Christopher Hitchens once wrote that what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. The Toronto Argonauts 2017 season, which has found some unexpected success, could be held up as an example of that mantra, except at the end of the previous season and before this one kicked off the evidence did look pretty solid that the Boatmen were in a bad position going into this year.
Coming into the season for a while they were a team without a GM and without a coach. Star players from the previous years’ roster had departed and free agency had been been run without the skills of a general manager overseeing things. Optimism wasn’t that high anyway following a 5-13 outing and a basement finish in the East Division that saw Head Coach Scott Milanovich resign after five years at the helm, and leave to become the quarterbacks coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It is often said that quarterback is the most important position in football, if not all of sports. Going into the 2017 season this was yet another area of uncertainty for the Argonauts. Whilst Ricky Ray may have been entering the season with, 54,883 yards and 298 touchdowns to his name in the CFL, there were serious questions about how much longer he wanted to go on and indeed how much longer he could go on. Over the previous 3 seasons, Ray had surgery to repair a tear to his right (throwing) shoulder and a small tear in his right rotator cuff, suffered a sprained MCL and missed time due to a partially deflated lung. Needless to say, there were concerns about his durability.
Added to all of this was the fact that Toronto had, not so proudly, sported the leakiest D in the league giving up 31.55 points per game.
Instead of the catastrophe some saw coming however, the Argonauts find themselves atop of the, admittedly weak, East Division standings and they have an opportunity to clinch the East crown this week. A win alone will see them clinch a playoff berth but if they were to win and Ottawa lose then they would be guaranteed to host the division championship for the first time since 2013.
This comes on the back of Toronto finally breaking the curse of Tim Horton’s Field in an exciting comeback 43-25 win that saw them get their first win in 8 attempts since Hamilton moved into the facility.
Well it seems we can dismiss the pre-season naysayers now, and we can do it with the evidence of the season that Toronto has put together. So how did they get here? The green shoots of optimism first burst forth in February with the announcement that a GM was in place.
That appointment was Jim Popp who has had CFL teams reach the playoffs for 20 consecutive seasons, advancing to the Divisional Championship game 15 times. Popp’s teams have also appeared in 10 Grey Cup matches, lifting the Grey Cup itself four times. Whilst his Montreal teams missed the playoffs in 2015 & 2016, that was too good a pedigree for the Argonauts to pass on.
In turn, Popp brought in Marc Trestman. Trestman and Popp had worked together in Montreal between 2008 and 2012. During that time Trestman managed a 66-38 record and his teams appeared in the post season every year, went to 3 Grey Cups and won 2 of them. Again, his CFL pedigree was excellent.
Trestman brought immediate stability to the team and named Ricky Ray his opening day starter. Ray has delivered so far this season, and so have a raft of new names on the Argos books. SJ Green was arguably brought in from the Alouettes to act as a mentor to younger wide receivers. In reality he has delivered a great season including some spectacular highlight reel catches, adding up to him having a superstar season. Former Florida State Seminole James Wilder Jr has begun to establish himself as the team’s workhorse back and the D has been a real force at times. Perhaps the standout has been on the D line where Oregon State product and NFL journeyman Victor Butler has had a real impact.
The Argonauts have been fortunate this season too. They are in a division where no team currently has a winning record, so that their own modest 7-7 sees them 3 points clear of closest rival Ottawa. We will see how far they have come over the next 4 games as they finish out their season against four western Division teams. You can only play with the hand that is dealt to you however and the Double Blue have certainly played their hand well so far for a team that started the season with so little to shout about.