Toronto Argonauts

 Joe Theismann - Quarterback 1971-73- Notre Dame


excerpt "THEISMANN" - Joe Theismann with Dave Kindred - 1987 Contemporary publishing

In any case my visions of the Heisman Trophy making me rich as a first round pick in the NFL were gone like air out of a football. I was left to choose between going to the NFL as a fourth-rounder, or accepting an offer from the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Before the NFL draft the Argonauts offered me $50,000 to sign and $50,000 a year for three seasons. Miami first offer was $17,000 a year. I about died. Then Joe Robbie got into the negotiations. Mr. Robbie asked "What do you want?". "Thirty-five, 45, and 55, and a $35,000 signing bonus broken down over 3 years." Mr. Robbie said "Fine." I went on Miami television to sat "Come hell or high water, I'll be a Miami Dolphin."


What I didn't count on, though, was a rider to the contract written up by Mr. Robbie. The rider said I had to repay all of the signing bonus if I ever failed to make the

 40-man roster, even in the second or third year of the contract. That wasn't part of any deal I'd agreed to. We argued for weeks, until the Dolphins finally relented, saying, "OK the bonus is unrelated to your making the team and you don't have to pay it back."


But by then I was so disillusioned with the Dolphins and the negotiating process that I had asked the Argonauts if their offer still stood.  The money wasn't much more than Miami's offer, but yes, it still stood and it hadn't changed. Toronto dealt straight with me and I felt Miami didn't.


So I flew to Toronto and, probably to keep me from changing my mind again, Toronto owner, John Bassett, Sr., wouldn't let me leave without signing the contract. He said. "If you leave the offer is off the table." I signed and asked him to not announce it until I had had a chance to call Don Shula and the Dolphins.


Well Mr.Bassett owned a newspaper in Toronto as well as some radio stations. He wasn't going to sit on a scoop. It was in the paper and on the air the next morning, as I learned when the phone rang. It was Ara Parseghian saying, "Joe, what have you done? Don Shula is on the line and he is mad as can be. He says you have a moral obligation to the Dolphins. What are you doing?"


"The Dolphins took a hard line wouldn't budge, and I grew tired of it."


At Notre Dame, you come out of the dark tunnel and you saw 60,000 faces. At Toronto, the first thing you saw was a ferris wheel because the stadium was on the Canadian National Exhibition Fairgrounds. The Canadian Football League was a classy operation, and my three years were fun.


Somehow, the Toronto Argonauts were pretty good. Our coach, Leo Cahill, was and still is, the No.1 football personality in Canada, a colourful performer who was fired and rehired by the Argonauts so often his autobiography is entitled Goodbye, Leo. What a team - we had two Ph.D.s. Paul Desjardins. my center, was a biochemist, my wide receiver Mike Eben, was an expert in Germanic languages. We also had some American football players, such as Jimmy Stillwagon and Granville Liggens. We even had a running back called "X-Ray" because most of the time he was invisible. He ran so fast no one could catch him.


That first year we played Calgary in the Grey Cup, the CFL's version of the Super Bowl. With four minutes to play our defensive back Dick Thornton, who'd been a quarterback at Northwestern, intercepted a pass and took it back to the six-yard line. Dicky figured he'd won the car that went to the MVP. Next play, I threw an incompletion. Second play, we ran a sweep with X-ray - and he fumbled. We lost the ball and the game. I was content with my situation; conditions were good in the CFL, and it was good enough football that a coach by the name of Bud Grant came out of there and succeeded in the NFL.


The second year in Canada I broke my leg in the season opener. Running out of bounds, I pivoted on the artificial turf to take one more peek up the field. Right then somebody jumped on my back, and my foot stuck to the turf. With me sidelined for most of '72 the Argos won one game and Leo was fired. our new coach was John Rauch, who had been let go by the Oakland Raiders in '68. By then I also was in a contract dispute with the Argonauts general manager, John Barrow, who had been a Canadian All-Star lineman in his playing days. When he offered $75,000 to sign again, I said "That's not enough the NFL will pay me that. You have to give me a reason to stay here." Barrow was angry. "You're just a typical kid who got too much too soon." To which I replied "And you're just a washed up lineman who didn't get anything and is envious about it." All I wanted was out, It had been fun but I wanted Joe Namath's league. Coming so close to the Grey Cup made me hungry to win a Super Bowl.



Excerpt from CFL Illustrated,1983 Volume XIV,Number Two Publisher Gerry N. Powers pg.57

They Twisted His Arm

   In an article in Sports Illustrated magazine, Super Bowl hero Joe Theismann said he had a ring made with three small diamonds representing the three Super Bowls Miami Dolphins played in while he "was in exile" in the Canadian Football League.

