Thursday evening’s ceremonial dinner honouring the 1983 Grey Cup Champions reminded me of my first high school reunion. I remember the thrill of reconnecting with high school friends. I couldn’t believe how quickly 15 years had passed and how I managed to lose touch with the girls I once laughed with, shed tears with, fought with, skipped classes with, shared losses and successes with.
While I stood in the dining area at Quinn’s Steakhouse and Irish Bar on Richmond Street West in Toronto, I watched members of the 1983 Toronto Argonauts Grey Cup Championship team embrace, laugh, and poke fun at how much weight their former teammates had lost or gained over the last 30 years. They talked about family, new careers and ventures since leaving the game, and reminisced about one of the most memorable championships the city of Toronto has ever seen. The camaraderie they once shared was still there. It was hard to imagine 30 years had passed.
“You really don’t miss the game, you definitely don’t miss the practices, what you miss are the close bonds,” DB Carl Brazley said. “The thing that’s hard to explain … it’s more than just your friends from school, you’ve been to war together. You go through so much and the pressure’s so high to perform every week and you really get this close bond, so when we see each other you’re like ‘wow, that’s a good brother.'”
For Brazley, his idea of war was the early 80’s. In 1981, the Toronto Argonauts reached a record low when they finished 2-14. In 1982 things started to turnaround and the Argonauts finished 9-6-1. The Grey Cup was on their radar; however, they lost 32-16 to the Edmonton Eskimos at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.
In 1983, the future looked bright. The Argonauts finished 12-4 and they returned to the Grey Cup to face the BC Lions at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. However, with an early jump in the first quarter, the Argonauts were on track to another Grey Cup disappointment.
“It was like hell,” Brazley said. “It was so crazy. We weren’t just down we were down bad. Everybody was just looking at each other. You know how coaches have a great pep speech? He (Bob O’Billovich) didn’t have none of that. It was so quiet (in the locker room). When the second half started we all had the same mentality but didn’t know it. It was kind of like we all have to do something! We don’t have anything to lose anymore! We were down 17 to 1. There’s no tomorrow, let’s just play.”
And play they did!
The Toronto Argonauts defeated the Lions 18-17 and ended a 31-year Grey Cup drought.
“I have the poster in my office at home and it reminds me of a special group of guys and our accomplishment,” said Joe Barnes, the backup quarterback who is credited for bringing the team to victory. “It was very special. It would have been nice if we had a couple more championships but that one was very special. To be the hero of the game that was a big accomplishment. And it’s something you talk about, you tell your grand kids about. I have my MVP trophy and I’m reminded every day of that moment.”
Even 30 years later, quarterback Condredge Holloway is still humbled by the ups and downs his team experienced. “This one was just special because that group of guys did it,” he said. “And not only did we celebrate together but that was the same group of guys crying together when we were the talk of the town not in a great way.”