founded in 1873, and is the oldest existing professional sports team in North America still using its original name, and they are the oldest-surviving team in both the modern-day CFL and East Division. The team's origins date back to a modified version of rugby football that emerged in North America in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The Argonauts played their home games at Rogers Centre from 1989 until 2016 when the team moved to BMO Field, the fifth stadium site to host the team.
|Founded||October 4, 1873|
|Based in||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Home field||BMO Field|
|Head coach||Corey Chamblin|
|General manager||Jim Popp|
|Owner(s)||Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment|
|League||Canadian Football League|
|Colours||Cambridge Blue, Oxford Blue|
|Nickname(s)||Argos, Boatmen, Double Blue, Scullers, Love Boat|
|Grey Cup wins||17 (1914, 1921, 1933, 1937,|
1938, 1945, 1946, 1947,
1950, 1952, 1983, 1991,
1996, 1997, 2004, 2012, 2017)
The Argonauts have won the Grey Cup a record 17 times and have appeared in the final 23 times. Most recently they defeated the Calgary Stampeders 27–24 in the 105th Grey Cup in 2017. The Argonauts hold the best winning percentage in the championship game (73.9%) and have the longest active winning streak in games in which they have appeared, at six. The Argonauts have faced every current western CFL team at least once in the Grey Cup, while their most celebrated divisional rivalry has been with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The team was owned by the Argonaut Rowing Club for its first 83 years, and has been owned by a series of business interests since 1956. The Argonauts were a fixture on the Toronto sports scene for decades, with attendance peaking in the 1970s. In May 2015 it was announced that a consortium of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment's Larry Tanenbaum (via the Kilmer Group) and Bell Canada would acquire the team. The sale included a scheduled move to MLSE run BMO Field for the 2016 season, which has long been proposed given attendance under-utilization at Rogers Centre and announced plans to install natural grass at the domed stadium, rendering it unfit for football. (The move has since been done, albeit only the infield turf replaced with dirt, instead of grass) MLSE announced in December 2017 that it had agreed to purchase the team outright, with the deal finalized on January 19, 2018. The previous owners continue to indirectly own stakes in the Argos, as Bell Canada and the Kilmer Group respectively hold 37.5% and 25% stakes in MLSE.
Given the length of franchise history, dozens of players, coaches, and management have been honoured in some form over the years. The team recognizes a select group of players with retired numbers: early greats Joe Krol and Dick Shatto, stalwart offensive lineman Danny Nykoluk, and Michael "Pinball" Clemons who has been the most recent face of the team.
Name and coloursEdit
Since the team's foundation in 1873, the "Argonauts" name has been in continuous use, a record in North American professional sports. The Chicago Cubs (1870) and the Atlanta Braves (1871) franchises of Major League Baseball are older, but both teams have changed their name more than once, and the Braves have also changed cities. The Argonauts also claim to be the oldest professional football team in North America. The claim is debatable, as the Hamilton Tigers date to 1869; they merged with the Hamilton Wildcats in 1950 to form the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The name "Argonauts" is derived from Greek mythology: according to legend, Jason and the Argonauts were a group of heroes who set out to find the Golden Fleece aboard the ship Argo sometime before the Trojan War. Given its nautical theme, the name Argonaut was adopted by a group of amateur rowers in Toronto in 1872. The Argonaut Rowing Club, which still exists today, went on to found the football club with the same name a year later. Given their roots in a rowing squad, the team is often referred to as the "boatmen" and less often the "scullers".
In the 19th century, the most renowned rowing teams in the world were from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in England. The Toronto rowers, many of whom had associations with the English schools, adopted uniforms incorporating the light blue of Cambridge and the dark blue of Oxford. In turn, the footballers adopted the colours and the phrase "double blue" would become synonymous with the team.[note 1] Blue has become the traditional colour of top-level teams in Toronto (e.g. the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Blue Jays).
The team's other official colour is white. Its current helmet design features an Oxford blue background, with an Oxford blue and Cambridge blue round shield inscribed with a white, capital letter A. For most of the team's history, the logo featured some form of a boat, often incorporating a football.
The first recorded game of what would become known as Canadian football was played in Toronto on November 9, 1861, featuring University of Toronto students. The game at the time was a modified version of English rugby and it gained popularity throughout the 1860s. Rugby itself was still an infant game having evolved out of association football (soccer) in the 1830s. Seeking a way to keep fit after summer, the Argonaut Rowing Club (ARC) formed their own rugby-football squad on October 4, 1873. The Argonauts Football Club would play their first game against Hamilton on October 18 of that year (a victory), beginning a storied rivalry.[note 2] H.T. Glazebrook served as their first captain and head coach. Establishment of the football team was formalized by the ARC on September 17, 1874, with a subscription fee of one dollar charged per player.
The football team played a handful of challenge matches—one team inviting another to play—as an amateur squad against university and city teams every year throughout the 1870s, with one dormant year in 1879, likely due to injuries. In 1883 the Toronto Football Club, other city teams from Ontario and university squads from Toronto, Queens University and Royal Military College formed the Ontario Rugby Football Union (ORFU); it was the first rugby football organization with a league and playoff structure in North America. The Toronto Football Club were league victors in the first year. Starting in 1884 a "Dominion Championship"—a precursor to the Grey Cup—was held, pitting the victors of the country's two organized leagues, the ORFU and Quebec Rugby Football Union, against each other; it was organized nationally by the Canadian Rugby Union (CRU) from 1892 onwards. In the first true national championship, the Montreal Football Club defeated the Toronto Football Club on November 5, 1884 by a score of 30–0. Argonauts would lose the Dominion Title in 1901 to Ottawa College. The Ottawa team and the Hamilton Tigers were frequent opponents in this era.
