It's not every CFL team that's been the subject of their own book, but the 1983 Toronto Argonauts seem like a group worthy of further examination. On the 30th anniversary of that team's surprising Grey Cup triumph, which came just two years after a dismal two-win 1981 campaign, veteran journalist Paul Woods has taken on that task. Woods' new book, Bouncing Back (which can be ordered here in print form and will be available in an iPad edition soon), explores the 1983 Argos, their improbable success and what that year's team meant for the franchise. In an e-mail interview with 55-Yard Line this week (this is Part I of that, Part II can be found here), Woods said he wrote this book because that team has a story he had long desired to learn more about:
"At the beginning of last year I retired from The Canadian Press after 31 years, and I was looking around for new challenges," Woods said. "One day on a bike ride (the place where I often do my most creative thinking), I had a brainwave: why not write the book I had always wanted to read – the inside story of the Argos finally winning the Grey Cup after a 31-year drought?"
Woods said his combination of a journalism background and a lifetime of Argonauts' fandom made this a particularly appealing challenge for him.
"I knew I was uniquely qualified to take on this project," he said. "I had worked in journalism for three decades (including stints as both a reporter and an editor), and I had been a hard-core fan of the Argonauts for most of my life. Plus, as a “pack rat,” I had a treasure trove of valuable research material right at hand: boxes of newspaper clippings, magazines, game programs and media guides. I also had some games from 1981-83 on videotape/DVD, and even had cassettes of radio programs I had recorded back in the early 1980s: interviews with Willie Wood, Bob O’Billovich, Ralph Sazio, Condredge Holloway, Terry Greer and others, as well as sportscasts and call-in shows."
He said the 1983 team hasn't received enough attention in his mind.
"Having followed the team very closely, as a season-ticket holder and voracious consumer of news media, I had always thought the 1983 Argonauts deserved to have their story told," Woods said. "They had great characters and struck me as also having great character. And I knew that many of the guys who played key roles in 1983 had also suffered through 1981, the worst season in the long history of the team. I felt they would have fascinating stories to tell about their evolution from laughingstock into champions. And finally, I felt the accomplishment of overcoming that long drought had been forgotten too quickly. The Argos finally won the Grey Cup in 1983, the city celebrated for a week or two, and then life went “back to normal” and the team’s remarkable achievement of overcoming a history of failure and ineptitude faded away quickly. I wanted to bring it back into the spotlight and delve deeper into the story than anyone outside the organization ever had."
This wasn't an easy project, or a quick one, as Woods said it took about a year to pull the book together.
"I began this project just over a year ago," he said. "I knew the book had to be done by 2013 to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the 1983 Grey Cup win. To a wire-service guy, a year sounded like a long time. But as I discovered, it is an extremely compressed timeline for a book that required so much research and interviewing."
Woods said he talked to almost everyone connected with that year's team.
"I interviewed almost four dozen individuals, including pretty well every key member of the 1981-83 Argonauts: [quarterback Condredge] Holloway, [wide receiver Terry] Greer, [running back Cedric] Minter, [head coach Bob] O’Billovich, [1982 offensive coordinator] Mouse Davis, [backup QB Joe] Barnes, [defensive back Carl] Brazley, almost all of the Canadian players, and many more," he said. "I also interviewed coaches from the four teams Toronto played in the 1982 and ’83 Eastern Finals and Grey Cups: Hugh Campbell, Al Bruno, George Brancato and Adam Rita; also the family of the late Ralph Sazio, and a number of others who I felt had contributions to make."
It's not an easy process to track down that many CFL players, coaches and executives two decades after the fact, but Woods said that's where connections and his reporting background came in.
"I started by reaching out to a few people, including Lori Bursey, president of the Friends of the Argonauts," he said. "Lori connected me to a couple of players, including Jan Carinci, a tremendously helpful guy. He became the first player I interviewed, and in turn connected me to other players. I used old-fashioned reporting techniques to track down other people."
The archival information Woods had saved on the 1983 Argos also proved useful, but it took a lot of time effort for him to organize it into a cohesive form.
"I also spent time reviewing the material in my own archive," he said. "That involved sorting, reading and and in some cases quoting from newspaper stories I had saved for 30-plus years, as well as programs, media guides and so on. I also digitized and reviewed all of my audio recordings and the handful of games I had on video. I was extremely fortunate that some of the players still had old games, mostly on VHS, that they lent to me. I digitized all of that stuff and made copies for the players and coaches. In the end I was able to watch complete copies of the four biggest games from 1982 and ’83 (the Eastern Finals and Grey Cups) as well as many other important games. I had almost given up on ever finding the 1982 Eastern Final (a 44-7 win over Ottawa) until one of the stars of the ’82 team, Zac Henderson, told me his dad had taped it and he still had a copy."
He said that game footage proved critical in constructing parts of the book.
"One of the games I found earlier from another source, a regular-season contest from 1982 against Edmonton, formed the basis for the first chapter in the book because in my mind (and, as it turned out, in the minds of many players), it represented the night everything changed–the night the Argos, for the first time in a decade, showed that they were not only competitive but also wildly exciting."
Woods said it was challenging to get the book out in time for this 30th anniversary season, especially considering his other work, but the pressure helped him focus.
"I wrote intermittently and in bursts while I was still interviewing," he said. "I was also teaching at Ryerson during the past school year, so getting everything done became a real challenge. I did a fair bit of writing in December and early January when school was out, and wrote about half the book–something like 45,000 words–in about a month this spring. I tried to write when I was inspired rather than force it, but with the clock ticking I had to push and push. Fortunately inspiration almost always came, and I’m proud to say that I think the last five or six chapters I wrote, under the most intense deadline pressure, might be the best parts of the book. My last interview was done after I had thought the book was finished, and resulted in a fairly extensive revision to one important chapter."
Woods knew a lot about the 1983 Argonauts and their close-knit nature heading into this project, but said he was still impressed by the group's cohesiveness 30 years later.
"I was still taken by how almost all of them spoke fondly of the camaraderie," he said. "Many told me that team was the one they loved the most over their entire careers."