May 3, 2024

Hogan: Argo Receivers Catch a Hall Call

They both made the game look easy, but for a pair of former Toronto Argonauts receivers their journey to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame was anything but.

As long as there are CFL highlights, fans will see footage of Chad Owens and SJ Green. Dissimilar in stature, but both giants in term of making spectacular plays.

The pair met with the media via video conference call on Thursday in advance of the public announcement of their Hall of Fame selection on Friday.

Both were receivers who arrived in Toronto after being cast off by the Montreal Alouettes; Owens at the beginning of his career, Green when the Als thought his was over. Each was a key component of an Argo Grey Cup victory.

The pair were teammates in Montreal in 2009; Green was just getting his feet wet as a pro, while Owens played but one game. The man dubbed “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” due to his hometown of Honolulu, was traded to Toronto in June 2010 for a fourth-round draft pick. Needless to say, Owens’ impact was greater than that of Renaldo Sagesse, the player selected with that pick.

The deal came about because of a meeting Owens had with Als GM Jim Popp, who laid out where the young receiver stood in what would rank as one of the deepest receiving corps ever assembled; Green, Jamel Richardson, Ben Cahoon, Kerry Watkins, Brian Bratton, and Owens, among others.

Owens would likely be headed back to the practice roster, so he asked for a trade.

“I actually went into Jim Popp’s office and was like, ‘Hey, are there any opportunities here?’” he told reporters. “He said we’re not going to release you, I’ll put you on the trade block and see what happens. Sure enough Toronto took the bait.”

His impact with the Boatmen was immediate. He instantly became the league’s most exciting player and most dominant returner, taking four kicks back for touchdowns and being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player.

Why did it work in Toronto?

“It was a perfect opportunity to come in and compete, showcase my skills. I played right away so it gave me the opportunity to do that. So, from the very first game, I believe it was Calgary, we took that thing back and the rest was history.”

It was a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown in his Argos debut versus the Stamps, but there was much more to come.

After two seasons of steady improvement as a receiver, Owens exploded in 2012. He had a new head coach in Scott Milanovich and a new quarterback in Ricky Ray. Owens benefitted more than anyone from the new additions, catching 94 passes for 1,328 yards while continuing to dominate as a returner.

He was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, but that wouldn’t be the best thing to happen to him. That would come a couple of days after winning the M.O.P. award.

The Argos would host the 100th Grey Cup game, lining up against the Stampeders. Midway through a scoreless first quarter and with the Argos on the Calgary five-yard line, the Argos faked a run to Chad Kackert and Ray hit Owens in the flat. He’d easily score, giving the Boatmen a lead they’d never relinquish.

“It was a simple play,” Owens recalled. “We called it in the huddle and I already knew it was going to be a touchdown because we studied the defence, we studied what they were going to do on this play. I just had to make one guy miss, not saying that wasn’t hard or anything, but it set the tone for the rest of the game. Scoring in the Grey Cup, in a Grey Cup game that you win, is definitely something that was super, super special.”

He had one more point to make; and leave it to a native of Hawaii to use a volcano analogy.

“And talk about an eruption, talk about a crowd? That 100th Grey Cup crowd was unbelievable. It was something out of a movie.”

It would take an even greater scriptwriter to come up with the plotline of the 2017 Grey Cup game, a championship that would not have been won without Solomon Green.

S.J. came to Toronto after a serious knee injury in Montreal. The Alouettes deemed him expendable and Popp, his former GM, and Marc Trestman, his former head coach, had just been hired by the Argos.

“I kind of forced my way into Toronto,” Green replied to a question from Argonauts.ca. “Once I realized that Jim Popp was gone, he was going to Toronto, and what really was the ticket was when they hired Marc Trestman, I’m like, man, my GM, my coach, they’re in Toronto, Montreal doesn’t want me, I want to go there.”

The former Als contingent thought the receiver had at least one more good year in him, so they traded for him, sending a sixth-round pick (Malcolm Carter) and a conditional sixth-round pick the following year (Etienne Moisan) to get him. Like the Owens trade with the Als several years earlier, the Argos would make out like bandits in the deal.

“I knew I had life left in me,” explained Green. “I knew there was productivity left in me and that’s why I was so adamant about wanting to be in a place where I was wanted. Going to Toronto was basically the second part of my career, even though it was three years, but it was the part of my career that was a second chance.”

Green’s impact was also immediate. In his first game as an Argo at BMO Field he was hit hard on a tough catch early in the game, which let him know his knee could take a hit. Later that quarter he made a spectacular one-handed catch over Simoni Lawrence showing everyone that his career was far from over.

Like Owens half-a-decade earlier, Green was a big part of a new regime’s immediate success. Again, like Owens, he found immediate chemistry with Ricky Ray and the team found itself in a Grey Cup game against Calgary. This contest would not be played in a dome, rather outdoors in blizzard conditions in Ottawa.

Green, like any Argos offensive player not named Devier Posey, had a tough go of things on that day. But when the Argos needed a play late in the fourth quarter, Ray hit Green on a crucial second-and-10 from the Calgary 50. He’d gain 11 to prolong the drive and move the team into field goal range, a kick which Lirim Hajrullahu would hit to give the Argos the win.

“That last drive was just about competitive greatness, being at your best when the best is needed,” recalled the receiver. “Everybody on that drive stepped up and made plays to get into field goal range to give us a chance.”

Green would hit the 1,000 receiving yards mark in each of his three seasons in Toronto, catching at least one pass in every game he played.

Owens had just one season of over 1,000 receiving yards but is still in the league record book for his returning exploits as an Argo, including the league’s single season record with 3,863 combined yards. He also set a team record with 207 receiving yards in a 2012 playoff game in, where else, Montreal.

Despite their obvious differences in stature and style, each was a major contributor to the Argos in their time in Toronto. Now, for the first time since their season together on the Montreal practice roster, they’ll be reunited, this time in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.