Over the thirty years from 1880 onwards, rule changes were incrementally introduced into the game, including the adoption of the line of scrimmage, scoring that began to resemble the modern version, and the down and yardage structure. Popular personalities of the era included player-coach Joe Wright Sr., one of the best all around Canadian athletes at the turn of the century. One major outstanding issue within the CRU at the time was the role of professional versus amateur players; this dispute caused the Argonauts to withdraw from the league in 1903 and eventually led to the establishment of a new league, The Big Four or Interprovincial Rugby Football League. Alongside the professionalism dispute, there was serious disagreement over the adoption of the Burnside rules, with Ontario, Quebec, and the intercollegiate league often not in alignment. Amongst other critical innovations, the Burnside rules reduced the number of men per side to 12 and introduced the ten yards in three downs structure that is central to the modern game.
Seeking looser rules regarding the employment of professional players, Toronto and other cities split from the ORFU and formed the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (IRFU) in 1907. These clubs were the vaunted "Big Four"—Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Montreal—that formed the precursor to Eastern Division of the Canadian Football League.
The IRFU continued under the larger auspices of the Canadian Rugby Union. Beginning in 1909, the CRU champion was awarded the Grey Cup, with the Big Four competing against university squads and eventually teams from Western Canada. The Argonauts first competed for the Cup in 1911, losing 14 to 7 to the University of Toronto in front of a then record 13,687 spectators at the newly opened Varsity Stadium. The team would claim their first championship in 1914, exacting revenge on U of T with a 14 to 2 victory. Their star runner and kicker in their first championship year was Jack O'Conner, who scored a league record 44 points.
After play was halted during World War I, the Argos again achieved success in the early 1920s on the back of one Canada's greatest ever sportsmen. Lionel Conacher, the "Big Train," led the team to two perfect 6–0 seasons in 1921 and 1922. In the first season he accounted for 85 of his team's 167 points, and 15 of the points in the Grey Cup game, a 23–0 drubbing of the Edmonton Eskimos. It was the first east-west Grey Cup championship in Canadian history.
The 1921 Grey Cup victory was their last until 1933, at which point the Argonauts became the dominant team of an increasingly nationwide sport. They put together a number of Grey Cup dynasties in the 1930s and 1940s, winning eight of twenty Grey Cups between 1933 and 1952. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were most often on the receiving end of Argo Grey Cup victories in this era. From 1933 to 1941 Lew Hayman coached the team with a still unparalleled winning ratio of 45–15–2. Their first back-to-back Grey Cups came in 1937 and 1938. This was also the era of the famed Stukus brothers—Annis, Bill, and Frank—who proved a potent all-purpose trio in the Argonauts' championship years.
Joe "King" Krol and Royal Copeland, the so-called Gold Dust Twins, were the best-known players of the 1940s. In an era where players still played multiple positions, they were a threat in every capacity: running, passing, catching, kicking, and playing defence. Often connecting with each other for points, they led the Argos to a Grey Cup threepeat between 1945 and 1947. 1949 and 1950 marked a watershed in Argonauts history as the team began large scale importation of American players for the first time. The team also broke a cultural barrier in 1950 with the signing of their first black player: Ulysses "Crazy Legs" Curtis would play five strong years with the team.
Frank Clair was brought in as coach in 1950 and left his mark on the revamped roster; he led the team to Grey Cup wins in 1950 and 1952. The first of these was a 13–0 victory over Winnipeg in the notorious Mud Bowl. A November snowstorm followed by mild conditions turned Varsity Stadium into a bog and the play was a shambles; one Winnipeg player is reported to have almost drowned in the muck.
At some time during this period, the phrase "Argo Bounce" came to refer to the Argonauts' propensity to receive a lucky bounce of the football. The phrase may date to the Grey Cups of the 1930s, all of which featured improbable bounces and fumbles favouring the Argos; the phrase was popularized in print by Annis Stukus in the 1940s. It is still in use today, with a number of fortunate on-field happenings attributed to the "bounce".
The three decades after the 1952 Grey Cup victory have been called the Argonauts' Dark Ages. The team went thirty-one years between championship victories and nineteen without even making an appearance in the final. Part of the reason was a salary cap introduced in 1953 that cost them many talented players. For the first time in decades, they began ranking at the bottom of the Eastern Division. The management style under new owner John Bassett has also been blamed: young talent was traded or allowed to leave and the team could not form a nucleus of championship players; coaches came and went rapidly. Two notable events occurred off-field at the end of the 1950s: in 1958 the Argonauts became a founding member of the Canadian Football League and a year later found a new home at Exhibition Stadium.[note 3]
The Argonauts did have some standout players in the 1950s and 1960s. The stalwart of the era was Dick Shatto, an Ohioan who played twelve seasons from 1954 to 1965. Listed as a running back, Shatto was a dual threat to run and receive and continues to hold the team regular season records for touchdowns (91) and total yards gained (6,958). Living in Toronto year round, Shatto set down deep roots in the city and would eventually serve as the Argonauts general manager. Another American, Tobin Rote, set numerous passing marks in three years at quarterback from 1960 to 1962. Known for his good living off the field, Rote still holds the Argos single game passing record with 524 yards against Montreal on August 19, 1960. A pillar on the offensive line was Danny Nykoluk at tackle, whose career spanned an incredible 17 seasons from 1954 to 1971, including one stretch of 12 years where he didn't miss a single game. Despite the presence of these veterans, the era was marked by losing seasons and high attrition on the roster. By the 1960s, the annual (and often desperate) mid-season addition of American imports had become known as the "Argo airlift"; American imports often wouldn't last a game before being cut.
