Their Cup runneth over ...

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:04 PM ET

So how's the hangover?

The defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argos are here as they take their victory lap around the league. But they arrived yesterday to discover they're being looked at different than at the other stops.

They're not being toasted. They're being examined. This, you see, is the team and the town coming off the Grey Cup hangover.

With the Edmonton Eskimos last year it was obvious from the beginning. Their Grey Cup hangover was a ding-dong daddy.

Since the five-in-a-row Eskimos of 1978-79-80-81-82, only one team has successfully defended a Grey Cup - the Argos' '96-97 team Pinball Clemons played on under Don Matthews with Doug Flutie at quarterback. Every other team has failed, including last year's Eskimos title team, which fell to 9-9, lost the semifinal, fired the coach and had 21 new players in the team picture in the rain this past week.

"With us last year I questioned the hunger. I felt a sense of complacency,'' said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia. "All last year I felt like we were on a tour. Everywhere we went it felt like we sort of swaggered in as 'defending Grey Cup champions', 'defending Grey Cup champions', 'defending Grey Cup champions.' ''

LAP AROUND THE LEAGUE

The Eskimos' lap around the league featured seven losses on the road. Out of the gate 0-3, the champs turned into chumps early and chased the season the rest of the way. They didn't win a game in the East and lost both game to the Argos, a team they'd swept the previous three straight seasons.

"When you're the defending Grey Cup champions, people are gunning for you. When you win it all, you go from being the hunters to the hunted. I'm a firm believer that you can't come back as the same type of team you were when you won it all. You have to be 20% better or 30% different. When you won it the year before, teams spend the off-season saying, 'Let's look at what they did.' And the big thing is not being satisfied with what you did. I think we had a lot of players last year who were satisfied with what they did,'' said Maciocia. "I think we're hungrier this year.''

The Argos appear to have made the same mistake as the Eskimos did last year. They've pretty much stood pat with their championship team. But the Argos didn't open at 0-3 like last year's Eskimos. They're 4-3. Their three losses to date include two against the undefeated B.C. Lions and one to Montreal in a game Damon Allen didn't start. The 5-2 Eskimos have lost to the same two teams. Hard to make the case for a hangover. Yet.

Clemons is in a perfect position to analyze the phenomenon of only one of the last 22 title teams being unable to repeat.

He was on the one that did. And he was on one which didn't even more spectacularly than last year's Eskimos.

"I was on the 1991 team which went from first to worst the following year,'' he said of the 13-5 team which won the Grey Cup and finished up 6-12 the following year.

"I think there's truth in teams studying the championship team in the off-season. People look at you a little bit more,'' said Clemons. "I think a big part of it is just that winning is tough.''

In the case of the '96-97 Argos, Clemons said there were players left from 1991. "A few of us learned from that.''

He said '96-97 was also a different time in the league after the failed American expansion experiment with the dispersal draft. "We had a lot of major changes and a lot of conflicting personalities on that team. At the end of '96 we were just starting to like each other.''

CHALLENGES IN LIFE

Clemons says what we're dealing with here isn't all about football. "It's one of the challenges in life. Complacency is the enemy of success.''

Clemons is difficult to define as a coach. But one thing about him is "I absolutely abhor mediocrity.'' In there somewhere, he hopes, is the cure for a hangover.

"I do believe in the Grey Cup hangover,'' he said. "Fortunately for us it was over on Nov. 29. It lasted a week and a day.''

Hangover denial? Or back-to-back Grey Cup champions 99 days from now?


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