MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - When it comes to forging an identity, the situation — time, place, expectations — often dictates just what that status will be, or has the potential to become.
The 2012 edition of the Toronto Argonauts may not have a full-fledged identity today — that’ll unmask itself beginning Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton — but the essence already is becoming apparent.
As host of the 100th Grey Cup, if nothing else, excitement, a strong work ethic and the willingness to buy in and sacrifice should be hallmarks of a team blessed with this type of scenario.
That’s what rookie head coach Scott Milanovich seeks first and foremost anyways, and it’s what he says he has seen throughout training camp.
“I just want them to play hard and basically go out there and show the image of what we’re trying to portray, which is a team that’s disciplined, that’s going to play hard, that plays for each other and that’s going to play for 60 minutes, or even more than that,” Milanovich said following Wednesday’s rainy second-last practice session at home leading up to Saturday’s road opener.
“I feel like we’ve got that right now.”
Following more lacklustre seasons than any fan wishes to recall, the Argos brought in star quarterback Ricky Ray from Edmonton in the off-season, revamped the front office and coaching staff and seem to be on the cusp of a turnaround. How quickly that happens, and if it becomes an absolute sea change, is anyone's guess, but if nothing else, there seems to be a lot more promise — and a palpable swagger — heading into the historic campaign.
Former Argo Paul Nastasiuk, for one, figures the host factor should give Toronto all the motivation it needs to craft a positive identity, and quickly.
Having won a Grey Cup with the Boatmen’s flagship team in 1991, Nastasiuk knows a few things about expectations and hype. It can put added pressure on a team, but can easily be spun into positive energy in which to build off, said the former special teams specialist, whose claim to fame with Toronto is his five special teams tackles in the ’91 East Division final against Winnipeg.
“You could see right from the beginning that the guys were excited,” Nastasiuk said of that stacked team, which included the likes of quarterback Matt Dunigan and the high-flying Raghib (Rocket) Ismail. “Guys realized that this is a great opportunity, let’s not screw it up.
“You had Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky, John Candy hanging around ... you had the Blues Brothers playing at games and all those fans starting to show an interest.
“It motivates you a lot more, you probably put a bit more into your workouts, watch more film, train that much harder. It was like, ‘I could lose my job any day,’ ”
Nastasiuk added of what it’s like playing under the microscope in a season jam-packed with expectation.
“In ’91, we were explosive in all facets. We fed off each other. You just go that little extra,” he said. "”And I think the entire organization realizes how important this (100th) Grey Cup is, especially with Toronto hosting. They've done a good job.”
To compare Nastasiuk’s electrifying squad with a team that has yet to play a down of regular-season football would be unfair, but there’s no doubt every player in the Argos locker-room is eager to get back to successful football. That process includes establishing an identity, although it’s not like players sit around studying what that identity should be, returner/receiver Chad Owens said.
“We’ll let our identity come when it comes. When that comes, we’ll know by hearing what other people say it is,” the Flyin’ Hawaiian said on Wednesday.
“We just want to come out and show that we’re a new Argos team,” Owens added. “The 2012 Toronto Argonauts are going to be a real contender and I just think we’re going to be a good football team in all phases.”
It’ll take time, but when it's all said and done, that’s the ultimate identity any team wants.
“I like the guys that we have in that locker room,” Milanovich said. “We’ve got a lot of team players ... we’re in this together and no one man can do it. That includes Ricky (Ray), that includes myself, or anybody else.
“The best I can tell you at this point is that it's going well.”
ROOKIE LANDS JABS
If Commonwealth Stadium was a comedy club, Amhad Carroll would likely be fielding as many questions as Ricky Ray, who makes his anticipated return to the home field of the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday.
Carroll, an Argos rookie who will play his first CFL game in Edmonton, held court with reporters on Wednesday, playfully taking jabs at the appearances of veteran players, including Argos hopeful Ken-Yon Rambo.
“He’s got one of the longest necks I’ve ever seen on a human being, and he has the worst feet,” said the cornerback Carroll, a former first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers who joined the Argos in May.
Defensive end Ricky Foley didn’t escape Carroll’s college humour, either.
“Ricky Foley had the biggest eyelashes and eyebrows I’ve ever seen,” he said of his teammate.
Carroll said his jokes are all in good fun, and he has great respect for his new surroundings. Joking around is simply what he likes to do.
“It kind of breaks the ice, eases the mood a little bit,” said Carroll, adding when Saturday comes around, he’ll be all business, with one thing on his mind.
“Beating Edmonton. Being 1-0. You start a season 1-0 and it rallies to 3-0,” the native of Atlanta, Ga., said. “We have everything we need to beat them. Everybody just has to be dialed in.”
HOW WILL RAY REACT?
Scott Milanovich and Ricky Ray were, predictably, peppered with a million more questions on Wednesday about Ray’s first return to Commonwealth Stadium since leaving the Eskimos via trade in the off-season.
The Argos head coach was asked about Ray’s comments earlier in the week where he was quoted as saying he has “nothing to prove” against his former team in Saturday’s game.
“It’s the right thing to say,” Milanovich said, but “he’s human. He was humbled (by the trade) and it hurt him. How he reacts to that only he’s going to know.”
HOW ABOUT THAT O!
Ronald Flemons knows how good the Argonauts defence looks right now. It’s been the team’s calling card the past few seasons and it looks to be a strong point once again this campaign.
But Flemons is looking forward to hearing a bit more about the team’s offensive prowess now that Ricky Ray is in the house.
“Realistically, for how many years, maybe since Damon Allen, we haven’t had an established quarterback,” the towering veteran Argos defensive lineman said on Wednesday. “(The defence) had to be good, or else you’re going to go 1-17 or something.
“But now that we have an established quarterback, our bread and butter is probably not the defence anymore.
“I don’t think that’s our identity so much,” he added. “It’s just the whole team, and that’s better.”