Eventually, the team became competitive again under head coach Leo Cahill in the late 1960s. They scored a coup over the National Football League (NFL) with the signing of a young Joe Theismann (and other American stars) in 1971. The team also saw an attendance bounce, consistently selling out Exhibition Stadium. The Boatmen's best chance to end their Grey Cup drought came that year, when they faced the Calgary Stampeders in the 59th Grey Cup, the first to be played on artificial turf. In a defensive struggle at Vancouver's soggy Empire Stadium, a now infamous late fumble by Leon "X-Ray" McQuay and a possession-changing kick out of bounds by Harry Abofs sealed a 14–11 Stampeder victory.
The 1970s were tumultuous for the team, with numerous hirings and firings of head coaches and consistent losing records. There were stellar players over this era, including defensive all-stars such as Jim Stillwagon, Jim Corrigall, and Granville "Granny" Liggins, but the team could not return to winning form. High-profile moves such as hiring Canadian football icon Russ Jackson as head coach in 1975 or signing running back superstar Anthony Davis the next year turned into busts. Ironically, the Argos reached historic attendance highs in this losing decade—regular season average per game attendance reached 47,356 in 1976. The enlargement of Exhibition Stadium over 1975 and 1976 in anticipation of the Blue Jays expansion baseball team allowed for these massive crowds.
The Argos reached an all-time low in 1981 when they finished 2–14; this despite having such talented players as quarterback Condredge Holloway, running back Cedric Minter, and receiver Terry Greer. The team began the year 0–10 and there was talk of a "perfect" losing season. The team had been inept so long by this point (29 seasons without a Grey Cup win) that the notion of an "Argo Bounce" had become inverted; now "it was the unluckiest bounce in the world, the one that usually arose from the Argos' uncanny ability to lose critical games in the dying minutes by committing an improbable blunder."
However, with the 1982 season came the hiring of Bob O'Billovich as head coach and Mouse Davis as offensive co-ordinator. Davis implemented the run and shoot offense, and the Argos enjoyed a turnaround, going 9–6–1 that year; Condredge Holloway was the CFL's most outstanding player. The team ultimately fell short in their quest for a Grey Cup, losing 32–16 in a driving rainstorm to the mighty Edmonton Eskimos (in what would be the last of their five consecutive Grey Cup titles) in the final in front of a disappointed crowd at Exhibition Stadium. The 1983 season finally brought the championship home. The Argos finished 12–4 and Terry Greer set a CFL record with 2,003 receiving yards. Joe Barnes and Condredge Holloway were a potent duo at quarterback. The Double Blue returned to the Grey Cup, this time facing the BC Lions at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. Despite the hostile crowd, Toronto defeated BC 18–17 to win their first Grey Cup since 1952. The Argos were generally competitive for the remainder of the 1980s, thanks in large part to talented players such as Gill "The Thrill" Fenerty and Darrell K. Smith, but a return to the glory of 1983 proved elusive (outside of an appearance in the 1987 Grey Cup game, in which they lost in the last minute to the Edmonton Eskimos 38–36).
The 1989 season saw the Argonauts move into the SkyDome, a multi-purpose downtown stadium with a retractable roof. It marked the beginning of an eventful few years. In 1990, one of the most beloved figures in Toronto sporting history emerged on the team: Michael "Pinball" Clemons set a CFL record for all purpose yards with 3,300 in his first full year, a record he would break in 1997 with 3,840.
In 1991 Hollywood prestige arrived in the form of a new ownership trio. Bruce McNall, owner of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, bought the team. One of his players, hockey great Wayne Gretzky, became a minority owner, as did Canadian-born comedian John Candy. The group stunned the league with the signing of Raghib "Rocket" Ismail for an unheard of $18.2 million over four years. Ismail immediately impressed, particularly on kickoff returns, and was named player of the game in the 1991 Grey Cup, which the Argos won 36–21 over the Calgary Stampeders. Clemons and quarterback Matt Dunigan (who played the final with a broken collarbone) were the other critical pieces to the championship.
However, the Argos slumped to 6–12 only a year later, beginning a slide that only accelerated when Dunigan and Ismail left after the season. The 1992 season was the first of four consecutive losing seasons; while they made the playoffs in 1994, they were promptly eliminated by the Baltimore Stallions in the division semi-finals. Trouble also struck off the field: McNall was convicted of conspiracy and fraud at the end of 1993, while Candy died prematurely the next year. Attendance also began to slide in the mid-1990s, raising questions over the team's viability that persist to this day. The per game average was just above 16,000 in 1994 and 1995, much less than half the team's 1970s peak.
