Around the CFL: Matt Black goes from August cut to Grey Cup hero for Argos

By: Andrew Bucholtz

Monday, November 27, 2017

In the end, the Toronto Argonauts' hero in Sunday's 27-24 win over the Calgary Stampeders in the 105th Grey Cup was a man they cut in August. That would be safety Matt Black, a Toronto native drafted by the team in 2008 out of Saginaw Valley State and a key contributor for them on and off the field in all the years since. This year, thought, Black hurt his hamstring in training camp, and by the time he was healthy again, the under-new-management (head coach Marc Trestman, general manager Jim Popp, and defensive coordinator Corey Chamblin were all new) Argonauts decided to stick with others, cutting him in August. But safety Jermaine Gabriel got hurt in the following game, and Black turned down offers from other teams to come back to the Argos. That paid off in a huge way Sunday, as he recorded the game-clinching interception:

Ahead of last week's East Final, Black told Drew Edwards of The Hamilton Spectator staying with Toronto was the right move for him:

“It was an up and down week. Obviously, I didn’t like the fact that I was released but at the same time the number of people that reached out to me across the league — media, friends, fans, other players — it was really humbling,” he said. “All the hard work and sacrifice, it turned out people had been watching all along.”

During the game, starting safety Jermaine Gabriel went down with an injury and the next day the Argos called asking Black to come back. Other teams had been calling but there really wasn’t much of a decision to be made.

“I was still rooting for the guys and the team. I’ve played with a lot of these guys for quite a long time and they are like brothers to me,” said Black, who would go on to start 10 games and play some of the best football of his career. “Things worked out the way they worked out so I’m hardly complaining.”

He furthered that in comments to Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press this week:

He watched the team's next game — a 41-24 loss to Calgary on Aug. 3 — from home.

"It's a unique experience that I haven't had before in my career, the first game that I've really watched not being part of the franchise for the last nine years," Black said. "It's hard to pinpoint how that felt.

"But the stars aligned, things happened the way they did and I'm happy and honoured to be a part of this group of men."

The Argos are pretty honoured to have Black around, too, considering what he did for them Sunday. And hey, the game against the Stampeders with him worked out better than the one without them. But it's remarkable that the guy they saw as spare parts wound up being the one to save the day. In fact, Trestman told Bruce Arthur of The Toronto Star one reason he brought Black back was the respectful way he exited:

“It’s so special,” said Black, an Argo since 2008, still cradling the ball he intercepted. “It’s so special being a part of this group.”

“What about his story?” Trestman said. “I cut him. I cut him (on Aug. 1), and I wouldn’t have brought him back, but he left with class. He didn’t burn any bridges, and he’s got a message to send somebody. You don’t always get what you want, but you deal with it with class. And then a door opens. And you say, that guy’s got class, he can come back. And he’s got a story to tell that nobody can ever take away from him.”

He sure does. And so do the Argos. After they went 5-13 last season and saw plenty of offseason turmoil (including head coach Scott Milanovich leaving for the NFL before the team decided whether to keep him or not, plus Popp and Trestman coming in after the free agency period started) , many predicted them to struggle this year. And they definitely had their issues, finishing only 9-9 in the end. But that was good enough for first place in the struggling East Division, and Toronto then beat Saskatchewan last week and Calgary this week to take home the Grey Cup.

This Argonauts' team got better as the season progressed, and they peaked at the right time and came through in the clutch. Even on Sunday, Calgary QB Bo Levi Mitchell (373 passing yards, two touchdowns) and RB Jerome Messam (13 carries, 62 yards and a touchdown) outshone their Toronto opponents on the stat sheet, but the Argonauts made the plays that mattered. QB Ricky Ray again found some key moments to step up, especially on a 100-yard catch-and-run TD pass to DeVier Posey (named the game MVP after a seven-catch, 175-yard performance), and a crazy fourth-quarter fumble forced by Cleyon Laing and returned 109 yards for a touchdown by Cassius Vaughn was necessary to even keep Toronto in the game. Any number of things could have gone differently, including an early failed snap on a punt that led to Calgary's Rob Maver conceding a safety; without that, the Stampeders could have won it with a field goal at the end instead of going for the touchdown. But the way this did play out saw the Argos making key plays at crucial moments, and perhaps the biggest play of all came from Black on that final drive. It's an awfully good thing Toronto brought him back after all.