   Theismann was drafted by the Dolphins in 1971, but in a last-minute decision, signed a more lucrative contract with the Argonauts.

   The money was better but so was the opportunity. In the Miami roster were two veteran quarterbacks, names of Earl Morrall and Bob Griese. You may have heard of them. In Toronto there were no incumbent quarterbacks following an Argo decision to dump Tom Wilkinson and Don Jonas.

   In Miami Theismann would probably have sat on the bench in obscurity. In Toronto, Theismann led the Argos to the Grey Cup final where he told reporters the Grey Cup was bigger than the Super Bowl, was named an all-star on two occasions and became one of the most popular athletes in Canada.

   Some exile.


Excerpt from CFL a springboard to an NFL career,by Mike Beamish -Vancouver Sun-March 3,2005

"Where'd he play, Texas Tech?" Theismann asked of the CFL's most valuable player in 2004 (Casey Printers). "Frankly, I'm not familiar with him. But I think it's great that a promising kid who was overlooked by the NFL is getting his chance to work on his skills. Coming to Canada was a real blessing for my career. By the time I left, I was better at understanding defensive philosophies. I was better at throwing the ball. I think it's a much smarter way for a developing quarterback to go than playing Arena football."


Theismann, who entered college as a 5-10, 155-pound quarterback not much bigger than a water boy, left Notre Dame University in 1971 as an all-American and Heisman Trophy finalist after leading the Fighting Irish to consecutive Cotton Bowl appearances.

Drafted by both the Miami Dolphins and baseball's Minnesota Twins, he caused a stir when he decided to start his pro career with the Argonauts.


Theismann received a $50,000 signing bonus and $50,000 a season in the three years he played in Canada -- not much less than Printers' base salary of $52,000 last season -- but the swashbuckling rookie quarterback took the Argos to their first Grey Cup appearance in 19 years in his first try. Alas, the Argos lost 14-11 to the Calgary Stampeders on the sodden turf of Empire when Leon McQuay fumbled close to the Stampeder goal line.


Lessons learned, Theismann graduated to the Washington Redskins in 1974. After biding his time as a punt returner and third-string quarterback, he went on to become a dominant NFL player. He led the Redskins to two Super Bowl appearances and the '82 championship. In 1983, Theismann was named AP's NFL MVP, offensive player of the year and placed on the All-NFL team. A gruesome leg fracture, however, ended his career two years later.


"When you look at me, Doug Flutie, Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia, some guys have had a fair amount of success going the Canadian route," he says. "Better than sitting on an NFL bench, you learn how to manage a football game, how to handle the pressure. Not to demean the league, but the CFL really has become a feeder to the NFL."


-- statistics --



Joe Theismann     Notre Dame  
Yr Team Att Cmp Yds Pct. TD Int Lg
1971 Tor 278 148 2,440 53.2 17 21 94
1972 Tor 127 77 1,157 60.6 10 13 62
1973 Tor 274 157 2,496 57.3 13 13 100
Total 3 679 382 6,093 56.3 40 47 100
C Yds Avg Lg TD
81 564 7.0 84 1
21 147 7.0 16 1
70 343 4.9 18 1
172 1,054 6.1 84



-- NFL --



Yr Team Att Cmp Yds Pct. TD Int Lg
1974 Was 11 9 145 81.8 1 0 69
1975 Was 22 10 96 45.5 1 3 30
1976 Was 163 79 1,036 48.5 8 10 44
1977 Was 182 84 1,097 46.2 7 9 52
1978 Was 390 187 2,593 47.9 13 18 63
1979 Was 395 233 2,797 59.0 20 13 62
1980 Was 454 262 2,962 57.7 17 16 54
1981 Was 496 293 3,568 59.1 19 20 79
1982 Was 252 161 2,033 63.9 13 9 78
1983 Was 459 276 3,714 60.1 29 11 84
1984 Was 477 283 3,391 59.3 24 13 80
1985 Was 301 167 1,774 55.5 8 16 55
Total 12 3602 2044 25,206 56.7 160 138 84


C Yds Avg Lg TD
3 12 4.0 12 1
3 34 11.3 21 0
17 97 5.7 22 1
29 149 5.1 14 1
37 177 4.8 20 1
46 181 3.9 22 4
29 175 6.0 37 3
36 177 4.9 24 2
31 150 4.8 16 0
37 234 6.3 22 1
62 314 5.1 27 1
25 115 4.6 25 2
355 1815 5.1 37 17



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