Championship material did eventually reemerge in 1996. The team hired Don Matthews, who was fresh off a Grey Cup victory with the Baltimore Stallions to be the team's new head coach and signed Doug Flutie, one of the greatest quarterbacks in CFL history, to a contract and surrounded him with key personnel. The team included linebacker Mike O'Shea, veteran wide receiver Paul Masotti, and running back Robert Drummond. Derrell "Mookie" Mitchell was added at receiver in 1997. The Boatmen took the Grey Cup in both 1996 and 1997. Flutie would set team records for single season passing yards with more than 5,500 in each year and for touchdowns thrown with 47 in 1997 (one less than his CFL record of 48) before crossing the border to join the Buffalo Bills the next year. Masotti retired in 1999 as the team's all time pass reception yardage leader. Clemons ended his own successful career in 2000 before returning to coach until 2007.
The years after their back-to-back championships saw a return to mediocrity for the Argos. Ticket sales remained flat, and there were changes in ownership. Gimmicks to attract fans were greeted with criticism. The Argos seemingly bottomed out in July 2003 when the CFL stripped control over the team from owner Sherwood Schwarz. The team had amassed debts of over $20 million, including $17.4 owed to Schwarz himself.
New ownership under David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski brought immediate dividends with another Grey Cup win in 2004. Veteran Damon Allen led the team to a 27–19 victory over the B.C. Lions, with Jon Avery a critical running threat. Allen would continue with the team until 2007, and retired with professional football's all-time leading passing yardage (72,381).
The Argonauts saw winning seasons from 2005 to 2007 before bottoming out the next two years. They finished 2009 with just three wins. Critical players over this half-decade included receiver Arland Bruce III, defensive star Byron Parker, and all-star punter Noel Prefontaine. The team generated some controversy in 2006 when they lured running back Ricky Williams from the NFL. Williams had repeatedly violated NFL drug policies and was under suspension for the year; he played just one season with the Argos.
In 2010 the team again saw an ownership change, with construction magnate David Braley, who also owns the Lions, taking control. After breaking even in 2010 and going 6–12 in 2011, the Argonauts again acquired a championship nucleus in 2012. Ricky Ray was brilliant at quarterback while Chad Owens emerged as arguably the league's best special teams player. Owens broke Michael Clemons CFL record for all purpose yards and won the CFL Most Outstanding Player award that year. The 2012 Grey Cup was played in Toronto and the team took their first championship victory in the city since 1952, a 35–22 win over Calgary.
After years of being run on a shoestring budget by owner David Braley and facing the prospect of being evicted out of its longtime home, Braley sold the club to a consortium, led by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum and BCE Inc, a move that solidified the franchise's long-term future.
The Argos moved out of Rogers Centre and into BMO Field for the 2016 season. Despite the initial hype of playing at a fan-friendly outdoor facility, the club finished at the bottom of the standings with a 5–13 record. A front office purge followed, with the firing of general manager Jim Barker on January 24, 2017. Head coach Scott Milanovich, who was facing an uncertain future with the Argos in the wake of Barker's firing, quit four days later, accepting the quarterbacks coach position for the Jacksonville Jaguars under Doug Marrone.
Looking to start afresh both on and off the field, the Argos hired former Montreal Alouettes general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman on February 28, 2017. Popp and Trestman won consecutive Grey Cup championships in 2009 and 2010. Popp, the architect of the Alouettes' resurgence in the Montreal sports scene, acquired some of his former players, such as S. J. Green and Bear Woods.
Despite missing most of the free agency period and having mere months to assemble both a roster and coaching staff, the Double Blue finished the year with a 9–9 record, good enough for first place in a weak East Division and a first-round bye. After a thrilling last-minute comeback win in the Eastern Final over Saskatchewan, 25–21, the Argos capped off the season in true Cinderella fashion, with another thrilling comeback, winning their 17th championship in the 2017 Grey Cup. Their 27–24 win over Calgary marked their second Grey Cup victory against the Stampeders in five years.
In 2018, the team's new owners Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment moved the team's practice facility to the nearby MLSE managed Lamport Stadium with the football operations staff moving to BMO Field and the nearby MLSE managed Coca-Cola Coliseum.
