Best Season/Worst Season Toronto Argonauts

Best Season/Worst Season Toronto Argonauts
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Best Season/Worst Season: Toronto Argonauts

Welcome to the last in an occasional series looking at the best and worst seasons for each of the nine CFL teams. We started with the BC Lions. Then followed that up with the Ottawa RedBlacksHamilton Tiger-CatsCalgary StampedersMontreal AlouettesWinnipeg Blue BombersSaskatchewan Roughriders, & most recently the Edmonton Elks.

But first some ground rules. Some of the teams have been around long enough to post completely winless seasons. For example, the Toronto Argonauts themselves went 0-6 in 1898.

But is that really a fair comparison? I would say not, as it was a different era with much different teams, games and leagues. So we will be looking at the ‘modern’ era only. Which will also allow us to compare the best and worst seasons of all of the teams over the same time frame.

You might think the modern era should begin in the post CFL era from 1958 to present day. However, whilst the CFL may have had responsibility for the Grey Cup since 1958, we should note that Wikipedia suggests that “1954 is reckoned as the start of the modern era of Canadian football, in which the Grey Cup has been exclusively contested by professional teams”.

So based on that we will take 1954 as our starting point for our best/worst season comparisons. A year that won’t trouble us with consideration for best or worst season for the Double Blue who finished 6-8 that year.

Argonauts Most beloved season? – 1983

For your best season you should be looking at a combination of the best regular season record and winning a championship. The Argonauts have won the Grey Cup a record 18 times in 24 visits to the big game. But I doubt any win was as satisfying as the one they posted in 1983.

When they became a CFL member, the Argos had last won the Grey Cup in 1952. But they would not return to the title game until 1971. And they would not win it again until 1983. A 31 year title drought. During that time the Argonauts put together a 169-259-8 record.

A low period was going 16-40 from 1956-59. Whilst highlights came in going 10-4 in 1960 and 1971 (the latter leading to a Grey Cup berth), and having made the Grey Cup in 1982 the year before ending their longest title drought.

They would wait another eight years to win again in 1991. A wait equalled by the gaps between 2004 and 2012 Grey Cup wins. But nothing has come close to that 1983 team breaking the 31 year drought. No wonder that Condredge Holloway and the team are so fondly remembered by so many Argos fans.

Argonauts Best Season – 1997

In both 1996 and 1997 the Toronto Argonauts posted franchise best ever 15 win totals, going 15-3 both years. In 1996 they won in a snowstorm against Edmonton in the Grey Cup with a controversial decision on a potential fumble helping them on the way to a win. Make no mistake about it though the 1996 team were a great side.

But 1997 was the peak of this two year dominance of the CFL landscape. They were a dominant force that carved a place in the team’s history.

That year’s version of the club was first overall in both offensive scoring (36.7) and fewest points allowed (18.2). 11 of the wins were decided by 10 or more points and they were in the playoffs with seven games to go but still kept winning. Offensively they were first overall in passing, turnover ratio, sacks allowed and time of possession. Whilst defensively they were first overall against the rush and against the pass, and first for sacks tallied. Just to round things out, on special teams kicker Mike Vanderjagt was the league’s leading scorer.

Oh, and they were dominant in the playoffs too. Toronto won their two playoff games by a combined score of 84-53. Or, to put it anoter way by 15.5 points per game.

At home they were 9-0 and posted 38+ points 6 times. As for the Grey Cup, there was no controversy this time around. By the fourth quarter they were up 44-9 and it was all over bar the shouting.

Sheer weight of quality

From the sidleine to the sqaud the 1997 Argonauts were packed with quality. At the helm of all this talent was Head Caoch Don Matthews. Matthews first came to the CFL in 1977 as an assistant coach with Edmonton. A post he held until 1983. Making Matthews a member of the five Grey cups in a row (1978-82) Dynasty.

In 1983, Matthews got his first head coaching job in the CFL with the BC Lions. In five seasons (1983-87) leading the Lions, Matthews compiled a 56-23-1 record for .706 win percentage. Matthews took the Lions to two Grey Cups, losing in 1983 and winning in 1985.

After brief spells with Toronto and Saskatchewan he joined the expansion Stallions in 1994. This would see him go on a run of four consecutive Grey Cup appearances (2 with Baltimore and 2 with Toronto) from 1994-1997. You can argue among yourselves as to whether the 15-3 Stallions (1995) or the 1997 Argos were the better team!

All -Stars

The 1997 Toronto Argonauts accounted for 15 of the East Division All-Star slots. 15 of 27 meaning over half the East All-Stars were with the Boatmen that year.

