The Toronto Argonauts clinched a spot in the 2021 Canadian Football League postseason in Week 13 despite their inconsistent form up to that point. Whether or not they lock up first place in the East Division is irrelevant as they’re already assured of competing in at least one playoff game.
You may be wondering how that can be when the team has been anything but consistent. Is it luck? Or is it just that the East is ordinary? To answer those questions and to shed some light on whether this is normal for them, 13th Man Sports got together with Argonauts historian James Fraser to get his take on the 2021 iteration of the Argos.
In Part one of a two-part series, we get an insight into the club that has won more Grey Cups than any other team in CFL history.
According to Fraser, it’s somewhat of a surprise that the Argos have already clinched a playoff berth.
Related: CFL Power Rankings – Week 14
“I think you have to be,” he said. “Because of the pandemic, they’ve more or less had to completely rebuild the team from the team that they had completely rebuilt in 2019. There was a lot of talk about big-name free agent signings, so some people were feeling quite confident that the Argos were going to be, if not favourites, then certainly strong.”
“But if you know anything about the team, it was pretty hard to feel too confident about that. Not only had they not made the playoffs in the previous two years, but they’d been just awful with four or five wins.”
Fraser goes on to say one of the problems going into this season was that Toronto didn’t have an established quarterback. McLeod Bethel-Thompson has had his critics and Nick Arbuckle, who was recently traded to Edmonton, was coming in without having been a regular starter.
On top of that, their coach Ryan Dinwiddie is a rookie head coach as the 2020 season, which would have been his first, didn’t happen because of COVID-19.
But judging by their past track record, it would be myopic to expect Toronto to be one and done in the postseason. For example, in 2017 when they last won a Grey Cup, the Argos finished the regular season with a 9-9 win-loss record. And they had done so twice previously yet won it all.
“Historically speaking, apart from the two years when they had Doug Flutie and a bit of the year when they had (Rocket) Ismail, the Argos have never been the kind of team to really dominate,” continued Fraser.
“Even in their very best years, in the ’80s when they had Bob O’Billovich as their coach and they won a Grey Cup and went to two others, they were only first place in the East some of the time and Hamilton was first at other points.”
He added that in recent history, and very much so in 2017, the tendency has been to adopt a trial-and-error process through the first half of the season until they find a formula that works.
“People in CFL circles often say the season doesn’t start till Labour Day (pre-pandemic),” Fraser said. “There’s so much roster turnover you often don’t get a lot of guys sticking around for a really long period of time so it’s a season of two halves and the second half is what’s really important.”
So, is this season any different given that it’s an abbreviated one?
“With the Argos, you’re not seeing any momentum,” said Fraser. “It’s not like they’ve figured something out and now they’re just going to start rolling. It seems as though they’re still kind of floundering around a little bit.”
“The offence isn’t quite working yet they’re managing to scrape out one-point or two-point wins in the fourth quarter. That’s great, a win’s a win, but it doesn’t forebode much in terms of the playoffs.”
On reflection, Fraser said he was hoping Toronto would make the playoffs this year, but he wasn’t necessarily expecting them to do so.
“I was expecting from the buzz that they would be better and would be worth watching,” he said. “I’m a little bit surprised that some people on social media seem to feel like what’s happened so far is more problematic than it is something to be celebrated as being a real wow!”
“I think it’s a real surprise.”
Surprise or not, Toronto is in a good position to make a genuine run at the holy grail of Canadian football. First things first though, they need to take care of business in the East Division which apart from Ottawa has been relatively competitive this year.