So how long does it take to build a championship team?
One season, if you're the Toronto Argonauts.
The Argos have just created a case study that proves this statement. I for one have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Argo's evolve into a championship team right before my eyes.
And, I hate to say I told you so...no I don't, I love it.
We had just come off a season when the B.C. Lions, after a horrible start to the 2011 season, regrouped, made some slight adjustments and finished as champions. We were once again reminded that it is not how you start the season, but rather how you finish that counts.
"The team that I believe will evolve the most this season and the team that I am most interested in watching is the Toronto Argonauts," I wrote in June.
"General manager Jim Barker has done a fantastic job of bringing together very talented coaches and players to round out his team for this season. It will be interesting to see if these individuals come together as a good football team by November to make a push for the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto"
Not only was it entertaining to watch the Argo's grow and eventually win the Grey Cup, it was the best thing that could have possibly happened for the CFL.
Commissioner Mark Cohon was all smiles Sunday night as he watched the Argos control the game from start to finish.
Oh sure, he made politically correct statements heading into the game, but he knows that the success of the league falls largely on the back of football in Southern Ontario.
That being said, Toronto and Hamilton were the only two teams this season that lost money.
Without hockey competing in the sports market, Cohon had the perfect storm to thrust the CFL onto centre stage, rather than the usual last page of the sports page.
If this year can't get the football fans in Ontario excited about the CFL, then I don't know what will.
This victory will secure the CFL for the next five years.
Milanovich deserves credit
Head coach Scott Milanovich has to be given a ton of credit for understanding exactly what he needed to duplicate from his offensive success in Montreal.
Obviously, the key to everything that the Argos were able to accomplish this year is easily traced to "The Trade" that brought Ricky Ray to Toronto in the off-season. Whether it was a back-room conspiracy or not, Ray coming to the Argos gave them a legitimate shot at winning the Grey Cup. This depended on how fast he could grasp the offence, and how quickly his supporting cast could be assembled.
The fact that Ray was able to get this done inside of a year places him as one of the all-time great quarterbacks ever to play in the CFL. He also is a sure bet for entrance into the CFL Hall of Fame.
Chad Kackert comes through
Milanovich's first big in-season decision was highly criticized after he cut CFL leading rusher Cory Boyd during the team's bye-week in the summer. Many shook their heads at the idea of kicking one of the most productive offensive weapons out the door.
"After evaluating our entire football team through the first third of the season, we felt this was one of the changes necessary to move our team forwards," Milanovich
Milanovich knew that if the Argos were going to make a push to be a championship team, they needed to embrace the idea of being a pass-first offence. Unfortunately, Boyd had a difficult time grasping the protection schemes, and if he figured out who to block, he was brutal at it.
Ray had to have time in the pocket.
But Chad Kackert, really?
This was the gutsiest move of the season.
Milanovich was clear that cutting Boyd was only one of the changes necessary to move forward. If the Argos were to forge ahead, their offensive line had to improve. I believe that moving Wayne Smith to guard and bringing in Tony Washington to play left tackle was just as significant as getting rid of Boyd.
The fact that Barker was able to claim Washington from the Calgary Stampders as a late training-camp casualty only adds to the irony.
I believe that these two moves were what started the Argos moving in the right direction. It eventually produced one of the strongest offensive lines in the league at the end of the season.
Argos more than Chad Owens
I would first like to say congratulations to Chad Owens for an amazing year.
The ability for one player to accumulate over 3,800 yards of offence is mind blowing. However, if the Argos were to turn into an offence that could score majors rather than constantly settling for field goals, other offensive threats needed to step forward.
Dontrelle Inman, Jason Barnes, Andre Durie and Maurice Mann emerged as a dangerous group of receivers. The fact that Calgary was able to hold Owens to only two catches for 14 yards speaks to how far the other receivers have come.
I hope that we get to see more of Inman next season. The catch and near touchdown catch by Inman at the goal-line required a ridiculous amount of talent.
It was a smart move by Milanovich to challenge the ruling on the field of down by contact at the one-yard line, even though it wasn't overturned. It looked like he broke the plane of the goal-line with the football but there wasn't a camera angle that could provide conclusive evidence to change the ruling on the field. From what I saw, it sure looked like a touchdown.
Defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones assembled a young, athletic group of players that competed with a tremendous amount of speed. In order to create some space on the field, Calgary utilized nine different receivers. At the end of the day, Toronto had too many interchangeable parts and too much speed for the Stampeders to handle.
Calgary QB Kevin Glenn never felt comfortable in the pocket and a large part of it had to do with the Argonauts' defence, which completely erased Jon Cornish from the football game. Without the threat of a running game, Glenn was forced to distribute the ball, something he didn't do particularly well.
The Stampeders' offence had no answer for the defensive speed of the Argos. I guess Calgary offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson has some work in the off-season.
How long does it take to build a championship team? The Argos did it in one year.
It will be now be interesting to see if Southern Ontario finally embraces this team once again.
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