November 23, 2012
A look back at 1982 Argos
By PAUL WOODS, Special to QMI Agency
A rookie head coach. A star quarterback who had won the championship elsewhere. A record-setting receiver. A stunning rise from last place to the Grey Cup game at home.
This year's Toronto Argonauts? Yes. And also ... the 1982 Argos.
In fact, the last Argonauts team to play in the championship game on home turf has a number of parallels with this year's edition.
While it's not unheard-of for head coaches to take their team to the CFL championship game in their first season ... two guys with a last name ending in "ich"? That's a bit eerie.
Thirty years before Scott Milanovich was hired by the Argos last December, Bob O'Billovich took the same job as the team's head coach. He had been an assistant coach with the Ottawa Rough Riders; Milanovich had been an assistant with the Montreal Alouettes.
Milanovich's quarterback, Ricky Ray, came to the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos, with whom he won two Grey Cup rings before joining the Argos in a trade late last year. O'Billovich's quarterback, Condredge Holloway, came to the CFL with the Rough Riders, winning a Grey Cup ring in 1976, before being traded to Toronto in 1981.
Holloway threw many of his passes to Terry Greer, whose name is all over the receiving section of the Argonauts record book. Ray throws many of his passes to Chad Owens, who surpassed Greer (and every other pass-catcher in Argonauts playoff history) with 207 yards receiving in last Sunday's Eastern Final.
Most amazingly, both the 1982 Argos and this year's edition got to the Grey Cup after finishing last the previous season. The '82 Boatmen had a bigger hill to climb, going from 2-14 in 1981 to 9-6-1 the next year; this year's Argos improved to 9-9 after finishing 6-12 last season.
But the 2012 Argonauts had a tougher road to the Grey Cup, needing to win two playoff games, including Sunday's 27-20 victory in Montreal. The 1982 team finished first and had a bye to the Eastern final at home, where it thrashed Ottawa 44-7.
The '82 season was one of delirious joy for long-suffering Argos fans. The team had not won the Grey Cup in 30 years, had made it to the big game only once in that span (losing to Calgary in 1971, thanks in part to Leon McQuay's infamous fumble) and was basically considered a national joke.
The so-called Argo Bounce, once indicative of the good fortune the team had in the 1940s and early 1950s, had mutated into the opposite -- what author Jay Teitel described as "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."
But with O'Billovich at the helm, and Holloway throwing to Greer, Paul Pearson and Cedric Minter in Mouse Davis' innovative run and shoot offence, the 1982 Double Blue became both a contender and one of the most exciting teams in Argonaut history.
The Boatmen started the '82 season slowly, winning two of their first four games. But a game on Aug. 7 against Edmonton signalled the dawn of a new era of success.
The night when beer was sold legally at a sporting event for the first time in Ontario was also the night the Argos established themselves as genuine contenders.
Toronto had not beaten the powerful Eskimos since 1974, and had lost to them 61-7 the previous season. But this time the Argos were dominant in a 30-22 win -- especially Greer, who made six receptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-clinching 61-yarder on a perfect spiral from Holloway late in the fourth quarter.
Offensive tackle Tom Trifaux has a vivid memory of the huddle before that play.
"Condredge said, 'I need five steamboats to hit Terry. You guys give me five seconds, Terry runs the route, I throw the ball, we win, they lose. Ready? Break!' That was the call," Trifaux says. "It reminded me of playing touch football -- so amazing, so cool. It was one of those moments frozen in time."
"I don't know how many bombs Terry caught," says receiver/kick returner Jan Carinci, "but it was phenomenal. The chemistry that Connie had with Terry was just unbelievable.
"I've watched the highlights on YouTube, and the overwhelming thing I kept hearing was the total disbelief from (commentators) Ron Lancaster and Leo Cahill at the fact that we were kicking Edmonton's ass and that we wouldn't roll over. Their total lack of belief in what they were witnessing."
The Argos also had a tremendous night on defence, sacking future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon eight times. He finished the game under siege from the Boatmen's defensive line, wearing No. 14 after his familiar No. 1 was ripped.
"He was starting to get what we call happy feet, where he was thinking more about us," says defensive end Rick Mohr, who had two sacks. "That's when we knew we were being effective."
Fuelled in part by the long-awaited arrival of beer at the ballpark, the 37,995 spectators at the Ex were in a state of pandemonium all night. When the gun sounded, a few thousand of them streamed onto the field to back-slap and high-five Argonauts, some of whom seemed almost as astonished as the fans.
"The fans were going crazy," says Mohr. "Condredge and I were the Carlsberg players of the game and we went over to be interviewed for TV. We were being mobbed by the fans.
"I basically turned to Condredge and said, 'Follow me,' and I'm knocking people out of the way, just to get us back to the dugout so we could get in to the locker room.
"That was the point we knew we were going to do well. It was so cool -- a great feeling."
O'Billovich, who also had to do a televised interview amid a throng of exuberant fans, says it was an "unbelievable" experience.
"You would've thought we won the Grey Cup that night," he says. "That was a pretty exciting night, that's when I think Toronto fans embraced the Argonauts once again."
Greer remembers it as "the game that made the difference of going one direction or the other.
"We knew we beat the defending Grey Cup champions, we beat the best team in all of football the previous year," he says. "And it wasn't a fluke.
"All the guys from that point on started believing. That game was the difference that made guys believe."
From that point forward, the Argos were a confident bunch. Despite a mid-season slump -- including a horrific 46-14 loss to the B.C. Lions that was televised in the United States on NBC during an NFL players strike -- the Double Blue went into the season's last game with first place on the line.
Safety Zac Henderson knocked three members of the Ottawa Rough Riders' offence out of the game with devastating hits, and the visiting Argos won 28-14, then carried O'Billovich off on their shoulders.
Two weeks later, the Boatmen had a dream game in the Eastern final, scoring on their first possession -- again, Holloway deep to Greer -- en route to a 29-0 halftime lead and a 44-7 victory.
That set up another game against the Eskimos, this time for the Grey Cup. The city of Toronto partied all week in giddy anticipation of something that hadn't been seen in 30 years -- the Argonauts in the championship game at home.
An evenly played first half ended with Toronto trailing by just six points. But torrential rain in the second half disrupted the Argos' precision-passing attack, and the Moon-led Eskimos won 32-16 for their record fifth Cup in a row.
(The rains that sent rivers flowing down the steps of the open south stands at the Ex sparked demands for a domed stadium. Seven years later, the SkyDome -- now the Rogers Centre -- opened with one of the world's first retractable roofs.)
The Argos' success was celebrated with a parade two days later.
"They decided they were gonna have a parade just to thank us, 20,000 fans or something," says O'Billovich. "That was crazy. I told the players I'd never heard of a team having a parade for losing.
"I said, 'That was nice, but you can imagine what this city's gonna be like when' -- I didn't say if -- 'when we win the Grey Cup.'"
The next year, the Argos did just that, defeating the B.C. Lions 18-17 in Vancouver to win their first championship since 1952. Two days later, a crowd estimated at 60,000 lined Bay St. as old-fashioned ticker tape rained down from office towers.
Milanovich is hoping for the second kind of parade next week -- the kind you get when you win it all.
Journalist Paul Woods, a life-long Argonauts fan, is the author of Bouncing Back: From National Joke to Grey Cup Champs. The book will be published next year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Argos' emergence as champions after 31 years of failure and misery