Four years of frustation

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:29 AM ET

Byron Parker looks around him and is thankful for all the good things:

A chance to play football every day, a nice city in which to play, a good team, great teammates. His six interceptions last year made him a CFL all-star. He was the only player in the league to score a touchdown on defence, offence and specialty teams.

But it's not enough.

When Parker arrived four springtimes ago, the Argos were coming off their Grey Cup season of 2004. It seemed there would be plenty more for a team with a veteran MVP quarterback and stingy defence. Instead, Parker's ring finger sits bare and he admits there is a sense of emptiness. Despite becoming an intergral part of one of the league's most dominating defences, despite the camaradarie, Parker yearns for something more.

"The guys getting the ring in 2004, I'm a little jealous because I should've had at least three, if not that, at least two," Parker said yesterday. "I'm not going to say I want it more than anyone else, but I want it ba-a-a-ad."

The Argos have gotten off to slow starts in the past three seasons. As the team prepares for its home opener this weekend in Winnipeg, Parker says they cannot afford to let that happen again.

In the past two seasons the team won just four of its first 18 games. While many insist that a quick start in the CFL means nothing because it is only necessary to beat out one team in the East to make the playoffs, Parker insists that it means everything.

A quick start means no whining about Pinball Clemons' departure as head coach. It means no quarterback controversy. It could, he says, make the difference between a Grey Cup or going down in Argos' lore as the best team never to win a championship.

"This year with all the changes we definitely need to get off to a fast start. We need to do that to give us a boost of confidence to take later into the season. Anything without a Grey Cup is a wasted year and I've been so close the last three years. It's important for our confidence to start off fast."

FAILED RESULTS

In those seasons, despite winning the Eastern Conference, despite holding a bye into the Eastern final, Toronto has not been able to reach the Grey Cup, so, Parker said: "We've got a lot more to prove to ourselves and the CFL."

Parker led the club with 10 pass knockdowns last season as part of a defence that intercepted 25 passes.

The only major change is that cornerback Jordan Younger is gone, replaced by Khalil Carter.

"I think we've got the best defence in the league. And, I wear being part of that as a badge of honour but it's so important for us to get over the hump and get to the Grey Cup," Parker said. "We definitely want to be like the Celtics. If we bring Kerry Joseph in, if we bring Michael Bishop in, we've got our own Big Two."

But there are potential storm clouds.

The Argos are going into the season opener with Rich Stubler moving up to head coach after 18 seasons as a CFL assistant.

Joseph, who led Saskatchewan to the Grey Cup last year, has come in at quarterback. But Stubler has maintained incumbent Bishop is more than a backup.

"We're blessed to have two great quarterbacks," Parker said.

But they are also one slow start from being cursed to having two quarterbacks designated as 1 and 1a. And, Parker knows it.

"The first thing people will say is that there's a quarterback controversy. Even if we know there isn't that's what people will say."

Public perception can be a coach killer but Stubler says he feels no butterflies about his debut as head coach and claims to be oblivious to any QB discord.

"Coaching is fun for me, I don't get real nervous, I don't get headaches, I don't get stressed out," he said.

Of course, that headache could be just another 2-5 start away. Not to mention, no Grey Cup again would definitely be no fun.


Videos

Photos