July 14th, 2024

Argos dominating CFL headlines, East division

By Lethbridge Herald on September 28, 2023.

Graham Kelly


Next week there will be plenty of football news from Toronto as the Argos celebrate their 150th anniversary.

However in recent weeks, two significant announcements came out of Hogtown. The first was the Double Blue’s signing of their first-year starting quarterback Chad Kelly to a three-year contract worth $1.865 million. That’s a long way from the estimated $18 to $26 million Raghib “Rocket” Ishmail extracted from owners Wayne Gretzky, John Candy and Bruce McNall in 1991, but in today’s CFL, hardly chump change.

The deal makes Kelly the highest paid quarterback in the league. Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros with two Grey Cup rings and MOP titles, makes $6 million. Boatman boss Pinball Clemons hopes the charismatic, talented Kelly will be the answer to the team’s attendance woes, although that did not work when Doug Flutie and Ricky Ray won Grey Cups there.

After signing the deal the 29-year-old Buffalo, N.Y. native said, “I couldn’t be happier to sign this extension and proudly represent the historic Double Blue. Today marks not only a contract extension but an extension of my commitment to the incredible city of Toronto.” If you have a grain of salt, prepare to take it now.

Everyone knows he’s special but before he’s given a pedestal on the Toronto Pantheon of Sports heroes like Johnny Bower, Joe Carter, Whipper Billy Watson, George Chuvalo and Pinball Clemons, keep in mind when the CFL sold its soul to the NFL devil some years ago, Kelly can shuffle off to Buffalo anytime next February. Thar’s gold in them there hills. Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow recently put his name on a $275 million, five-year pact.

Kelly first made an impression on CFL fans when he relieved QB McLeod Bethel Thompson at 3:37 of the fourth quarter in last year’s Grey Cup game against Winnipeg. Neither team could get much going offensively, but Kelly came in and engineered the last seven points which prevented the heavily favoured Blue Bombers from winning their third straight championship. The final score, Boatmen 24, Bombers 23.

After the game, I wrote, “How could the Argos lose with a quarterback named Kelly? Keep an eye on this guy. He was released by two NFL clubs for off-field problems, not because he couldn’t play. The troubled young man has a rap sheet going back to high school. By winning the Grey Cup he removed a family curse. His uncle Jim Kelly lost four Super Bowls in a row as quarterback of the Buffalo Bills. If Chad Kelly can keep his nose clean, he could be a star in our league.”

And a star he is, and the odds-on favourite to win the 2023 Most Outstanding Player award.

He is second to Bomber Zach Collaros in QB rating, fourth in passing yardage. (To put statistics in perspective, the league leader in passing yardage is Stampeder Jake Maier.) Chad Kelly doesn’t lead the league in anything-except wins – 12 in total.

Let’s hope NFL teams say ‘twice bitten, three times shy’ so he can star in the CFL for years to come.

The second significant announcement was the signing of the Pinball to an extension as GM. He was first appointed to the position in October 2019. He inherited a team that had but eight wins in two seasons and turned it into a Grey Cup champion. He has been the head coach, president and CEO. During his playing career, 1989-2000, he won three Grey Cups, was All-Canadian twice, Most Outstanding Player and Eastern All-Star four times. In 1999, he picked up a still-standing record of more than 5,000 total yards. As an executive, he won three more Grey Cups. In fact, he has never lost a Grey Cup. Pinball is a winner. His greatest satisfaction is being part of a group pulling together to achieve a goal. “If you work together and have that esprit de corps you can reach your goal. That is the beauty of the game.”

Although the Argos have been unappreciated for nearly 50 years, Clemons is one of the city’s most beloved personalities, and he is active in the community in many capacities. I can tell you from personal experience he is a genuine good guy. But no matter how much he is admired, the Argos are averaging just over 14,200 fans a game.

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