Six injuries, one sensational signing, and one assistant coach ago, there was great hope for the Argonauts offence.
That was before Damon Allen broke his finger and Ricky Williams broke his arm and a door almost severed his Achilles tendon, and John Avery's spirit was all but broken. That was before offensive co-ordinator Kent Austin was sent packing and Tony Miles' hamstring failed him.
Yesterday, for the first time in a season still in need of description, the Argos had Allen at quarterback, Williams mostly at fullback, Avery at tailback and both Miles and Arland Bruce at receiver.
This is the Argos version of Thanksgiving: Finally, they had something on offence for which to be truly thankful. They had health and a scheme when for too much of this Canadian Football League season they appeared to have neither.
"That's the way it's supposed to be," said Adam Rita, grinning widely, after a 28-23 win over the somewhat challenged defending Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos. Rita is the only general manager/offensive co-ordinator in all of professional football.
If his offence doesn't work, the least he can do is consider firing himself. No need for that now, as Rita, the coach, and Allen, the quarterback, found a way to distribute the ball around enough to make everyone happy.
Williams, who has sometimes looked lost and sometimes been unproductive at the halfback spot, ran for 10 yards a carry from the fullback spot, not long after insisting there isn't much place for the run in the CFL.
Behind him, Avery danced for 66 yards on 11 caries, looking dangerous on almost all of them.
And on the outside, Bruce, the Argos MVP, caught the ball twice, both for touchdowns, both impressively. Miles didn't score but he did bring down seven catches for 101 yards.
"I think we can get better," Rita said. "You have to remember, we haven't had those guys together in the lineup. The more we have them in the lineup, the better we should be."
In all, Allen missed six games, Williams missed seven, Avery was sat out and injured for 10 games and has been on the field for just five. Miles has been out four games and played a few more hurt.
Only Bruce has been there all year, to catch passes from Spergon Wynn and Michael Bishop and Eric Crouch and Allen and just about anyone else who was throwing them.
"We've finally got our pieces back," said Allen, forever defensive about the Argos offensive struggles this season. He is defensive even though he rarely has had a starting lineup around him.
"Everyone talks about this and that with our offence. All I know is, since I'm back, we've only lost one game. We didn't do anything different (yesterday). We can't worry about what anyone says about us ... our players are the same."
The same, but different. Williams and Avery had not been in the Argos backfield before -- forming the greatest Argos backfield since Bill Symons teamed with Leon McQuay.
Williams had not lined up in the traditional fullback position before -- and with both running and blocking he had an impact with 71 yards on seven carries.
Funny how numbers go. Had he carried the ball just seven times when Austin was running the offence, Austin would have been berated for the number. Instead, Rita was congratulated.
"I think this is the first game we've all played together," said Miles, who liked the Argos offence so much during training camp he predicted an 18-and-0 season for the team. His numbers may be a little off but the spirit of what he believed in was evident against the rather weak -- and when have we ever been able to say this before? -- Eskimos.
"We've struggled with our offence this year. You start pressing. I think now we've got something going."
"We need to grow," head coach Pinball Clemons said. "This is a graduation (for us). It's a step."
A step with three games to go and the Argos back in the playoffs.
"Every team wants to be in the position we're in," Miles said. "We're in the playoffs. We control our own destiny. What more can you ask for at this time of year?"
It is becoming more challenging to watch the CFL, what with a flag being dropped far too often. Yesterday, there were 19 penalties flagged -- 11 on the Argos, eight on the Eskimos. Either the players have to play with more discipline or the officials have to be more selective with their calls. What's going on now isn't in the best interest of anyone.
The Eskimos are still alive. They shouldn't be. There should actually be a rule: Any team that loses back-to-back games to Hamilton should immediately be banished from the post-season. The odds remains that the Grey Cup champs will miss the playoffs for the first time in 35 years. If it happens, no tears will be shed here.
DOUBLE BLUE BROWN
Were Toronto a real football town -- the way it once was in the Jim Corrigall days -- everyone would know the name Jonathan Brown. He is that great a player at defensive end for the Argos. He is that imposing. He is, in some ways, Corrigall-like. With an athlete of this talent level, it's too bad he doesn't receive the type of attention of which he is deserving.