Grey Cup champion Argos lauded in Toronto victory parade
Chad Owens danced onstage with his young son while Jalil Carter rode shirtless in the back of a pickup truck sipping from a Tim Hortons cup, and Adriano Belli planted a smooch on Toronto's embattled mayor.
Cornerback Evan McCollough arrived late, running to catch up to the parade at Yonge Street.
The Argonauts and their fans celebrated a rare treat Tuesday — a championship party in their own backyard.
And all the crazy antics culminated with the common refrain of "Repeat!" from a CFL team and its fans that could certainly get used to winning.
"All the ups, the downs, the stretches we went through, when we lost five out of six games, just knowing that we stuck together, persevered through and never lost sight of our dream and our goal and we made it through," said Owens, the wide receiver who won the league's Most Outstanding Player award this season.
"It's so special. The 100th Grey Cup. In our city. Never going to forget that."
The Argonauts paraded the venerable trophy through downtown Toronto, arriving at Nathan Phillips Square to a festive lunchtime crowd of several thousand to celebrate Sunday's 35-22 victory over the Calgary Stampeders in the 100th Grey Cup.
Fans — clad in jerseys and tuques in the Argos' double blue — lined the streets and packed into the square, bouncing up and down top the blaring pop music. Some blew on horns, others waved Argos flags or white towels in celebration of the team's first championship since 2004.
"This is awesome," said quarterback Ricky Ray. "It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not everybody gets to win the Grey Cup, and experience what we got to today, and just to come here and share it with our fans is awesome."
The fans and players came ready to party. Carter, a rookie defensive back, danced shirtless atop a truck despite the numbing 3 C temperature, hollering at fans "Man, it's hot out!"
One fan yelled back, about the Tim Hortons he clutched: "Carter, what's in your cup?"
It was the first championship celebration in Toronto since the Argos won the Grey Cup eight years ago and will be a shot in the arm for the city's long-suffering sports fans.
Canada's largest sports market has been its most underachieving. Baseball's Blue Jays haven't won a championship since 1993, hockey's Maple Leafs have been shut out since 1967 and basketball's Raptors and soccer's Toronto FC haven't even come close.
"This is what you work for, this is what these guys put all their hours in for, and to have it in your own city, it doesn't get any better than that," said rookie head coach Scott Milanovich.
"It's been awesome, we've felt the love all week, we could kind of feel the city turning and seeing the people wearing Argos gear outside and the chants going on downtown, it's been fun and hopefully that's going to carry over to next year."
Breaking the curse
The Argonauts seemed destined to break Toronto's sports curse since the beginning of the CFL season when they acquired Ray in a blockbuster trade with the Edmonton Eskimos, announcing they were serious about playing for the Cup in their hometown.
"When you take a job, you've got two or three years to do it or they fire you," said general manager Jim Barker. "We were fortunate, things fell our way, we were able to make some deals, we were able to sign some players. . .things just kind of fell into place.
"Now we can take off and move forward. It's like this is the beginning, it really is."
The players danced onto the Nathan Phillips Square stage one by one — Owens, preceded by his nine-year-old son Chad Jr. The crowd exploded when defensive captain Jordan Younger hoisted the Grey Cup aloft.
Mayor Rob Ford, wearing an Argos jersey with No. 1 on the front, didn't get nearly as much love, despite declaring it "Toronto Argonauts Day."
"This is what you call a dream come true folks. We said they could do it and they did it," said Ford, who was greeted with a mix of boos and cheers one day after a judge ordered him removed from office in 14 days on conflict on interest charges.
Ford got a better response when defensive tackle Adriano Belli — known as the "Kissing Bandit" — grabbed him around the neck to plant a kiss on his cheek.
A fleet of 28 pickup trucks and one convertible carried quarterback Ray, running back and Grey Cup MVP Chad Kackert, Owens, and the rest of the players of their families — and, of course, the Grey Cup itself — along the parade route.
"I can't cry again, I'm starting to become that guy," said defensive end Ricky Foley, a native of nearby Courtice, Ont., who was named the Grey Cup's most valuable Canadian.
"There were a lot of Argos jerseys out there — a lot of double blue — but there was guys in business suits and people in cabs, and people from all walks of life celebrating what we did for this city and what they helped us accomplish."
Foley told the crowd: "We love you guys, My city, my teams, my family" then launched into a chant of "Repeat!"
Led by the 39-year-old Milanovich, the Argos started to come together late in the season and took that momentum into the playoffs, where they easily handled Edmonton in a East Division semifinal before winning a tight East final over the rival Alouettes in Montreal.
Never in danger
They were never in danger against Calgary in front of a rowdy sellout crowd of 53,208 at Rogers Centre on Sunday as Kackert racked up 195 total yards and the defence keeping the Stampeders out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter.
"Well the whole event was just spiritual, when 53,000 people sang O' Canada, I almost cried," said lifelong Argos fan Ron Bob. "Nobody heard Burton Cummings doing what he was doing. But I'll tell you, the feeling in there was just incredible.
"It was a great year for the Argo fans, we were vocal all year long, supported them, and boy when the Argos came running out of that tunnel, you could feel the energy supporting them. Calgary didn't have a chance."
The Argos, Owens said, proved that anything is possible regardless of a team's record.
"You get into the playoffs and you give yourself a chance, we proved you could do that," said the player fondly known as the "Flyin' Hawaiian."
"Honestly I'm still kind of speechless about it," Owens added. "I'm definitely excited, I know that we won, but it hasn't really sunken in deep in there yet. I'm still on a high, I'm still on a cloud, I'm still floating. It's unbelievable."
Argos fan Jennifer Claybo, who was at Sunday's game, said she wasn't going to pass up the parade.
"This is history, 100 years. I'm not going to be around in 100 years. I'm going to be able to tell my kids and my grandkids, 'Hey, guess what? We were there.' And they can tell their kids and grandkids. It's great."