|Date||Grey Cup||W/L||Opponent||Score||Host City||Victory #|
|November 26, 2017||105th||W||Calgary Stampeders||27–24||Ottawa||17|
|November 25, 2012||100th||W||Calgary Stampeders||35–22||Toronto||16|
|November 21, 2004||92nd||W||BC Lions||27–19||Ottawa||15|
|November 16, 1997||85th||W||Saskatchewan Roughriders||47–23||Edmonton||14|
|November 24, 1996||84th||W||Edmonton Eskimos||43–37||Hamilton||13|
|November 24, 1991||79th||W||Calgary Stampeders||36–21||Winnipeg||12|
|November 29, 1987||75th||L||Edmonton Eskimos||38–36||Vancouver||–|
|November 27, 1983||71st||W||B.C. Lions||18–17||Vancouver||11|
|November 28, 1982||70th||L||Edmonton Eskimos||32–16||Toronto||–|
|November 28, 1971||59th||L||Calgary Stampeders||14–11||Vancouver||–|
|November 29, 1952||40th||W||Edmonton Eskimos||21–14||Toronto||10|
|November 25, 1950||38th||W||Winnipeg Blue Bombers||13–0||Toronto||9|
|November 29, 1947||35th||W||Winnipeg Blue Bombers||10–9||Toronto||8|
|November 30, 1946||34th||W||Winnipeg Blue Bombers||28–6||Toronto||7|
|December 1, 1945||33rd||W||Winnipeg Blue Bombers||35–0||Toronto||6|
|December 10, 1938||26th||W||Winnipeg Blue Bombers||30–7||Toronto||5|
|December 11, 1937||25th||W||Winnipeg Blue Bombers||4–3||Toronto||4|
|December 9, 1933||21st||W||Sarnia Imperials||4–3||Sarnia||3|
|December 3, 1921||9th||W||Edmonton Eskimos||23–0||Toronto||2|
|December 4, 1920||8th||L||University of Toronto||16–3||Toronto||–|
|December 5, 1914||6th||W||University of Toronto||14–2||Toronto||1|
|November 30, 1912||4th||L||Hamilton Alerts||11–4||Hamilton||–|
|November 25, 1911||3rd||L||University of Toronto||14–7||Toronto||–|
The Toronto Argonauts currently lead the Canadian Football League in total wins and in winning percentage in the Grey Cup. Early success in the final can partly be attributed to the weakness of western teams: between 1921 and 1952 the Argonauts won in nine straight appearances, including six straight against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The team's success is not merely an historical aberration, however: they have won seven of their ten appearances since the formation of the CFL, including their last six straight.
For the entire Grey Cup era there has been some form of playoffs leading up to the Grey Cup game; the 23 Argonauts teams who have won a spot in the final would, in modern terms, be called "Eastern Division Champions". It is important to remember, however, that the route to the Grey Cup, participating teams, and playoff format have changed repeatedly over time. During the years that they competed in the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (1907–1957) the Argonauts won the James Dixon Trophy (awarded to the IRFU playoff champion) 14 times, going on to win the Grey Cup on 10 of these occasions.
As for the regular season, the CFL records 14 Argonauts teams at the top of the eastern divisional table since its formation in 1958. Earlier data for the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union provides another 9 years from 1907 to 1957 in which the Argos were the best of the "Big Four," for a total of 23 divisional wins. The only pre-1958 year in which the Argos won the IRFU but failed to make a Grey Cup appearance was 1922, when they lost in the Eastern Canada final to Queen's University.
Going back to an even earlier era, the Argonauts won the Ontario Rugby Football Union championship three times between 1883 and 1906, including the league's first two seasons, 1883 and 1884. Their last victory as ORFU members came in 1901. Given their losses in the Dominion Championship in 1884 and 1901, the Argonauts would not earn the title "national champion" until their first Grey Cup win in 1914.
|Toronto Argonauts stadiums|
The Toronto Argonauts' first home was Rosedale Field at Mount Pleasant Road and MacLennan Avenue near the city centre. The team suggests its capacity was 10,000 total with 4,000 seated, though O'Leary and Parrish list smaller numbers, noting that a $32,000 renovation in 1883 allowed for a capacity of 2,000. The field has historic significance as the site of the first Grey Cup game in 1909; the CFL lists the game's attendance as 3,807. The field still exists as part of Rosedale Park, although there are no grandstands.
Sources again differ on when the team permanently moved to Varsity Stadium on the grounds of the University of Toronto. The team gives dates of 1874–1897 and 1908–1915 at Rosedale, while other sources suggest the team had moved to Varsity by 1911.[note 4] Varsity would become indelibly linked with the Argonauts and the early years of Canadian football; it was the home field of the great Argo dynasties of the 1930s and 1940s. For most of the Argos time at the stadium, its capacity was about 16,000, but this jumped above 20,000 with a renovation in 1950. Although it has not hosted a professional game since 1958, it still holds the record for hosting the most Grey Cups with 30.
Another home beckoned in 1959 with the renovation of the new Exhibition Stadium to accommodate Canadian football. Often remembered ruefully by Torontonians for its exposure to weather and poor sightlines, the stadium was nevertheless the site of the Argos' greatest attendance in the late 1960s and 1970s. Particularly brutal conditions at the 70th Grey Cup in 1982 paved the way for the construction of a domed stadium in Toronto.
SkyDome (Rogers Centre since 2004) had provided the Argonauts a marquee venue from 1989 to 2015, but also been criticized for its football sightlines and atmosphere. Even crowds of about 30,000 looked sparse in a stadium that seats up to 50,000 people. The domed environment did, at least, remove the elements and was an advantage to passers and comfortable for fans. Two critical opportunities to find a new home were missed in 2004 and 2005: plans for a revamped Varsity Stadium to accommodate CFL-sized crowds were thwarted by community opposition in 2004, and the Argonauts withdrew from an alternate plan at York University the following year.
It was announced in 2013 that the Rogers Centre's artificial turf would be replaced by natural grass within five years to better facilitate Toronto Blue Jays baseball. This will require the stadium's movable stands to be permanently locked into position for baseball, making it impossible to host CFL games. (However, since this time the stadium has retained its artificial turf surface, and it is unclear whether it will be replaced.) The stadium issue generated significant press and raised concerns over the team's long-term viability given that the Argonauts' losses have been estimated anywhere from $2 to $6 million annually. While various stadium rumours swirled over the course of David Braley's tenure (including building a new facility), it became increasingly clear that a move to a renovated BMO Field was the only viable option.
