TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts are a team comprised of both youthful, energetic players in search of their first CFL championship and a core group of veterans that know the 100th Grey Cup could be the last time they have a chance at football glory.
Two of those veterans are longtime Argos punter Noel Prefontaine and jack-of-all-trades running back Jeff Johnson. The two have played a combined 24 seasons with the Argos and on Sunday, against the Calgary Stampeders at the Rogers Centre, both will be counted on in a leadership role.
Prefontaine is 38, while Johnson is 35. Each has been to and won one Grey Cup — in 2004 with the Argos — and the opportunity to potentially win another is not lost on them.
“There are no words. It’s very special. It’s the pinnacle of anyone’s career to play in the 100th Grey Cup,” Johnson told Sportsnet.ca.
“I mean you want to make it to any Grey Cup but if you could in 200 years look back at the Grey Cups and pick one that you were going to play in, it would either be the first one or the 100th and here we are in the 100th.”
Prefontaine, who is an American but has called Canada home since the 1990s, shares those sentiments.
“At this stage of my career it’s the only thing that I really hope for,” Prefontaine said. “With my career coming to an end I look at this as my last kick at the can almost, my last shot to win a Grey Cup and for it to be in my home city it’s going to be tough to contain the nerves because this is monumental for me. For my career, for what I’ve always tried to accomplish as a player, this stage right now is what I dreamed about.”
In addition to performing on the field at key times on Sunday, Prefontaine and Johnson have been counted on throughout the chaotic Grey Cup week to guide and advise some of the younger players.
“We’ve gone through anything they’ve possibly gone through as an athlete, whether it’s what they do on the field or what’s going on outside socially and we’re there for them in that regard,” Prefontaine said.
There are many potential distractions during Grey Cup week and if players aren’t steadfast with their professionalism they could end up regretting how they handled themselves.
“I’ve been playing for 13 years, I’ve had one other opportunity (to play in a Grey Cup) and I’m just hammering that home with the young guys,” Johnson explained.
“There’s two pains: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Stay disciplined this week, party the rest of your life; undisciplined this week and regret it the rest of your life. The guys are understanding that.”
Prefontaine added: “We’ve been lucky I think because the majority of the younger guys we have are very mature in some regard.”
The Argos have won four consecutive games and Johnson said his team does not have a selfish attitude and that’s one reason the Boatmen are peaking just at the right time.
Johnson, who grew up in the Greater Toronto Area, said he’ll be ready for any situation and is also ready to make sure his teammates are on the same page come game day.
“The game of football is about being on the same page. You’ve got 12 people moving in unison. If one person isn’t on the same page the play’s not going to be successful,” Johnson explained.
“That’s what makes this team special, it’s not just about any one guy, it’s about everyone else. It’s not about me it’s about you. We had that MO going in 2004 when we won the Grey Cup, Pinball preached that a lot, and we have that in this locker room.”