Toronto Filmmaker To Chronicle Their Exploits As Part Of TSN Grey Cup Documentary Series
Joe Theismann and Leo Cahill
Those fabled and fabulous swashbucklers known as the 1971 Toronto Argonauts are getting together for more than just old times’ sake, this summer. An upcoming reunion of coach Leo Cahill’s stylish and swaggering crew will form the backbone of a movie that will be part of an extensive stroll down the CFL’s memory lane.
As part of its celebrations to commemorate the 100th Grey Cup, TSN has commissioned 8 documentaries, by 8 esteemed Canadian filmmakers, including Christie Callan-Jones, the Toronto director at the helm of a film whose working title is: “Mavericks: The Story Of The 1971 Argos.”
“I have a huge passion for football movies and stories,” Callan-Jones told me as we chatted after TSN’s announcement reception. “It’s a dream for me to do a football film. Especially the ’71 Argos. I mean, they lost (the Grey Cup Game) and people still remember them. That’s crazy. So, that’s a testament to the coach and to this crazy bunch and to Toronto. For me, it’s been so much fun.”
Still early in the process of shooting and putting the actual film together, Callan-Jones has already come to gain a certain affinity for the team, after doing an extensive amount of research and a number of interviews with the 1971 alumni. The energy she has for the project is clearly tangible, as she talks excitedly about moving forward.
“I’m actually bringing back a lot of the players for a reunion that we’re going to capture,” she said. “It’s sort of the ‘over-arc’ of the film. That’s going to be pretty amazing, to capture that energy. I can’t wait.”
July 7th is the date of the get together and Callan-Jones is counting on a big turn out with some of the mainstays and main characters of the team attending.
“Joe Theismann’s coming back and Jim Stillwagon and Jim Corrigall, and Leo Cahill will be there. He was really the ‘Krazy Glue’ that held them together. It’s going to be awesome. And Tricky Dick’s coming from Manila,” she added, with enthusiasm, at the thought of Dick Thornton making the 13,000 kilometre trip.
Undoubtedly, Callan-Jones will get some colourful and contemplative comments during the reunion, to go along with interviews she’s already completed.
“I’ve done a ton of research. I’m still very early on in the interview stage. I’ve interviewed Bill Symons, Dave Raimey, Mike Eben, Gene Mack….”
Next on her movie to-do list was to head for Tampa Bay, to talk with friends and relatives of the late Leon McQuay, who was at the centre of the Argos’ story in so many ways. A rookie sensation in 1971, it was McQuay’s fumble late in the Grey Cup Game that helped the Calgary Stampeders salt away the victory.
The Documentarians: Callan-Jones is front row, right. -TSN Photo
Callan-Jones, who’s built a reputation as a socially conscious documentarian while tackling topics such as anorexia, stereotypes and homelessness, has always wanted to do a sports movie. With TSN executives deciding to have football-related stories told by filmmakers who don’t necessarily have any strong attachments to the sport, her chance came.
“Ever since I saw ‘The Natural’ as a kid, sports stories have spoken to me,” she said. “Triumph, redemption, I think, really, that even if you don’t understand sports, everyone gets that.”
“This is a story of stories,” she said about the ’71 Argos. “Football is the subtext. Football is sort of the canvas upon which you can tell these very human stories.”
While the on-field exploits of the 1971 Argos are well-documented, Callan-Jones’ film is likely to centre more on the men who wore the uniforms, as opposed to what they accomplished during the regular season and the playoffs. That’s because of the mesmerizing hold the personalities of the players had on the city of Toronto and the role they played in the shifting attitudes of a changing city.
“Really, it’s a story about the times; the crazy 70’s, the city coming into its own,” Callan-Jones began. “But, also, it’s about a unique bunch of characters who were really, really close, beyond just being teammates. They spent their time together off the field. There’s something that bonded them that, even 40 years later, many of them are still really good friends.”
The ringleader of the Argos of the day was, of course, head coach Leo Cahill. Callan-Jones doesn’t underestimate the role he played in the formation and fostering of those special personalities and relationships.
“A lot of credit has to go to Leo. In many ways he built a team that reflected Toronto. Toronto was no longer ‘Toronto the good,’ it was becoming a world class city. It was really changing. Then you have this team that had been so terrible for so long. Starting in 1967 he, whether it was a conscious decision or not, built a team that reflected not only his personality but also that of a city. They both had swagger.”
“They were the team everyone loved to hate, the city everyone loved to hate and it was this perfect marriage that, I think, could only have happened in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It was a magical time. I don’t think you could ever have that again.”
It’s an essence that Callan-Jones will be trying to capture in the film.
And one that might just be relived a little, when the 1971 Argos ride back into town this July.
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