The BMO Field move became finalized on May 20, 2015, concurrent with the announcement of the team's sale to a consortium of MLSE shareholders Larry Tanenbaum and Bell Canada. The team moved following the completion of stadium renovations for the 2016 season. The $120 million renovation plan had originally been announced in March 2014, and raised the stadium's seating capacity from 21,566 seats to 30,000 for soccer, with 25,000 seats in CFL configuration (due to space and safety issues, the endzones are only 18 yards deep [as opposed to the standard 20 yards], with part of both end zones covered in artficial turf, the remainder of the field has natural grass), and is temporarily expandable with additional endzone seating to 40,000 for big events such as a Grey Cup. The agreement required MLSE to reach a "long-term use (i.e. 20 years)" lease with the Argos for usage of the stadium. The inclusion of the CFL configuration had partly been at the insistence of the City of Toronto, which owns BMO Field, and had been planned in the original stadium agreement.
Following the demolition and reconstruction of the 5,000 seat Varsity Stadium at the University of Toronto, the Argos returned to the stadium, hosting preseason games from 2013 to 2015. The team also acquired a much-needed training facility in July 2014 when it was announced that MLSE had partnered with the Argonauts to expand KIA Training Ground, Toronto FC's new state-of-the-art academy and training facility.
Ownership and managementEdit
|Ownership of the Toronto Argonauts|
|Argonaut Rowing Club||October 4, 1873 – October 1, 1956|
|John Bassett, Charlie Burns, Eric Cradock||October 1, 1956 – January 1, 1960|
|John Bassett, Charlie Burns, Len Lumbers||January 1, 1960 – August 31, 1971|
|Baton Broadcasting (John Bassett)||August 31, 1971 – February 27, 1974|
|William R. Hodgson||February 27, 1974 – June 25, 1976|
|William R. Hodgson, Carling O'Keefe||June 25, 1976 – January 12, 1979|
|Carling O'Keefe||January 12, 1979 – December 12, 1988|
|Harry Ornest, Carling O'Keefe||December 12, 1988 – February 25, 1991|
|Bruce McNall, John Candy, Wayne Gretzky||February 25, 1991 – May 5, 1994|
|TSN Enterprises (Labatt)||May 5, 1994 – July 26, 1995|
|Labatt Brewing Company (Interbrew)||July 26, 1995 – December 20, 1999|
|Sherwood Schwarz||December 20, 1999 – July 29, 2003|
|Canadian Football League||July 29, 2003 – November 5, 2003|
|Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon||November 5, 2003 – February 9, 2010|
|David Braley||February 9, 2010 – December 31, 2015|
|Kilmer Sports and Bell Canada||December 31, 2015 – January 18, 2018|
|Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment||January 19, 2018 – present|
For more than eight decades, the Toronto Argonauts Football Club was the sole property of its namesake rowing club. By the 1950s, the team's complex management structure made the arrangement increasingly awkward. Facing overdraft and with wealthy suitors knocking, the Argonaut rowers finally sold the team to a consortium led by John Bassett, Eric Cradock, and Charlie Burns in 1957. Each held about 20% share in the company, with the balance made up by small investors who had some affinity with the club; the initial agreement called for a long-term debenture of $400,000 to be set up that would sustain the rowing club in the absence of its football income. Bassett was the operating head of the franchise and is often given sole credit for the initial purchase of the Argos, but Cradock was also instrumental in spearheading the drive. He would sell his share to Len Lumbers just two years into his tenure in part because of Bassett's controlling nature. Bassett arranged a complete buyout of the other shareholders for $2.31 million in 1971 through his holdings in Baton Broadcasting.
The Bassett years of the late-50s to early-70s were marked by mediocrity on the field but consistent success at the turnstiles. An issue that has become a perennial concern in the city also emerged at this time: the possibility of a National Football League team in Toronto. Various machinations were entertained by Bassett including moving the Argos to the NFL, bringing an American expansion team to the city (e.g. the Toronto Northmen of the WFL), or expanding the CFL itself in the opposite direction. Other team owners steadfastly opposed Bassett's moves and almost rescinded his franchise in 1974; angered, he sold the team for $3.3 million to hotel magnate William R. Hodgson in the same year.
Hodgsen sold to Carling O'Keefe in 1979, who had been minority owners since 1976. The brewing company's total investment in the team was $5.8 million. At the time it was rapidly ramping up its sports sponsorship (it also owned the Quebec Nordiques before they moved from the World Hockey Association to the NHL) and would become a huge benefactor to the CFL itself, inking television rights deals that would reach $11 million annually by 1984. Reports at the time suggest the league became spoiled by the partnership and that when the money dried up in 1987, the transition was difficult. For the Argos, the Carling O'Keefe years were marked by their first modern-era Grey Cup in 1983.
The year's following the Carling O'Keefe era were marked by increasingly short ownership stints. Canadian businessman Harry Ornest bought the team off Carling O'Keefe for $5 million at the end of 1988 and then sold to the trio of Bruce McNall (60%), John Candy (20%), and Wayne Gretzky (20%) for the same amount in 1991. Of the three, Candy is best remembered for his emotional investment in the team and a team player award continues in his honour. Given McNall's indictment and Candy's early death, the era was tumultuous and the last in which the club regularly made front-page headlines. The now money-losing team was sold to the Labatt Brewing Company through its TSN unit in 1994 for $4.5 million. At the time, Labatt also owned the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1995, Labatt was acquired by Interbrew; The Interbrew years saw two championships but also the worst Argo attendance of the modern era. Interbrew soon lost interest in sports ownership and the team was sold again at the end of 1999 to New York businessman Sherwood Schwarz.
