Continuing our Three-Down Theatre series, here's a look at the Toronto Argonauts, who are heading into this season with a mandate to improve on the field as well as off it.
For much of the last decade, the Boatmen have been more reminiscent of a farcical aquatic ceremony than their namesake ancient nautical heroes, Over the last four seasons, the team's put up a combined 22 wins and 50 losses, and they've only managed one .500 season and one playoff berth in that span. Still, they're thinking big these days, especially with their hosting of the 2012 Grey Cup. It's very easy to envision the famous "Mission From God" discussion between King Arthur and God as being played out between general manager Jim Barker and team owner Senator David Braley:
"Barker! Barker, King of the Argos! Oh, don't grovel! One thing I can't stand, it's people groveling."
"And don't apologize. Every time I try to talk to someone it's 'sorry this' and 'forgive me that' and 'I'm not worthy'. What are you doing now?!"
"I'm averting my eyes, O Senator."
"Well, don't. It's like those miserable ticket-sales reports—they're so depressing. Now knock it off!"
"Right! Barker, King of the Argos, your Boatmen of the Round Table shall have a task to make them an example in these dark times."
"Good idea, O Senator!"
"Course it's a good idea! Behold the Grey Cup! Barker, this is the Holy Grail. Look well, Barker, for it is your sacred task to seek this grail. That is your purpose, Barker... the quest for the Holy Grail."
In order to seek the Grail, Arthur had to put together a team of knights, and to do so, he made some bold moves. Similarly, Barker's trade for Ricky Ray is likely to be a defining one for this franchise. Ray's this team's equivalent of Sir Lancelot, a man with tremendous skill in battle but one who needs to be surrounded by the right pieces and pointed at the right target. If left to his own devices, things could go spectacularly wrong. One of the guys there to direct him will have to be new head coach Scott Milanovich, the closest analogue to Sir Bedevere in this world; we'll see if his vaunted wisdom from running Montreal's spectacularly successful offence can lead to better decisions than, say, judging witches by weight relative to ducks or building Trojan Rabbits and forgetting the most essential part of the plan.
The Argonauts will surely face steep obstacles in their quest for the Grail, too, particularly the fearsome three-headed knight of the East Division. Montreal's spectacular offence (they had the individual stat leaders in passing, rushing and receiving last season) will make them a formidable contender and perhaps even a Legendary Black Beast of Arrrgghh!, while the retooled Hamilton Tiger-Cats are looking much tougher thanks to the acquisition of quarterback Henry Burris and the construction of an incredible receiving corps, and it won't be easy to take them down without finding some hidden vulnerability. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers may be overlooked by some, but they're dangerous too; they're the reigning division champions, and they're likely to prove just as tenacious as certain black knights. In order to rise to the top of this division, the Argonauts will have to unleash weapons like Cory Boyd, Chad Owens and Andre Durie, who could be their version of the Holy Hand Grenade.
It's not going to be an easy quest for the Argonauts. The East Division might be the most competitive top-to-bottom that it's been in a decade, and every team has a chance to win it; that's going to lead to a lot of tough games. Plus, Ray may be coming off a great season, but he now has to adapt to a new offensive scheme, new receivers and new blockers; that could lead to some things being lost in translation, and the results from the preseason weren't particularly positive (especially in his first game, where he completed just three of seven passes and threw two interceptions). Also, with so much buzz about the 100th Grey Cup being in Toronto this fall, it's easy to see this team perhaps being sidetracked by any number of issues around that. We'll see if Barker is more successful in his quest for the Holy Grail than Arthur was, and if this season can one day be turned into a film (or perhaps even a musical!).
Prediction: 9-9, third in East in regular season, East semi-final win, loss in East final.