The Gray Cup party continued Thursday for cornerback Shaquille Richardson and the Toronto Argonauts.
The Argos were honored at a rally following their 24-23 Gray Cup victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday in Regina.
As was the case on Sunday night, the champagne flowed freely in Maple Leaf Square, Richardson and his teammates showering the hundreds of fans gathered for the celebration.
Richardson, who said he hadn’t slept since Toronto’s victory, added that he and his teammates weren’t done reveling in the CFL’s 18th Gray Cup title, but the first since 2017. .
Toronto held off a crazy fourth quarter that included a Gray Cup-record 102-yard punt return touchdown by Winnipeg’s Janarion Grant, two interceptions by Argos, a touchdown by Toronto’s AJ Ouelette and a field goal blocked by each team to dethrone Winnipeg with the upset victory.
The winning play came from Argos defensive lineman Robbie Smith, who minutes earlier had been flagged for a face mask penalty to Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros as the West Division champions searched for third consecutive Gray Cup title, headed for the Toronto 40-yard line.
But the six-foot-two, 245-pound Smith, a third-year Wilfrid Laurier University player, blocked Marc Liegghio’s 47-yard attempt. Toronto got the ball at their 14-yard line with 43 seconds left and ran out of time for a stunning victory.
WATCH | Smith’s block seals Gray Cup victory for Argos:
The block was Smith’s first in football.
“It’s great, but at the end of the day I was just playing football,” Smith said. “I felt it hit my fingertips and when I turned around I saw the ball on the ground.
Toronto Mayor John Tory had to attend a city council meeting and was unable to participate in the rally. But before the celebration, the former CFL commissioner raved about the rollercoaster nature of the fourth quarter.
“It was an amazing finish, but I’ve been to many games, Gray Cup or otherwise, and I’m just amazed that the game can provide that excitement all the time,” Tory said. “It’s consistently more exciting than the Super Bowl and I’m not disparaging American football, I love all sports but it’s our game.
“There’s very little left that has Canadian content, the Canadian heritage that the CFL does.”
Kelly the surprise hero
Another of Toronto’s unsung heroes on Sunday was backup quarterback Chad Kelly, who engineered the five-play, 36-yard rushing play that Ouellette capped. Kelly, the nephew of former NFL star Jim Kelly, replaced veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who dislocated his right thumb.
Kelly delivered a crucial 20-yard run on second-and-15 at the Winnipeg 15-yard line that kept the drive going. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 43 yards while rushing twice for 21 yards.
“I’m just super lucky to be in this situation,” Kelly said. “I can’t even explain the amount of excitement I must be with your teammates, your brothers, the guys you worked with for 30, 40 weeks.
“You really can’t express how amazing it is to come out on top.”
As Bethel-Thompson ponders his football future this offseason, Toronto may need a new starter in 2023. Kelly, who never lacks confidence, said there’s no doubt in his mind that was capable of starting for the Argos next season.
“A thousand percent,” he replied when asked if he considered himself the 2023 starter. “And I’m going to work as hard as I can to be that guy.”
WATCH | The Argos celebrate on the field after the Gray Cup victory:
Bethel-Thompson addressed the gathering from a distance while in the United States to spend American Thanksgiving with his wife and young daughter.
“Football takes everything, to play elite professional football it takes body, mind and soul.” says Bethel-Thompson. “Today, when I had the opportunity to go home for American Thanksgiving and be with my wife and daughter, for the first time, I got to choose them. was the right choice.
“I miss my brothers. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”
Flipper, Muamba greeted with cheers
Fans wearing Argos jackets and hats waved flags and draped them over their shoulders as they waited for the players to arrive in front of a giant screen. Children seated on shoulders waved signs as Argonauts A-Team cheerleaders tossed team t-shirts and gifts into the crowd.
The crowd chanted “Pinball! Pinball” as GM Michael [Pinball] Clemons took the stage after Larry Tanenbaum, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. And they raised their fists and shouted “He-noc! He-noc! MVP! MVP!” when Henoc Muamba, the game’s outstanding player and top Canadian, was praised for his contributions.
Toronto resident Amanda Luciano, who describes herself as a “diehard Argos fan,” arrived early to secure a spot near the stage.
“I started watching the Argos when I was about six, I went to my first game in high school,” she said. “I love the team, I love the guys. I don’t bleed red, I bleed double blue.”
Luciano, a 35-year-old subscriber, started playing football as a child and became “addicted” to the sport when she realized the town she was born and raised in had its own football team.
“It’s my team,” she said. “Just to watch them, it’s been an amazing season this year.”
“I love Canadian football”
Toronto resident Patricia Price, 69, also arrived early for the festivities.
“The Argos have been my team since I was a kid,” said Price, who attended Sunday’s Gray Cup game. “I have been a subscriber since 1989.
“I love Canadian football.”
Toronto’s Levi MacPherson, 21, said he couldn’t fail to honor the team’s “historic” victory in the 109th Gray Cup. MacPherson added that he won the Cup in 2012 when it was held at his high school.
“One of the biggest games I’ve been to this year should have been the Eastern Finals [34-27 win over Montreal]”, he said. “…To push us to win this game to get to the Gray Cup, it takes blood, sweat and tears to win a championship.
“And that’s why we came out on top, beating the No. 1 team in the CFL, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.”