After the debacles of the Schwarz era and brief control of the team by the CFL (see above) the Argos were rescued by David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski in 2004. There was optimism surrounding the duo's arrival and attendance figures improved in their six years heading the organization. It was also appreciated that the two were Torontonians after a quarter-century of foreign and/or corporate ownership. But by 2010 losses were great enough that the team was again put on the block and eventually sold to David Braley. There was some controversy surrounding Braley's takeover. He was simultaneously owner of the BC Lions, raising questions of competitive integrity. It was also revealed that Braley had bankrolled half of Cynamon and Sokolowski's initial $2 million buy-in of the Argos in 2004, and covered half their subsequent losses, in exchange for half of the 2007 Grey Cup profits.
By 2014 Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and its chairman and minority owner Larry Tanenbaum had emerged as serious suitors for the team. On May 20, 2015, it was announced that an agreement had been reached for Argonauts to be sold to Tanenbaum's Kilmer Sports and Bell Canada, who both own a stake in MLSE with Rogers Communications. Financial details were not disclosed. Despite its shared stake in MLSE, Rogers was not interested in having an ownership share in the Argonauts because it does not have any media relationships with the CFL (unlike Bell, whose TSN division holds the broadcast rights to the league). Argonauts Holdings Limited Partnership, a holding company which Bell and Kilmer each own 50% of, formally acquired the franchise on December 31, 2015.
On December 13, 2017, MLSE announced that it would acquire the Argos. This sale saw the transfer of ownership from Tanenbaum's Kilmer Sports and Bell Media to MLSE, which itself is owned by Tanenbaum, Bell Media and Rogers Communications. The sale was finalized on January 19, 2018 and with the sale, MLSE owns four of the five major professional sports franchises in the city of Toronto (only the Blue Jays are not owned by MLSE, although its owner, Rogers Communications, has an ownership share of MLSE).
|Toronto Argonauts senior executives|
|Lew Hayman||1957–1970||Lew Hayman||1966–1981|
|John Barrow||1971–1975||Ralph Sazio||1982–1989|
|Dick Shatto||1976–1978||Mike McCarthy||1990–1993|
|Tommy Hudspeth||1979–1981||Ron Barbaro||1993|
|Jim Eddy||1982–1983||Paul Beeston||1994|
|Ralph Sazio||1984–1985||Bob Nicholson||1995–1999|
|Leo Cahill||1986–1988||Sherwood Schwarz||2000–2001|
|Ralph Sazio||1989||Pinball Clemons||2002|
|Mike McCarthy||1990–1993||Dan Ferrone||2003|
|Bob O'Billovich||1994–1995||Keith Pelley||2004–2007|
|Don Matthews||1996||Pinball Clemons (CEO)
Brad Watters (COO)
|Eric Tillman||1997||Bob Nicholson||2009–2011|
|Don Matthews||1998||Chris Rudge||2012–2015|
|Eric Tillman||1999||Michael Copeland||2016–2017|
|J. I. Albrecht||2000||Bill Manning||2018–present|
Below the ownership level, the two most senior positions within the Toronto Argonauts organization are its president and general manager. The GM role was titled as "managing director" from 1957 to 1966, when head coach Bob Shaw was also named "manager" of the team, "with full operating control", and managing director Lew Hayman was named club president. The role of club president had formerly been an honorary position; Hayman was the first president with a salary and executive role. The president role is now included in the title of CEO.
The longest serving executive in the organization is Lew Hayman, who had a five-decade career beginning in the 1930s as coach and administrator. A Jewish-American, Hayman served with both the Argos and Montreal Alouettes and has been called "the architect of Canadian football." He was the team's first president and managing director at the insistence of Eric Cradock in 1957, and would continue in the former role until 1981. Ralph Sazio took over from Hayman and is another hall of fame builder.
After relative stability at the senior executive level for three decades, there has been significant turnover in the positions since the 1990s. The team had eight general managers in eight years, for example, between 1996 and 2003. The current GM is Jim Popp who was appointed at the end of 207 February 2017. Chris Rudge, former head of the Canadian Olympic Committee, took over as president and CEO from the beginning of 2012 to the end of 2015, when Michael Copeland took over. The current president is Bill Manning who is also president of Toronto FC.
Fifty-seven men have served as Toronto Argonauts head coach. The most recent coach, Marc Trestman, was appointed in 2017. He has succeeded in reviving a stalled offence and led the team to a Grey Cup victory in 2017. However, he was fired after the team finished 2018 with a 4–14 record.
The longest total tenure at head coach belongs to Bob O'Billovich, who led the team for eleven years over three stints in the 1980s and early 90s. Other notable coaching careers include those of Joe Wright, Sr. at the end of the nineteenth century, Ted Morris and Frank Clair in the post-war years, Leo Cahill in the late 60s and early 70s, and Pinball Clemons after the turn of the millennium.
Since 1961, the Canadian Football League has awarded the Annis Stukus Trophy annually to the league's outstanding coach. (Alongside his playing career, Stukus achieved fame as a coach, promoter, and newspaper columnist.) Argonauts coaches have been honoured eight times: Cahill (1971), O'Billovich (1981 & 1987), Adam Rita (1991), Don Matthews (1997), Jim Barker (2010), Milanovich (2012) and Trestman (2017).
