Miami, T.O. have checkered past

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

Considering the history, it seems appropriate that the first regular-season National Football League game in Toronto would be played by the Miami Dolphins.

And maybe, just for old time's sake, they should invite Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to come along.

You see, the Toronto connection with the Dolphins goes way back, first to 1971 when Notre Dame quarterback Joe Theismann had agreed to sign in Miami, had the contract in his back pocket, and Leo Cahill somehow talked him into taking one last trip to this city.

Don Shula didn't care much for Cahill poaching his rookie then but that paled in comparison to what happened three years later.

"We pulled off the biggest signing in the history of the National Football League," said Cahill from his home in Sarnia. "You can talk about anything else, anybody else, but there's never been a bigger signing than that."

The Toronto franchise of the World Football League never did play a down in Canada, but boy, did it make news in March of 1974.

"I remember being at a board meeting for the new team and (the late) Johnny Bassett stood up and said: 'I think we ought to sign Joe Namath.' I told him that Namath was under contract to the (New York) Jets. So then he says: 'Then let's get somebody from the Miami Dolphins.' "I said: 'Why don't we try and get Larry Csonka?' It would have been big news to get one of them. And from there, it turns in to why don't we get Warfield? Then, why don't we get all three? So I was commissioned to get in touch with their agent (Ed Keating) and it went from there."

Somehow it went from board room bravado to stunning reality. To the front page of the New York Times. To Time magazine. To ABC Television with Howard Cosell on a Saturday afternoon. To places Cahill or Toronto football never had been before.

Three of the biggest names in football agreeing to leave the NFL to play here.

"I was responsible for taking them all over town, selling them on the city," Cahill said. "Csonka was the leader of the group. He was the loud one. Warfield was pretty quiet. Kiick was just a good guy. And when it came down to making a decision, you could see Csonka was really nervous. As we're getting to a critical point, he said: 'I've got to call Shu,' and he called Don Shula. Shula said he would be in touch with the owner (Joe Robbie) and get back to him in a few minutes.

"And after he hung up, and (lawyer) Herb Solway denies this, but I swear it's true, I went into the other room and called down to the front desk and told them: 'Under no circumstances are you to allow any calls to come through to our room.'

"We waited and waited for Shula's call to come and apparently the calls were made, but never got through. Finally Csonka said 'Hell, if they're not going to call us back."

HISTORIC

The historic contracts were signed in the Prime Minister's Suite of the Sutton Place Hotel. The three players were to have been paid more than $3 million US over three seasons -- unheard of money at the time for any professional athletes.

The Toronto team, ostensibly bullied out of Canada by federal politicians, played a season and a half in Memphis before the World League folded. Cahill's fondest Memphis memory: Making friends with Elvis Presley.

Today the politics and politicians of this land are different. The Dolphins are all but welcome to play here now, even if they happen to be just about the sorriest team in the NFL. Who knows, maybe Ricky Williams, the former Argo, will have his first decent game in Toronto?

"Sometimes you've got to look back to realize how big all that was," Cahill said. "Csonka is in the Hall of Fame. Warfield is in the Hall of Fame. That team was undefeated. It didn't seem that important then, but here it is 2008 and people are still trying to catch them.

"The thing that still bugs me? They took a picture of the signing for Time. I was standing there, right behind the three of them. And when they identified the people in the photo, my name wasn't included."


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