Old guard turns back clock

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

HAMILTON — In the tiny closet of a visiting locker room, the stadium noise still blared from the loudspeakers as the celebrations began.

There were handshakes and hugs, tears and beers, emotions overflowing with a sense that something special had happened. A sense that maybe this was the beginning of one of those hard-to-believe stories the Canadian Football League is so famous for.

“You know,” coach Jim Barker shouted outside the room, “it was one of those great, classic games.”

In truth, it was anything but classic. The Boatmen’s victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was, in the words of two prominent Argos, ugly. Effective, but ugly.

“The watching part is for the fans and we love our fans. But for us, it’s all about winning,” shouted Jordan Younger in the Argos room following a 16-13 win over Hamilton on Sunday afternoon. “We’re a new team and we haven’t figured out how to win pretty, yet. We don’t care. We’re good at winning ugly, If ugly, is how we have to do it, we’re happy to be ugly.

“Winning, no matter how you do it, never gets old.”

The happy-to-be-ugly Argonauts are headed to Sunday’s Eastern final against the defending Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes. They are here against all odds, with a quarterback who isn’t good enough, a head coach who’s never had any real success, a receiving corps that is sub-par, a brilliant first-year running back and a defence that just knows how to play the game.

The playoffs were a long shot for the Argos this season. The Eastern final was more dream than long shot.

“One more win,” said Rob Murphy, the huge offensive lineman, “and we’re going to the Grey Cup.”

One step at a time for the hard-to-believe Argos, who turned to their veteran leaders, some of the long-suffering players who, like their team, have bounced back this year. When the wildly emotional Barker went to address his team post-game, he looked around the room and had trouble finding the right words.

“I’m so excited for our players, for the guys who, for the last couple of years, were tormented, (living) through a couple of tough years. For Kevin Huntley. For Willie Pile. For Kevin Eiben.”

He could have kept going.

This was a win for Younger, who was an Argo, then wasn’t, then became an Argo again. He was a defensive back in the glory years, now an undersized linebacker and, on Sunday, it was his interception that led to the winning points kicked by Noel Prefontaine, another Argo here and gone and now here again.

The play that salted away the win for the Argos and kept the game from overtime was an interception — not ironically off the hands of the villainous Arland Bruce — and caught by big-play Byron Parker. Parker, like Younger, was a Grey Cup Argo, before being traded away to Edmonton and then signed back as a free agent. The old guard didn’t play like a bunch of old guards.

“Everyone was sick of losing,” said Murphy, who signed in Toronto as a free agent and proceeded to play for two of the worst Argos teams ever. “When this season began, we would have bought anything. But when Jim (Barker) came in and we were just open to what he had to say. We just fell in line. It’s been a long journey, and we’re still not perfect, but we’re here.”

The formula for the Argos may be enough at times to turn anybody off. This is not shoot the lights out football. There were 20 punts in Sunday’s game and just two touchdowns. This is how the Argos must win, with some help from the opposition. The Ticats self-destructed at times, turned the ball over five times, coming just 40 yards short of Cleo Lemon’s passing totals in penalty yards. That’s not good for a supposed team on the rise. A team with much to explain as the Argos move forward.

“Crazy as this may sound, but we had a plan,” said Younger. “Right from the beginning. It started with coach Barker coming in at the first meeting, letting us know what was expected of us. It didn’t matter how pretty it was. It was a process. We never got down when our offence wasn’t scoring or our defence wasn’t jelling early in the year. We just kept going and going.

“I’m happy with ugly. It’s probably not the most exciting way to win. I don’t care. We did it. We don’t have to explain it.”

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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