Toronto Argonauts' Adriano Belli and centre Jeff Keeping kiss while holding the cup as they celebrate after winning the 100th CFL Grey Cup Sunday, November 25, 2012, in Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Argonauts.ca’s Mike Hogan started calling the team’s radio play-by-play in 2000. His only opportunity to call a Grey Cup game was in 2012. As TSN is set to replay the 2012 and 2017 Argo wins tonight, “Hoagie” gave us ten memories from the 100th Grey Cup to whet the appetite for tonight’s championship doubleheader.
Wasn’t it cool to be in a football town for a while? For die-hard Argos fans, it was just another week of CFL football, with the first chance in 30 years to see the team play in the Grey Cup at home, the second chance since 1952.
Local media attended practices. Nathan Phillips Square was dedicated to the game. The CFL had a presence in Toronto and it felt awfully good.
9. TheFinal Call
Football is a little different than the other major sports. As opposed to playing every day or two, there’s a full week, sometimes two, between games. If you’re in the media it gives you ample time to prep, search for storylines, and try to find the most interesting angles to cover.
As a play-by-play guy, this was going to be my second opportunity to call the “home” team in a championship game, having called Laurier Golden Hawk games when they won the 2005 Vanier Cup.
When I looked back on that day I realized I didn’t have a final call prepared, and when the Golden Hawks pulled off an enormous upset by stunning the Saskatchewan Huskies, I didn’t have a final call ready, especially one that lived up to the dramatic way they won, on a 32-yard field goal by Brian Devlin with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
I learned from that.
With a full week to prepare I wanted to have something ready, something that lived up to a game as significant as the 100th Grey Cup. I kept thinking about the call, then while in the car on the Tuesday before the game it hit. I wrote the line down as soon as I got home.
I realized I was going to go with it, but thought it needed something more. When I thought about that group and what made it different was that it truly was a team in every sense. Ricky Ray was great, but it wasn’t just him. Chad Owens was the league’s Most Outstanding Player, but it wasn’t just him either.
It seemed that with the 2012 Argos somebody different stepped up and led the way each game. I wanted to stress that aspect in the call as well. I knew it would work better if they had the ball at the end of the game and were able to take a knee to run out the clock.
Fate helped me out that day. As Ray took the final snap from Jeff Keeping, I intentionally did not call any player by name. They won as a team, so I was going to make sure I didn’t single anyone out.
“They are in victory formation. They snap it. They take the knee, and it’s official. The Toronto Argonauts are the ‘Team of the Century.’ They have won the 100th Grey Cup.”
It may not be Shakespeare, but it’s eight years later and I don’t think I’d change a word.
8. The Bandit
The Grey Cup game was held in late November, but October 17, 2012 was a vital date for the Argos; it was the day they signed Adriano Belli.
Zander Robinson had been injured and the Argos needed a Canadian defensive lineman and fast. That’s not an easy commodity to find, so General Manager Jim Barker signed Belli, who had retired after the 2010 season – holding the party on a boat while he was dressed in an all-white sailor suit – then played for Team Canada in 2011 at the IFAF world championship, winning a silver medal.
The signing turned out to be pivotal.
A football season is a grind. The Argos were a super-talented team with an amazing coaching staff. There was no shortage of leadership, both vocal and silent, but there was something missing.
The defensive tackle was a fantastic player who not only crossed the line in terms of clean play, he’d often jump over that line with both feet, draw another line, then jump over it too. It defined him almost as much as his tradition of greeting people with a kiss on both cheeks.
It always caught those who didn’t know him off guard. Belli’s joie de vivre brought an incredibly important intangible into the mix at the perfect time; he made football fun again.
Not that the Argos weren’t enjoying the season, but it’s easy to fall into a routine after seeing the same faces every day for five months. Belli broke that pattern.
He made people laugh. Whether it was by wearing skimpy shorts on the practice field, or pulling pranks in the locker room, a new-found energy found its way into Argoland at the absolute perfect time.
The Argos lost their first game with Belli in the lineup but would not lose again the rest of the season. His on-field contributions were solid if unspectacular (though he was ejected for rough play in the third quarter of the Grey Cup game) but the intangibles he brought to that team were exceptionally important.
7. Big Joe
Expectations were high when the Argos made the Washington State product the second-overall pick in the 2010 CFL Draft. At 6’8”, 310 pounds, Joe Eppele was looked upon as a future impact player.
He struggled at times, but sure knew how to pick his spot. While the native of Squamish, B.C. never did live up his lofty billing, he was a major contributor to the Argos reaching, and then winning the Grey Cup.
Eppele had started at the beginning of the season but found himself out of the starting lineup by season’s end. An injury to Wayne Smith opened the door for Eppele, who would line up at left guard in a playoff game against Edmonton.
