It was a Double Blue version of Field of Dreams.
Legends from bygone days of the Toronto Argonauts recently gathered for their annual alumni association reunion at BMO Field, joined by a handful of players and coaches from the current team.
Bill Symons and Doyle Orange – the team’s first two 1,000-yard rushers – were both there. Placekicker Lance Chomyc – the leading scorer in Argo history – was spotted chatting with Boris Bede, the man who currently plays his old position.
Former Laurier receivers Andre Talbot and Kurleigh Gittens Jr. shared stories, while Adam Rita and Mike McCarthy, the masterminds behind the 1991 Grey Cup win were spotted laughing; old friends given a chance to catch up.
Scenes like this happened repeatedly throughout the event.
The eight Grey Cup championship teams from 1983 to 2022 were all represented, as was the 1971 squad, the greatest team that never won.
They gathered to not only to visit with former teammates and perhaps meet some fellow alumni they had not been introduced to before, but to prepare for a year where their on-field accomplishments will be celebrated like never before, in this, the 150th anniversary of Argonaut football.
“It an extraordinary thing, and I love that I’m part of it,” said Dan Ferrone, the left guard on the ’83 and ’91 Grey Cup championship teams and a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. “It’s a testament to the Argo organization and how it’s been able to survive and endure but prosper at the same time. I’m glad I’m a part of it.”
Ferrone is like many over the years who have been an Argo, spent some time away, but eventually found their way back to the fold; his run as a player was interrupted by one mid-career season with Calgary. After his retirement he would coach the offensive line, then serve as the team’s vice-president, then president for the ’04 Grey Cup season, giving him a third ring.
He’s now on the executive of the Argonauts Alumni Association.
Andre Talbot is in the same boat. The receiver spent the first nine seasons of his career in Double Blue before being dealt to Edmonton, where he would spend one final season in the CFL.
When his career ended following the 2010 season, he spent most his time establishing his business, the Spirit Loft yoga studio in East Toronto. He found himself separated from the team to which he dedicated almost a decade of his life.
But following the end of the pandemic he’s found himself getting closer to the team once again. A member of the 2004 Grey Cup champs – he was proudly wearing his championship ring at the reunion – he’s been going to more games of late; engaging with the alumni, and he even drove to Guelph to even attend a day at training camp last year.
“It’s a beautiful experience to be around old teammates, to be around guys who had a similar experience as me,” he told Argonauts.ca. “Their love of the game, their passion for the game, their drive to play at the highest level. It’s good to be able to come back and taste that again.”
And he was able to do with some old friends.
“I haven’t sat down with Marcello Simmons in years and right away (snaps fingers) I was with a friend again,” explained Talbot. “That’s what’s drawn me back. As well, MLSE sees the importance of this as a cultural, environmental thing for this organization; to enrich the Argo culture with the alumni again.”
It’s something Argos President Bill Manning has worked hard to revitalize. While working for four years with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, he saw the importance of the relationship between players past and present and wants to replicate that in Toronto.
Former players who join the alumni association are rewarded with tickets, substantial food and merchandise discounts at games, as well as access to the team’s alumni suite, located in the south-west corner of the stadium.
Several events and in-game promotions – which will be expanded upon publicly in the next few days – are putting the rich history of the team in the spotlight. With 18 Grey Cup titles and over 50 players and coaches in the Hall of Fame, there are plenty of players, plays and memories to highlight.
For a player like Chomyc, who amassed 1,498 points over nine seasons in Double Blue, meeting his current positional counterpart was invigorating.
“It was great to get a chance to meet Boris tonight and have a great chat with him and see the game through his eyes that I saw through my eyes 40 years ago,” said Chomyc. “That part is where the 150 years begins to get meaningful to me.”
It’s that interplay between the generations that has both alumni and the current roster players excited. There’s also a pride among the alumni when they see the success of the last couple of years, specifically a cold evening in Regina last November when the Argos would win their 18th championship. It allowed players like Bede and Gittens to join the many players at the reunion who had won rings in the past.
Talbot summed it up best.
“We want the young guys to be successful and to carry that torch.”