After the Toronto Argonauts finished a light walk-through on Tuesday, to start preparing for Sunday’s East Division final, defensive backs coach Orlondo Steinauer led his players in a jog around the field.
The players thought it a bit odd at first, their muscles still sore less than 48 hours after Sunday’s physical semi-final victory over the Edmonton Eskimos. But Steinauer’s intention soon became clear.
After their short jog, he corralled his defensive backs way up into a quiet area in the Rogers Centre stands and sat them down for “a little together time,” while the rest of the Argos remained down on the field speaking with a growing group of reporters.
This defence has numerous new faces this season, several CFL rookies. They forced three turnovers and helped the team to a record-setting 31-point quarter on Sunday. Now they face the division-winning Montreal Alouettes for a chance to play in the 100th Grey Cup at home in Toronto. Few will favour the Argos in Montreal against champion quarterback Anthony Calvillo and his Als. But Steinauer, a two time Grey Cup winner as a player, was keeping his guys confident and loose in the spotlight.
Steinauer was one of the defensive leaders on the last Argos team to win the Grey Cup in 2004. As he and those teammates were celebrating their championship, he noticed his teammate Michael Fletcher, sitting quiet and straight-faced.
“I said ‘Fletch, what are you doing, why aren’t you jumping around enjoying this?’” said Steinauer, recounting the story he told his players. “Fletch said, ‘O, I already knew we were going to win.’ That was the confident mentality of that ’04 football team, nothing less than a championship that year was acceptable.”
Steinauer says you can’t compare the experience of that veteran 2004 Toronto defence, who had played several seasons together. But he has worked to make them care about each other, even if they’re still getting to know one another. And there’s something else he recognizes in his spirited bunch, many of whom loudly echoed “ARR-GOS” repeatedly during Tuesday’s walkthrough.
“I do see the same confidence and belief,” Steinauer said. “These guys are not in awe, they’re not surprised to be in this situation – I do see some similarities.”
Veteran safety Jordan Younger was a rookie on that ’04 team, and now he’s the Argos defensive captain. That year, the Argos eliminated the Alouettes in the East final in Montreal, en route to their first Grey Cup win since 1997. He soaked-in Steinauer’s leadership.
“I know his body language, the tone he’ll use, the jokes he’ll tell. I’m my own guy, but I take the way he handled things and I pass that onto this group,” Younger said. “He brings us together like this sometimes. Even at times when we’re mad at him, he makes sure we’re mad at him together. He gets us talking and we become reflective.”
Toronto is committed to high-risk, high-reward defence. The possibility of allowing a big play down field looms, but the rewards have often proven worth the gamble, like forced turnovers that quarterback Ricky Ray can convert into points. It takes a certain confidence to stick by the philosophy.
“In order to be great, you have to be willing to put it on the line, and yes, there’s discomfort playing high-pressure defence when you’re on an island and people are looking at you, wondering where they will point the finger if you lose,” Younger said. “At this point in my career, I don’t care about that discomfort any more – I just care about the reward now: the glory of being a champion.”
Toronto hasn’t beaten Montreal in the playoffs since 2004, losing postseason contests to the Als in 2005, 2006 and 2010.
“We talked about the privilege to play in this game and everything we’ve done to get here,” Younger said. “We might be the underdogs on paper, but we’re no different than Montreal. They have to deal with us too.”