SIMMONS: Champion Argos – we care the least, they win the most

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The unlikely Gray Cup championship was won, then lost, then won, then lost again, then celebrated, all in a matter of seconds and circumstances on a frozen Sunday night of football in Regina.

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This was a Gray Cup for the ages and maybe for the highlight reels. A documentary waiting to happen.

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This is what the Argos do in between their seasons of anonymity. They win titles they’re not supposed to win. They beat teams they’re not supposed to beat. On Sunday, it was the dynastic Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Before that, it was the always great Calgary Stampeders, twice. And before that, it was against the favored BC Lions.

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That’s four Gray Cup wins in 18 years in a city normally starved for championships of any kind. It’s nearly 30 years since the Blue Jays’ last win. It’s the only Raptors title in 28 years in the NBA. It’s 16 seasons for Toronto FC and one MLS championship celebration. And we know how long it’s been for the Maple Leafs, no titles since the NHL expanded from six teams to 12 and eventually to 32. Fifty-fives in all.

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The Argos have won four Gray Cups in the time period in which the Leafs have not won a playoff round.
And all this for the adopted child of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment – ​​the kid they really don’t want – which keeps shocking the Canadian Football League with low attendance numbers and more championships these past 18 years than any other CFL team.

The Argos have four. Only the Stampeders and Alouettes are close over the past 20 seasons. The Argos have four in 18 years – combined, Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC, Blue Jays – have two in that time frame.

And this victory came after an emotional fourth quarter and a tough, physical, pounding of a football game.

You may not know the name Robbie Smith, ordinary as it may sound, as one of the Argos to pay any attention to. And because we don’t follow the roster the way we once did and don’t pay enough attention to anyone selected in the first round of the CFL Draft he becomes little known.

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Smith went to St. Thomas Aquinas high school in Brampton, Ont., out of that city that keeps producing athlete after athlete, and that after starred at Wilfrid Laurier University. And on Sunday night he was almost everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly for the Argos, and in the end, maybe the difference between a ring and no ring.

The Argos trailed Winnipeg 17–14 when the fourth quarter began. They kicked the ball to Janarion Grant, the Gizmo Williams of this era, and Grant took it for a record 102-yard punt return to put the Blue Bombers up by nine points. What didn’t seem to matter all that much at the time was the missed extra point by Winnipeg kicker Marc Liegghio.

It mattered later.

The score was 23–24 instead of 23–14. It looked as though the Bombers were heading for a third straight championship.

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The goat on the punt return, if there is such a thing – the guy who lost his lane – was Smith. The Argos bounced back, somewhat, with a field goal of their own. Suddenly it was 23-17. Not long after that, the Argos starting quarterback, McLeod Bethel-Thompson took his last snap of the night. He tried throwing a ball to Brandon Banks, was hit, and injured his thumb.

He was done – it looked like the Argos were too.

The Argos turned to Chad Kelly, who rarely got to play during the season, no matter how badly Bethel-Thompson played. There were many times to put Kelly in during the season but head coach Ryan Dinwiddie stuck with his starter. Until he had no choice.

Kelly went in and instantly completed two passes and looked reasonably comfortable for someone who had barely played before. On his first drive, the Argos went to punt and Smith got called for holding. Instead of getting the Bombers deep or winding up with a single point, Winnipeg took over the ball.

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Smith seemed to be in the middle of just about everything. He missed his lane, he got called for holding, and later he sacked Zach Collaros late in the game in what looked like a game-changing play for the Argos – but he was called for a facemask penalty.

All that circled the improbable Kelly drive that led to the Argos going ahead 24-23. Kelly did what Bethel-Thomson couldn’t really do in the final minutes of the Gray Cup. He ran for 20 yards, didn’t just run for 20 yards, but avoided being sacked, juked once or twice, and wound up with the Argos’ longest carry of the night.

AJ Ouellette scored his second touchdown of the game – both on short runs – and with 3:40 to go the Argos were ahead by a point.

Three forty in CFL time is enough for three scores and then some. But in order, Henoc Muamba, the teary-eyed MVP, intercepted a Collaros pass. Which led to what might have been the game-clinching field goal.

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Only it was blocked.

And the Bombers got the ball back, down one point, with lots of time remaining. They worked their way to the Argos 40-yard line. A 47-yard field goal would put them ahead.

Only the kick by Liegghio was blocked by Smith.

In one Gray Cup quarter, there was a punt return for a touchdown, a counter punt return by the Argos for 44 yards, two blocked field goal attempts, a sack that wasn’t, and a quarterback coming from almost nowhere to push Toronto to victory.

Try explaining that in a short conversation. You can’t. The Argos are forever unexplainable. When this city cared the most, they won the least. Now the opposite. Now once again, Gray Cup champions.

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