Toronto Argonauts

 Marv Luster - Defensive Back - 1964-72 - UCLA


Rick Matsumoto - - 17-08-2009

Marv Luster has a difficult time recalling details of his outstanding 14-year career in the Canadian Football League including eight and a half of those years with the Toronto Argonauts.

Others, however, have not forgotten the countless plays he made as one of the finest defensive backs to ever don a CFL uniform.

Pete Martin, the Argos’ middle linebacker during Luster’s years with the Double Blue doesn’t hesitate in calling the now 72-year-old native of Shreveport, La. “the best defensive back I ever played with, bar none.”

“Marv was what they called the rover back in those days; the guy they now call the free safety,” said Martin, now the long-time colour commentator on Argo radio broadcasts and president of the team’s alumni association.

“I was the middle linebacker, but he’d come up and fill the hole quicker than I could. He was a dynamic player. He ran the defence for us. He called the plays.”

Martin recalled with a chuckle an incident when Luster didn’t call the play. It proved costly. The Argos were leading the B.C. Lions by five points late in the fourth quarter in Vancouver when the defensive backfield coach at the time, Jim Rountree, who had also been a Hall of Fame defensive back with the team, signalled in a play other than the one Luster would have called.

“The guys knew it wasn’t going to work,” recalled Martin. “Dick Thornton, I think it was, kept yelling ‘Marv, get us out of this.’ Marv knew it wouldn’t work, but he quietly said ‘if the man

 calls it we’re going to go with it.’

“Jim Young (the Lions star receiver) caught a pass and went all the way for a touchdown and we ended up losing. Boy, were the guys ever upset after the game.”

Along with his keen instinct for playing defence, Luster intimidated opposing player with his fierce hitting.

“We called him ‘the stick man,’” said running back Bill Symons, with a knowing laugh at the other connotation of that term. “He’d come up and hit guys with a ferocity that was scary.”

While Luster’s mind may not allow him to recall memories of the plays that others still remember with admiration, his battered body is a constant reminder that he played football the only one way – hard.

“I’ve got arthritis all through my body,” he said in an interview from Atlanta, Ga. where he was visiting his son. “I feel it in my knees, my shoulder, my ankles, my wrists, my back.

“If they had told me I was going to feel like this after I finished playing I might not have played this game,” he added with a soft laugh. “It’s insane. Every hit hurt. But hitting is a big part of the way this game is played.”

Luster was recruited by the UCLA Bruins where he was a standout receiver and was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the ninth round of the 1960 NFL draft. But after failing to catch on with the Rams he joined the Montreal Alouettes the following year and immediately gained all-star honors as an offensive end and repeated in 1962.

However, two years later he was dealt to the Argos in mid-season where he was switched to defensive back and from 1966 to 1972 he was named a CFL all-star each year expect ’67 at that position.

It may be just as well that Luster is unable to remember the details of his years in Toronto. While the team was loaded with many talented individuals it found ways year after year to shatter the hopes of their fans along with their own aspirations of sipping champagne from the Grey Cup.

In 1968, with Luster, Ed Harrington, Dick Thornton, Ed Learn, Pete Martin and Mike Wadsworth heading the defence and an equally star-studded cast on offence headed by Symons, who became the first Argo to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, they upset the Ottawa Rough Riders, who had finished first in the East, 13-11, in the first game of the two-game conference final. But they were no match for the Riders back in Ottawa the following Saturday and wound up losing the series 47-27.

It was similar tale of woe the next year. They defeated Ottawa 22-14 in the first of two games, but were hampered by icy field conditions in the capital the second game. While the Riders negotiated the slick field wearing broomball shoes the Argos were limited to their regular metal-cleated boots or, at best, running shoes and where whipped 32-3 to once again be denied a trip to Earl Grey’s annual championship bash.

Luster finally got to hoist the Grey Cup in 1974 a year after being traded back to the Alouettes.

He was named to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and to the Top 50 players of all-time list (35th) in 2007 in addition to being named to the all-time Argo team.


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-- statistics --



Marv Luster     UCLA  
Yr Team Int Yds Avg TD Lg
1961 Mtl 1 10 10.0 0 10
1962 Mtl 1 17 17.0 0 17
1963 Mtl 1 27 27.0 0 27
1964 Mtl 0 0 0.0 0 0
Tor 0 0 0.0 0 0
1965 Tor 1 2 2.0 0 2
1966 Tor 7 24 3.4 0 15
1967 Tor 0 0 0.0 0 0
1968 Tor 2 17 8.5 0 17
1969 Tor 1 0 0.0 0 0
1970 Tor 3 56 18.7 0 41
1971 Tor 4 53 13.3 0 25
1972 Tor 5 106 21.2 0 49
1973 Mtl 0 0 0.0 0 0
1974 Mtl 0 0 0.0 0 0
Total 14 26 312 12.0 0 49