Pull back and take a wider view and you will see the Argonauts also had nine members of the 26 CFL All-Stars listed. On top of which they took home three annual awards too: Doug Flutie was voted Most Outstanding Player, Mike Kiselak Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, and Derrell ‘Mookie’ Mitchell Most Outstanding Rookie.

On the list of All-stars was Michael Pinball Clemons who set the Argos’ records for single-season punt return yards (1,070), punt returns (111), and kickoff returns (49) in 1997. All while settng a CFL combined yardage record with 3,840.

Five of the team are now enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame: QB Doug Flutie, WR Derrell Mitchell, LB Mike O’Shea, RB/SB/KR/PR Michael Clemons, and Guard Pierre Vercheval.

What Came Next?

One thing is clear, the Argos have had some serious ups and downs. Following this 2 year period of dominance they went 9-9 back to back before slipping to losing records in 2000 & 2001.

During the 2000’s they went 80-98-2. With highs (42-29-1 from 2004-7) and lows (7-29 from 2008-9). That decade saw them appear in and win one Grey Cup in 2004.

In the 2010s the Argonauts were one of only two teams to win the Grey Cup more than once in the decade. (The other being Calgary). Toronto picked up the trophy in 2012 2017.

The one thing Toronto did not manage throughout the decade is consistent success. Over that time they went a regular season 75-105.

As we enter the 2020s they have won back to back East Division titles and are the current Grey Cup champions. Fans will be desperate to see this success become consistent.

Argonauts Worst Season -1981

The Argonauts have had a couple of 3-15 seasons. Coming in 1993 & 2009. Which gives a win per centage of 16.6%. Pretty terrible. They also had back to back 4-14 seasons recently that felt like a real low.

But in terms of actual winning per centage over a season their real low came in 1981 when they went an anaemic 2-14 setting a win per centage of 12.5%

Imagine too, as we said above in the ‘most beloved season’ section this was the lowest point of a 31 year title drought during which time the Argonauts put together a 169-259-8 record.

Coming off a dispiriting 15-33 run from 1978-1980 all Argonauts fans had going for them was that the team posted one more win than the year before each season. 1981 shattered that pattern as they regressed even further.

If there was one thing this team proved it was that it didn’t know how to win. They started the season losing by the slimmest of margins 19-18 against the Roughriders. The very next week they would lose by a single point again 23-22 away to the Alouettes. In fact they would lose 4 of their first five games by 3 points or less.

Once you start rolling with the losses momentum builds however. The Argonauts lost their first 11 games of the season. Which included defeats by margins of 44, 27, 24, 18, 17 & 31 points. Their wins on the season were by an aggregate 9 points as they beat Calgary 29-26 and Montreal 20-14 both at home.

You could try to argue they showed improvement by finishing the season 2-3. But two of their defeats in that run were by scores of 43-12 & 61-7 whilst they saw out the season end with back to back losses.

Lone bright spots were RB Cedirc Minter and Punter Zenon Andrusyshyn who were both voted East Division All-Stars.

What came next?

After a fallow period from 1952-1983, the 1980’s were a pretty good decade for the Argos. Despite a poor start to the decade (Going 8-24 between the 1980 & 1981 seasons), the Argos had some success. From 1982 to 1989 they would go 78-55-3 and appear in the Grey Cup game on 3 occasions (1982, 1983, & 1987) with the drought breaking win coming in 1983.

The 1990’s started really well. The Argonauts went 23-13 in 1990 and 1991 and picked up another Grey Cup win in 1991. The latter capping off an incredible year. This was a year that had seen the Argos bought by a group fronted by L.A. Kings owner Bruce McNall, NHL great Wayne Gretzky and legendary comedian/actor John Candy. They signed college football standout Heisman Trophy winner Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. The team went 13-5 and highlighted by a thrilling 87-yard kickoff return by Ismail, the Argos won the 79th Grey Cup defeating Calgary 36-21 in the coldest championship game on record at Winnipeg (minus-17 C at kickoff). 

Things soon fell apart however. From 1992-1995 the Argos went 20-52. Part owner John Candy passed away in March 1994. McNall and Gretzky sold the club to TSN Enterprises the same year.

Supporting the Argonauts is a rollercoasster and the lower the lows are the higher the highs feel. In 1995 they posted a 4-14 record. Then came the 96 & 97 seasons and arguably the greatest year in team history.

Banner image: 1997 MOP Doug Flutie lifts the Grey Cup following the 1997 win. Image from

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