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Interview: “The Best Team That Never Won” director Christie Callan-Jones on ’71 Argos

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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"The Best Team That Never Won" looks at some of the 1971 Argos' legendary characters.

TORONTO—TSN's Engraved On A Nation documentary series starts airing its finale Thursday night with the premiere of "The Greatest Team That Never Won" at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific. This film's perfectly apt for this Grey Cup week, as it focuses on the legendary 1971 Argonauts, a team full of top-tier talents like Joe Thiesmann and Jim Stillwagon, but one that lost to an underdog Calgary team 14-11 largely thanks to the infamous "Argo Bounce". With the Argos and Stamps facing off again Sunday, director Christie Callan-Jones spoke with 55-Yard Line Tuesday about the film and how it fits into this week's Grey Cup.

Callan-Jones said like most of the filmmakers in the series, her background isn't in sports, but unlike many of the others, it's an area that's always held a fascination for her.

"I love sports films, but I've never directed one," she said. "Ever since I was a kid; I remember watching The Natural four times."

She said it's the emotional side of sports stories that really appeals to her.

"There's always a lot of emotion, and I love stories with emotion," she said.

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Christie Callan-Jones

Callan-Jones was quickly drawn to how the story of the 1971 Argonauts transcended football, reflecting some of the changes in the city at the time and also being embraced by a wide swath of the town.

"They were such celebrities," she said. "They would walk down the street and they'd get their meals paid for."

She said the personalities on that team and their deep connection with the city were so unique that they're well worth revisiting.

"To me, you couldn't have written better characters," she said. "People really rallied around the team."

Callan-Jones said the city's clashes at the time between the older establishment and the younger generation made the Argonauts and their cast of young, rebellious, larger-than-life characters a perfect fit for Toronto.

"Torontonians, I think, were ready for a team like the '71 Argos," she said. "It was a perfect place and time."

Callan-Jones said a remarkable element with that team was how it came together from humble origins just a few years before.

"When Leo Cahill took over in 1967, they were laughingstocks," she said.

She said part of what made the '71 team so special was that despite their stars, there was a real sense of unity that was crucial to their success.

"You can't win without being a team."

Callan-Jones said that was evident at the 1971 Argos reunion held this fall, which was taped for the film.

"There really was a magic connection," she said.

She said seeing Toronto and Calgary face off again in the Grey Cup this year is incredible, and while it sets up this film perfectly, it leaves her with one regret.

"I wish I could reshoot the end of the film."

"The Best Team That Never Won" first airs Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern on TSN. It repeats Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern and midnight. Find more details and a list of airtimes on other channels here.

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