Four short weeks ago, no one would have predicted the Argonauts would be in the Grey Cup.
And until the Argos walked off the field at Mosaic Stadium with a victory against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Oct. 27, they might not have believed it themselves.
“The turning point was when we went to Regina,” head coach Scott Milanovich said on Friday afternoon at the Rogers Centre.
“It was a tough atmosphere. Very few people thought we were going to win that game. It was cold, and we were (allegedly) the guys from Toronto who could not play in cold weather.
“I could feel our confidence growing after that game, on the (charter) flight home. I don’t know that I feel like the guys ever doubted after that.”
During a three-game losing streak that preceded the 31-26 win over the Roughriders, the Argos knew they weren’t going to have a chance of capturing the East Division. But once that reality sunk in, they re-focused.
Though Toronto finished the regular season with a mediocre 9-9 record, including 4-5 in the second half, it’s with a four-game winning streak that it will take on the Calgary Stampeders in the 100th Grey Cup on Sunday.
“From the beginning, we did not preach to make the playoffs,” Milanovich said.
“We preached to win the East and get the bye. And when we lost that ability to win the East, I think there was a bit of an emotional letdown. But when won the game in Saskatchewan, it was like we moved on to the next stage — okay, we did not win the East, but we can still win this thing. It brought our momentum back.”
AT THE HALF
Not that much went wrong for Chad Owens, named the most outstanding player in the Canadian Football League on Thursday night, in 2012, but when it did, he left it at the field. “He has an on-and-off switch,” Argos teammate and housemate Andre Durie said. “When he comes home, he’s really chill and it’s family first.” When Durie’s former tenant, Justin Medlock, signed with the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers, Owens called and asked if he and his family could move into Durie’s Burlington home. No sweat, was Durie’s reply. With Durie’s fiance and son, there are eight people (and two dogs) under one roof, but Owens and Durie couldn’t be happier. “I have to thank Andre for opening up his house to us and really taking care of me and my family that way,” Owens said. “It has been a blessing this year.” Durie and Owens hit it off not long after the Argos stole Owens from the Montreal Alouettes in 2010 ... Milanovich doesn’t have many superstitions, but he has worn the same Argos baseball cap all season, claiming that he has had it washed several times ... Michael (Pinball) Clemons addressed the team at midfield for 15 minutes after practice, as he has done on a few other occasions. “They did the work to get here,” Clemons said. “What I said is really over-rated. I am embarrassed I get so much attention.” Perhaps, but receiver Mike Bradwell said he gets a chill up his spine when Clemons starts talking. Clemons said he doesn’t write his pre-game speeches, but goes off a few notes he has memorized.
It’s Bradwell’s job to come down with the football when the opposing team attempts an onside kick. “When the ball is in the air, all you are thinking of is attack the ball and catch it,” Bradwell said. “You do get a little bit nervous when you are lining up and you see all the other big boys on the other side, but we have a lot of big boys on our side too and I have faith in those guys. I have probably done it five times in my career, and the ball did get jarred last time, but I think we have recovered all of them.” ... Jeff Johnson is among those paying out of his own pocket to ensure his family will be in the building on Sunday. His wife and daughter will use the two free tickets each player gets, but Johnson is paying $460 for a ticket his son will use. “My parents are not even coming, but it’s about the memories, getting the Grey Cup, hoisting it and getting that ring on the finger,” Johnson said ... Ricky Foley’s family has season tickets, but his brother scooped up more. “He bought $8,000-$10,000 worth of tickets, so all my friends and family who need tickets, they are going through him,” Foley said ... Owens is of the mind that playing the Grey Cup at home won’t be a guaranteed help for the Argos. Not everyone in the sold-out building will be cheering for the Boatmen. “I would not necessarily say it is an advantage,” Owens said. “We’re definitely happy we are in our own home, but we have to go out and execute. We have to prepare the same as if we are on the road.” ... Among the former players appearing at the Argos’ Double Blue Bash at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Saturday afternoon are Damon Allen, Carl Brazley, Terry Greer, Jan Carinci and Clemons.