TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts started the season with new management, a new coach, and low expectations after a last-place finish.
They somehow managed to end the season as Grey Cup champions.
The Argonauts completed a remarkable worst-to-first turnaround with a 27-24 comeback victory over the Calgary Stampeders in Ottawa on Sunday night, capping a wild Grey Cup game with a late touchdown on a 109-yard fumble return and go-ahead field goal in the final minute.
After a celebration that lasted into the wee hours in the nation’s capital, a group of bleary-eyed Argonauts arrived home Monday morning with the championship trophy in tow.
“The story they have is more important than anything they’ll get out of it,” Toronto head coach Marc Trestman said of the win. “They’ve got an opportunity and a platform to really tell a great story about how people can come together and become something bigger than themselves.
“That’s really what this was all about.”
After missing the playoffs last year with a 5-13 record, the Argonauts cleaned house. Trestman and former Montreal Alouettes general manager Jim Popp were brought in and veteran Ricky Ray was named starting quarterback despite two straight injury-plagued campaigns.
Toronto finished the regular season with a pedestrian 9-9 mark, but it was still good enough for first place in the weak East Division.
The Argonauts had a first-round bye before dispatching the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the divison final and then topping the favoured Stampeders to win the Grey Cup for a CFL-best 17th time in franchise history.
Ray was the first to emerge from the team’s charter plane on a chilly, sunny morning at Pearson International Airport. He hoisted the trophy high in the air after walking down the steps to the tarmac.
“The guys are pretty tired, not very much sleep last night,” he said after the one-hour flight. “We had a good after-party at the hotel with everybody, family and fans and stuff.
“It was pretty calm on the flight home.”
It was Ray’s fourth CFL title as a starting quarterback, the most in league history.
“It was just a great finish to a great year with these guys,” Ray said. “Everybody put in so much work. I’m just happy for everybody on the team.”
DeVier Posey was named MVP after recording seven catches for 175 yards, including a record-breaking 100-yard touchdown reception in the first half.
“We’re still in party mode, everything is still sinking in,” Posey said.
Defensive back Jermaine Gabriel was sporting sunglasses as he spoke with reporters in a charter lounge.
“I’m still hurting from what we did last night, but we had a whole lot of fun, trust me,” he said with a laugh.
It was Toronto’s first Grey Cup win since taking the 2012 title with a 35-22 win over Calgary at Rogers Centre. The Stampeders entered this year’s game at TD Place Stadium as seven-point favourites.
The Argos will celebrate the championship with a city hall rally Tuesday afternoon.
“We walked off that field, we played a game that the people that were closest to us could be proud of,” Trestman said. “We think we’ve done that and we’re excited to engage the city.”