This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
Very recently, the Toronto Argonauts won the 2012 Grey Cup. It was an inspiring victory for the Argos, as they won Canada’s football title in front of their hometown fans. A sellout crowd at Rogers Centre, roared with delight during the Argos convincing win, over the Calgary Stampeders.
However, it was only three years ago, when the Argos were the laughingstock of the CFL. The double blue finished 2009 with a dreadful 3-15 record, which was by far the worst record in the CFL. Everything went wrong for the Argos that year, and no one in Toronto seemed to care.
It started in the offseason, when the Argos decided to hire Bart Andrus as their new head coach. Andrus replaced Don Matthews who had success with the Argos in the late 1990s, but failed to recapture the magic in 2008. The hire was a controversial one, as Andrus came from the Tennessee Titans, and had no experience in the Canadian game. Many observers questioned the move, and thought Andrus would have difficulty adjusting to 3 down football. Those observers were very accurate.
Andrus had no idea how the Canadian game worked. The Argos were last in offence in the CFL, averaging a mere 18.2 points per game. If a CFL team can’t score 20 points a game, that’s an awful CFL team. Meanwhile the Argos surrendered 502 points, an average of 27.8 points per game. Only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were scored on more often. That is like saying Kim Kardashian has been scored on more often than Paris Hilton.
Since the Argos couldn’t score, quarterback Kerry Joseph took the lion’s share of the blame. Joseph was acquired from the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2008, in a trade to help boost the Argos offence. Instead the offence sagged. Joseph could never find his form that he had in 2007, when he led the Green Riders to the Grey Cup. Joseph completed 56.8% of his pass attempts for 1,303 yards, 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Joseph was also the second leading rusher for the Argos, gaining 191 yards, but he fumbled 4 times as well. Joseph handled a football like Wile E Coyote handles a stick of dynamite. Needless to say, the results were painful.
When Joseph struggled, (which was frequent in 2009) the Argos turned to former University of Washington start Cody Pickett. After stints in San Francisco, Houston and Oakland, Pickett tried his hand in the Canadian game. He fared slightly better has he completed 62.7% of his passes for 409 yards and 1 touchdown. However, Pickett grew a very large ego during the offseason and he struggled in training camp in 2010. The Argos released him and Pickett found himself bouncing around between Montreal and Calgary, before kissing his very undistinguished football career goodbye.
The running game did not help matter. Jamal Robertson was the leading rusher for the Argos, gaining only 455 yards and scoring 3 touchdowns all season. Too often, the Argos were forced to abandon the running game because they fell behind too quickly, or Andrus just simply ignored the ground game, because of his lack of knowledge. Robertson also led the team with 23 receptions as the Argos ha more problems moving the football than a Volkswagen bug trying to pull a bulldozer. Jarrett Payton received a tryout with the Argos, but the son of legendary Bears running back Walter Payton made no impact whatsoever, and was released almost as soon as he arrived.
The receivers weren’t much better. Former Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal tried his hand at receiver, but didn’t find much success. McNeal caught 20 passes for 279 yards and 3 touchdowns. The sad thing is that he led the team in receiving yards! It was hoped that Arland Bruce III would be the go to receiver. However, he had issues with Andrus and was dealt to the arch-rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats for defensive tackle Corey Mace and draft picks. That left the passing game up to receiving luminaries such as Chad Rempel, Mike Bradwell, Jason Carter and Matt Lambros to pick up the slack. To put it mildly, they stunk worse than one of Andre The Giant’s farts.
Defensively saw many issues as well. Linebackers Kevin Eiben and Zeke Moreno were expected to be leaders on the field. Instead both former All Stars saw their production dip faster than the stock market. Moreno was acquired from Winnipeg in the offseason, but struggled in Hog Town. Eiben had consistency issues all season and never did find his form.
The Argos were also hurt defensively, when cornerback Byron Parker signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. When Parker was cut by Philadelphia, he returned to Toronto, but had difficulty adjusting back to the wider field of the CFL. Parker only played a handful of games, before being shipped to Edmonton for future considerations.
Many teams feasted on the Argos, but none more so than the Montreal Alouettes. It felt like men vs. boys when the Alouettes and Argos got together. Montreal won all 3 meetings against Toronto, outscoring them 94-25 in those three games. Montreal even shut out the Argos 25-0 in their first encounter. Shut outs are very rare in the CFL, as the Argos were held off the score sheet for the first time in 17 years.
Things were so bad for the Argos that in an eight team league, not one player made it to the all CFL team. Even worse, in a four team division, not one member of the Argos was an Eastern Division All Star!
Drastic changes were needed. Andrus was fired at the end of the season, replaced by Jim Barker. Joseph and Moreno were released on the same day. The Argos brought in newcomers Cory Boyd and Chad Owens to give the offence a new look. It worked. The Argos made the playoffs in 2010, even winning a playoff game over bitter rivals Hamilton. While they took a step back in 2011, the Argos made more changes, bringing in Ricky Ray in a massive trade from Edmonton just in time for the 2012 season. The Argos won the Grey Cup and the city celebrated. How much time has changed.
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