TORONTO -- Six wins? Definitely.
Eight? Well, hopefully, but unlikely.
How about that nine victories?
Argonauts owner David Braley, who assumed ownership of the Canadian Football League franchise from David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski last winter, didn’t see that coming.
“You want to win them all, but we thought if we could have reached 6-8, it would have been something to build on,” Braley said during a telephone interview with the Toronto Sun on Tuesday.
“This was a rebuilding year and a lot of the credit has to go to our head coach Jim Barker and his staff. I’m happy with the development of the Toronto franchise and I’m proud of the team. (Attaining) a record of 9-9 is a very successful rebuilding year.”
Many outside the organization figured that even half a dozen victories would have been asking for too much. Barker hired a new stable of quarterbacks, and the guy he has leaned on, Cleo Lemon, has been taking time to warm up to the CFL game. But no one, Barker included, could have predicted that Cory Boyd and Chad Owens were going to have such huge season-long performances.
As CFL fans know, Braley doesn’t just sit in his Hamilton office, signing paycheques and paying bills for his two CFL teams, the Argos and the B.C. Lions. A lifelong football fan, Braley doesn’t meddle with the management of his teams, but he has more than just a passing interest.
“Our defence played consistently and our special teams blossomed, which was important,” Braley said of the Boatmen, who were 3-15 a year ago. “A superb job was done with regard to special teams.
“And the offence had its ups and downs. It’s a lot more difficult to put an offence together. We got stronger on the offensive line and at running back.”
Thoughts on Lemon, who traded steps forward and backward as the season progressed?
“He shows promise,” Braley said. “There’s a transition between (the CFL and NFL) games and things began to slow down for him.”
Braley refused to address the future of general manager Adam Rita, who might not be back with the Argos once his contract expires following the season.
Given that the Argos were coming off a couple of lousy years, Braley knew that keeping fans interested in Toronto was going to be a challenge. He’s not one to paper the house, and generally was pleased with the average of 22,237 fans who walked through the turnstiles at the Rogers Centre. That number represented a drop of an average 4,137 a game from 2009.
“We have to earn the right to have fans who want to be part of the organization,” Braley said. “We’re slowly trying to build credibility, and it will translate to more bums in the seats.
“From where we started, I can not be disappointed.”
Braley’s Lions had what can only be termed a weird season, but they will be in the playoffs again, taking on the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division semi-final on Sunday, not long after the Argos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats contest the East semi at Ivor Wynne Stadium. As much as he loves his Lions, and noting the Leos have made the post-season every year since he bought them in 1997, Braley will be in his seats on the 50-yard line at Ivor Wynne, confident that the Argos can continue surprising people.
“None whatsoever,” Braley said when he was asked whether he had any concern with the Argos’ 0-3 record versus the Ticats during the regular season. “Football is 50% or so physical ability and on game day, the rest is focus. And our players will be focused.”