The key to beating the Eskimos was controlling the middle of their stacked defensive line. Almondo Sewell, Ted Laurent and Donald Oramasionwu dominated from their tackle positions, while J.C. Sherritt was a tackling machine as the middle linebacker.
The Argos got good news early when it was announced an injury would keep Sherritt out of the lineup, meaning rookie Simoni Lawrence would get the start. That didn’t mean there wouldn’t be pressure on Eppele, far from it.
He was stellar. Eppele played his best football that November. Ray would be sacked just four times in the three playoff games, while Chad Kackert was a major factor running the ball in all three outings.
Eppele took a question mark and turned it into an exclamation point. He was fantastic in all three games.
6. Homegrown Heroes
In the 2020 free agency period, Argos General Manager Michael Clemons stressed the importance of bringing talented local players back to Toronto. Both he and Vice President of Player Personnel John Murphy believe local players seem to take added pride in playing in front of friends and family every night, and repping the home colours.
That strategy also worked in 2012.
A dozen players from the GTA played for that championship team. Some, like Andre Durie, Ricky Foley, Jeff Keeping and Adriano Belli had higher profiles. Jeff Johnson, Mike Bradwell, Jason Potttinger and Matt Black were solid contributors who didn’t share the same degree of spotlight – though Black certainly would five years later.
Andrew Jones, Joel Reinders, Kyle Jones and Tristan Black were the other local players who were able to win a championship at home, something they’ll certainly never forget.
5. The Staff
When Scott Milanovich was hired, I knew nothing about him as a person. I was aware of him in college, don’t remember seeing him play a pro game, and knew little about him from his time in Montreal.
He was considered for the head coaching job in 2010 but turned it down.
Milanovich wasn’t an easy guy to get to know. He was guarded at first, sizing up members of the media, sensing if he should establish a close relationship with them, or keep them at arm’s length, sensing they were they type that might burn him.
Once a comfort level was established he was as open and honest as one could imagine, often giving a “coach speak” non-answer answer in a media scrum, then telling me what I needed to know, often in an off-the-record manner, helping this media member understand the reasons behind a player move or other matter.
When you saw that side of the coach you understood why he was able to assemble an amazing staff.
Milanovich ran the offence, joined on that side of the ball by Jason Maas, Stephen McAdoo and Kez McCorvey. Chris Jones would be brought in from Calgary to run the defence, joined by Orlondo Steinauer and Cory Stone. Mike O’Shea was the special teams coordinator.
It was a CFL coaching “Dream Team,” with all three aspects of the game operating at high efficiency throughout the season, particularly in the playoffs. The staff was an enormous reason why the team was able to win the title.
He was often overlooked, mainly because of the depth and talent level of the Argos defence, but Ejiro Kuale made an impact on those who paid attention. He was certainly a factor in the 2012 Grey Cup final.
Kuale was a physical specimen. He had muscles in places most humans don’t have places. The LSU product played football at 101 miles-an-hour and when he hit, the person on the other side knew it.
He was often used as a fullback in short-yardage situations and delivered some exceptionally violent blocks. The Daytona Beach, Florida native was also a vocal leader in the locker room, giving the team its post-Milanovich, lead-the-team-out-of-the-room pre-game speeches.
Kuale was the player who, in the East Final in Montreal, forced Anthony Calvillo out of the pocket, forcing a third-down incomplete pass that decided that game and gave the Argos their Grey Cup berth.
A week later in the championship game, Kuale made his presence felt early and often. He was zoned in on Jon Cornish, as were the rest of his teammates. He made his presence felt on special teams as well. It was impossible to watch the game without noticing number five.
There were bigger names on that defence, but players like Kuale and Armond Armstead were spectacular in that game. It exemplified the “team” aspect on that side of the ball.
3. The Best Beer Ever.
Grey Cup week was incredibly busy. Along with doing play-by-play for that game, I was also calling the Vanier Cup game, featuring Laval and McMaster, which was to be played the Friday night before the CFL championship game. The week for me consisted of covering four practices every day, plus some of the other events, like the CFL Outstanding Player Awards. I also had to prep for the two title games.
I attended zero parties that week.
Here’s some inside baseball (inside football?). When we did a coach’s pre-game interview, or talked to a player for the pre-game show, it was actually recorded the day before the game. For the Grey Cup, Scott Milanovich asked if we could do the radio interview after the Friday news conference, because he wanted fewer distractions that weekend.
As we finished the conversation, he asked me how my Grey Cup week was going. I told him I was covering both games, and astonishingly hadn’t even had a beer yet. After he laughed I told him that “My first beer this week is going to be out of the Grey Cup Sunday night after you win it.”