Front office and coachingEdit
Toronto Argonauts staff
|Front Office and Support Staff
Special Teams Coaches
Argonaut games are currently carried on TSN's national and regional television channel as part of CFL on TSN broadcasts. Radio coverage is carried on TSN Radio 1050 or on CFRB 1010 when there is a scheduling conflict and another sport is being carried on TSN Radio.
With few teams, but a long history, it is inevitable that intense rivalries have developed in Canadian football. Far and away the greatest Toronto Argonauts rivalry has been with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and its precursor teams. Fittingly, the Argonauts first game was against a club from Hamilton, while the raucous Eastern Final of 2013—featuring a Tiger-Cat win over the Argos in front of 35,000 at the Rogers Centre—proved the rivalry is alive and well. The two teams meet in Hamilton every year in the Labour Day Classic, a league wide tradition since the late 1940s in which the game's greatest rivalries are showcased.
To the east, the Argonauts have also faced off against teams from Montreal and Ottawa since their earliest days. In recent years, the Montreal Alouettes have consistently fielded strong teams and often run up against the Argos in the playoffs; the teams have faced off eleven times in the Eastern Final, with Montreal taking six.
In 2014, the Argonauts reignited their historic rivalry with an Ottawa football Team as the team came back as the Ottawa REDBLACKS (Other rivalries with Ottawa consisted of rivalries with the Ottawa Renegades and the Ottawa Rough Riders). In 10 games against the current Ottawa franchise (as of the end of the 2017 season) the Argos have a winning record of 7–3–0.
At the Grey Cup level, the Argonauts have faced an assortment of teams in recent decades rather than any one team regularly. The Edmonton Eskimos, for years a dominant team in the league, became a rival. The two teams' five Grey Cup match-ups include an epic 38–36 Toronto loss in 1987 and most recently, the Snow Bowl victory in 1996 led by the arm of Doug Flutie. In the pre-CFL days, the Argos had a Grey Cup rivalry with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and a cross-town rivalry with the University of Toronto in the first years of the Grey Cup championship, including the Argonauts' first win in 1914.
|Toronto Argonauts retired numbers|
|31||Michael "Pinball" Clemons2||RB/SB/KR/PR||1989–2000||1991, 1996, 1997|
|55||Joe Krol||QB/RB/P/K/DB||1945–1952, 1955||1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1952|
|60||Danny Nykoluk||OT||1955, 1957–1971||–|
|1 Served as Argonauts general manager from 1976 to 1978.|
2 Served as Argonauts Head Coach from 2000 to 2007, President from 2001 to 2002, and continues to act as vice-chairman.
The highest distinction the Toronto Argonauts can accord a player is to retire their number; just four players have received the honour. Starting in 1996, the team began another category of distinction with its list of "All-Time Argos." Twenty-four players have been rewarded so far and a banner in their honour hangs at BMO Field.
Players and management personnel may be separately inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. A total of 56 people who have been part of the team are in the Hall. The All-Time Argos list does not extend back to before the Second War era while the Hall of Fame does. Thus, for instance, Lionel Conacher is in the Hall but not listed as an All-Time Argo.
Finally, players may be honoured on an annual basis through the CFL awards. The most prestigious of these is the Most Outstanding Player Award, awarded since 1953. Six Argonauts have been recipients: Chad Owens (2012), Damon Allen (2005), Doug Flutie (1996 & 1997), Pinball Clemons (1990), Conredge Holloway, and Bill Symons (1968).
All-Time and Hall of FameEdit
Jason is the mascot for the Toronto Argonauts, replacing the previous mascot, Scully, in 2003.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Toronto Argonauts.|
- The team continues to refer to their colours as Oxford blue and Cambridge blue for historical reasons rather than strict colour accuracy. While they have retained the very dark blue associated with Oxford, the light blue of the modern uniforms is close to azure. Cambridge blue is technically a shade of spring green and appears somewhat grayish.
- Confusion remains over the first Argos match. The CFL continues to report that a game took place on October 11 against the University of Toronto. Citing the "definitive" research of Ian Speers, O'Leary and Parrish refute this and point to the 18th as the first date. The fact that the Hamilton game was played on the grounds of U of T may have led to a later journalistic error.
- The inaugural game at Exhibition Stadium was an inter-league match against the NFL's Chicago Cardinals. The Argos would play two more exhibition games against NFL clubs in the next two years and were losers in all three. The games were part of a wider series of interleague match-ups between CFL and NFL teams held during this era.
- Details available from the team are contradictory: they suggest a 1916 move to Varsity in their Stadium History but 1911 in their Year-By-Year History. In his write-up on Varsity Stadium, Speers agrees with the 1911 date. There is no dispute that the stadium was completed in late 1911 and that the Argonauts participated in the Grey Cup at the venue that year.
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- Wallace, Craig (2005). A Slip in the Rain, the True Story of the 1967–72 Toronto Argonauts and the Fumble That Killed Canada's Team. Raleigh, North Carolina: lulu.com. ISBN 1411613929.
- Woods, Paul (2013). Bouncing Back: From National Joke to Grey Cup Champs. Raleigh, North Carolina: lulu.com. ISBN 1-304-10638-1.