Argonauts slotback Durie eager for Grey Cup victory
Toronto Argonauts' Andre Durie looks at, but doesn't touch, the Grey Cup during the 100th Grey Cup East Division Champions Media Breakfast in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, November 24, 2012 11:01AM EST
TORONTO -- Andre Durie was playing pee-wee football when he watched his first live Toronto Argonauts game.
"We had our championship game here and we all got invited to the Argos game afterwards," the now 31-year-old Durie recalled Friday. "It was something that was immense.
"I got to meet Pinball (Clemons) and that was my first love and made me want to continue playing football. He took my hat and passed it around so it got signed by the whole team. It was awesome."
Clemons is a former star receiver and kick returner who won three Grey Cups as player and another as coach of the Argonauts, so it was a big day for Mississauga, Ont., native Durie.
He will get his own chance to win a Grey Cup on Sunday when Toronto plays host to the Calgary Stampeders in the 100th CFL championship game.
As for Clemons, perhaps the most popular Argo of all time, he turned up at the end of practice at Rogers Centre to give the team a pep talk.
"Anything he can say to give us motivation to stay on the task is much needed," added Durie, a versatile slotback now in his sixth season as an Argonaut.
Durie's value is enhanced by being a Canadian in a skill position, which lets coach Scott Milanovich dress an extra American player.
And motivation shouldn't be a problem for any of Toronto's local players, including Durie's former York University teammate Ricky Foley at defensive end or fullback Jeff Johnson, who played for the Yeomen in the 1990s.
Durie calls this Grey Cup "the biggest game in Canadian history."
Milanovich calls Durie a "unique player" because he can contribute in many ways, including running the ball, darting out on short or long routes and blocking in the backfield.
In that sense, he's something like CFL Outstanding Player and fellow slotback Chad Owens.
And it turns out that the much-travelled Owens and his family are living this season at Durie's suburban home, making for a lively household of four adults and four children.
"We don't talk a lot of football -- it's our time to get away and enjoy our families," father-of-three Owens said of the arrangement. "We watch some film, but it's not all day talking about football.
"We come home and enjoy our kids. It's been a blessing this year."
Owens gets most of the attention among the Argonauts' receiving corps, which is natural after leading the league in receiving yards with 1,328. Durie missed four games with an injury, but still caught 71 passes for 845 yards.
"Andre's an under-rated player in this league," added Owens. "If he didn't have injuries, he could have been up for Canadian of the year.
"He's Mister Utility. He can do everything that I can, better in some things. That's why we get along well. We live together. We're very similar family men. And we love what we do."
Durie acknowledges that Owens is the star, but doesn't feel the rest of the receivers are overlooked.
"People might have a misconception that we're a one-man team," he said. "But the more people focus on one guy, the more it gives us the opportunity to make plays.
"We have a lot of playmakers on our team: Mo Mann, Jason Barnes, Dontrelle Inman, Chad Kackert. It's hard to focus on one person."
Johnson has also made versatility his trademark. Once a promising running back, he's used mostly for blocking at fullback and plays on special teams.
"I'm a tailback at heart," he said. "Absolutely, I want to carry the ball, but that's not what the team's asked me to do.
"They ask me to make some plays on offence and to lead the special teams. And that's something I'm proud of."
Johnson, safety Jordan Younger and kicker Noel Prefontaine were all Argonauts the last time they won the Cup in 2004, with Clemons as coach.
His message to teammates is much like Pinball's seize the day speech.
"The fact that in 13 years I've only been to the Grey Cup one other time, that's what I talk about," he said. "Some of the young guys may think they'll get another opportunity but no, you may never get one.
"This is the peak. Winning the Grey Cup. You need to make the best of those opportunities. You're creating a lifetime memory."
The Argonauts were without defensive tackle Adriano Belli for a second straight day with what Milanovich called a "stomach bug," but he is expected to be fit to play. Kevin Huntley has taken his place in practice.
But gifted defensive back Patrick Watkins will likely be a game-time decision due to a left ankle injury, as he was before he sat out the East Division final in Montreal, when rookie Jalil Carter took his spot.
"If I'm 90 per cent I could play pretty good," said Watkins. "Of course I want to bounce back but it ain't responding like I hoped.
"But we've still got a few days. I'm running, which is a great start. I can move sideways again. I've got to get up to where I'm fast enough to keep up with the receivers."