The night the Cup was won, the players and staff held a celebration in a hall at the Hilton Hotel. They were nice enough to invite my radio broadcast partner Sandy Annunziata and me to the soiree. I brought my wife Chris and stepson Riley, who were still beaming after the win. People were posing with the trophy and getting pictures, but nobody was drinking out of it, though it had served as a chalice in the locker room immediately following the game.
I said to heck with it, grabbed Riley and we headed toward the trophy, beer in hand. When it was our turn for a picture, I emptied my full bottle into the Cup and proceeded to chug the contents.
Riley took a picture of me drinking what remains the best damn beer I’ve ever had. It was well worth the wait.
2. Y-U Y-U
When you get within an arm’s length of a team, you start focusing less and less on stories, and more and more on personalities. The 2012 Argos were no exception.
It’s hard to pick a favourite player or two because there were so many likable people on that team, but three of my faves are linked by not only their Argo connection, but because I had the opportunity to call games while the trio played at York University.
To be kind, York hasn’t had a tremendous amount of team success over its history, but has produced some pretty great players, with three of the best being on the team we’re reminiscing about.
Jeff Johnson was the oldest of the trio and had established himself as an underappreciated running back and a terror on special teams. His unmatched dedication made him a leader by example. Ricky Foley and Andre Durie were teammates at YU a handful of seasons later, all three of them being superstars at the OUA level.
Each one of them made an impact that day.
The special teams did a pretty good job against the dangerous Larry Taylor, and both “J.J.” and Foley had special teams tackles. Durie’s fourth-quarter touchdown put the game away, while Foley was a beast on defence. The group shut down Hall of Fame running back Jon Cornish, its biggest challenge of the day. The man who led the CFL in 2012 with 1,457 yards was held to just 57 yards on 15 carries, while adding one catch for two yards.
Foley finished with four defensive tackles, adding the one mentioned on special teams. He also had one sack, and on one first-quarter play came in fast off the edge. Calgary QB Kevin Glenn noticed this, took his eyes off his running back, leading to a bad exchange and a fumble, which Foley recovered. He would be named the game’s Most Outstanding Canadian, breaking down in tears when he was given that news by then Argos Vice President of Marketing and Communications Beth Waldman.
A kid from Courtice, one from Mississauga, the other from Mimico. The former a first-round draft pick by B.C., the latter pair undrafted.
Following the trio from their days at York to seeing them lift the Grey Cup remains an unforgettable part of that day.
He became the Argos starting running back amid controversy, but Chad Kackert cemented his place in team history with a spectacular Sunday against the Stampeders.
The Simi Valley, California native arrived in Toronto in 2011 with little to no fanfare. At first glance he was another Jeff Johnson, well shy of 6’0”, muscular and fast. Most recently with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he may not have been a longshot to make the team, but with Cory Boyd as the returning starter he certainly wasn’t a favourite.
That changed one night in Winnipeg.
In the team’s second pre-season game Boyd started and looked like, well, a starter in a second pre-season game who knew his job was safe. He justifiably only wanted to stay healthy for the regular season kickoff.
Kackert on the other hand needed to impress and made his mark in the fourth quarter. Runs of 10 and 22 yards preceded a scamper down the left sidelines for a 73-yard touchdown, his first chance to show off his sub-4.4 speed in game action. After showing his abilities with a pair of TD runs the week before, the 73-yarder erased any doubt that he was going to make the team.
Milanovich made a controversial move in August, 2012 when he released Boyd, who was leading the CFL in rushing at the time, on pace for a 1,300-yard season. The coach liked Boyd when he was carrying the ball, but hated his blocking ability, or lack thereof. He knew if the Argos were going anywhere the most important thing they had to do was protect Ray and Milanovich didn’t feel Boyd was cutting it in that category.
He silenced the critics early, as Boyd’s 5.5-yard average was surpassed by the newbie’s 6.4-yard pace. He made everyone applaud the move when the playoffs showed up.
Kackert would rush for 88 yards in the East Semi against Edmonton, 139 more against Montreal in the East Final, including a dramatic 49-yard explosion that gave the Argos a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It set the table for an unforgettable championship game.
At that position, most of the attention that week was on Calgary’s Jon Cornish, but it didn’t take long to figure out who was going to be the alpha back that day.
Cornish struggled. The Double Blue “D” sold out to stop him, and as mentioned did a remarkable job. Kackert on the other hand stole the show.
He’d rush for 133 yards on 20 carries and add 62 more on eight receptions. He didn’t find the end zone, but did the heavy lifting needed on that day. Kackert would fittingly be named the game’s Most Valuable Player.