October 2, 2021

Hogan: John Candy’s presence still felt

In a way it’s rather puzzling. He spent only three years with the Toronto Argonauts and never took a snap, but his name still resonates within the organization and with fans; not only of the Argos but right across the CFL.

It all makes perfect sense though when you realize the person that you’re talking about is John Candy.

The larger-than-life comedian was a part-owner of the Argos between 1991-93 before tragically passing away in March 1994. His unadulterated love for the team was obvious, as was his desire to have more people share that passion.

When the Argos take to the field against the Ottawa Redblacks at BMO Field this Wednesday night, the organization will mark the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Grey Cup winners, the team that won a championship in Candy’s first season as co-owner.

It was an enormously important occasion in the comedian’s life, a moment in time still remembered fondly by his family.

“It’s been 30 years and the Argos still mean so much to our family to this day,” John’s daughter Jennifer told Argonauts.ca in a Zoom conversation from her home in Los Angeles. “It’s an honour to still have the connection with the Argonauts. We keep in touch with Kelvin (offensive lineman Pruenster) and I’m so happy they’re all able to get together and celebrate because it was such a great team. They’re such good friends and will always be family.”

She was 11 years old when her dad bought the team. In those days the family – John, Jennifer, her mother Rose and younger brother Christopher – split time between winters in Los Angeles and summers and holidays on their farm near Queensville, just north of Newmarket.

The Candy crew all loved the team, but John Candy adored the Argos.

“They were part of the family,” she said with a huge smile. “Ever since he was little, he always wanted to be a football player and a knee injury prevented him from pursuing any kind of career. The Argos were always near and dear to his heart, so when he had the opportunity to become part-owner he jumped on that. He loved it. For him it was re-living all of his childhood fantasies.”

Sadly, he never got the chance to see his name engraved on the Grey Cup. Originally, only majority owner Bruce McNall’s name appeared on the chalice. It took another baker’s dozen years before Candy and fellow minority owner Wayne Gretzky saw their names added to the trophy.

While the Grey Cup was the holy grail for the family patriarch, there was another annual game during his time as owner that may have been even more important to the family dynamic.

“On my mom’s birthday we ended up doing something called the ‘Rose Bowl’ because my mom’s name is Rose,” explained Jennifer. “We would have a giant family football game. The first year it was in its early stages, we had our teams with our cousins, our aunts, our uncles, Kelvin Pruenster was on the team. We were all there, my grandma, you name it, they were there. The next year my dad went the next step and we got matching jerseys, one team wore the white jersey, the other team wore the navy jersey. We all picked our numbers, so it was Rose Bowl 2.0. Because of the Argos we ended up literally having football games on our own field in the backyard. That was pretty fun.”

Go figure. Something John Candy did involved an element of fun.

That’s an enormous reason why the former co-owner is so revered by people who remember his tenure here; he had fun as the owner. Whether it was flying across the country to promote an upcoming Argo game, or recording a couple of goofy commercials to pump season ticket sales, or walking out on stage at the end of the 1991 player awards show holding a sign that said ‘Argo Season Tickets’ followed by the box office phone number.

John Candy was the owner we all wish we could be. He poured his heart and soul into the organization and was rewarded by his players with one of the most memorable seasons in Argo history.

Many of the people affiliated with that team; players, management and staff, will be in attendance on Wednesday night to celebrate that remarkable season. Without question, the name of John Candy will be brought up time and time and time again and for good reason.

He was a major component of a once in a lifetime season.