Toronto Argonauts

 Dick Thornton - Defensive Back - 1967-72 - Northwestern

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Former Argonaut ‘Tricky’ Dick Thornton laments wrong turn in 1971 Grey Cup game - Bob Mitchell - Toronto Star - 07-07-2012

It’s been more than 40 years but Dick Thornton has never forgotten the play that could have changed history for the Toronto Argonauts.

It was Nov. 28, 1971 and Thornton, then 32, had just made a dramatic interception of a pass by Calgary Stampeders quarterback Jerry Keeling. The Argos were down 14-11. There were less than two minutes to play in the Grey Cup game. Thornton could see the end zone and a victory celebration. It would be his third Grey Cup and Toronto’s first since national title since 1952. Thornton returned the pick 54 yards but went left instead of right and got tackled by Keeling on the Stampeders’ 11-yard line.

On the very next play, Argo quarterback Joe Theismann handed the ball to running back Leon McQuay. He slipped on the soggy field at Vancouver’s Empire Stadium and the ball fell out of his hands. The Stampeders recovered and won their first Grey Cup since 1948.

“I’ve never forgotten that moment,” said Thornton, now 73. “With the advent of YouTube it’s very easy to punch in the 1971 Grey Cup and there I am. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t look at it as a memory or show it to somebody who has never seen it before.

“I should have scored. Maybe in a way I let everybody down. But circumstances happen. I should have cut right. I cut left. But then again, I was playing against Jerry Keeling, who was a great defensive back who happened to be playing quarterback at that time. He played me perfect.”

Thornton, known as Tricky Dick, and 13 of his former teammates from that memorable 1971 team were honoured on Saturday afternoon during the Argos’ home opener against the Stamps at the Rogers Centre. They were a group of colourful characters that captured the hearts of the city

Dick Thornton   Northwestern
Yr Team Int Yds Avg TD Lg
1967 Tor 6 23 3.8 0 10
1968 Tor 4 71 17.8 0 63
1969 Tor 7 159 22.7 2 52
1970 Tor 4 96 24.0 0 38
1971 Tor 7 79 11.3 2 43
1972 Tor 3 61 20.3 0 39
Total 6 31 489 15.8 4 63

 like no other Argo team has since. The team is also being chronicled in TSN’s Engraved on a Nation documentary series under the title “Mavericks: The Story of the 1971 Argos.”

“Mavericks, that was us,” said Thornton, who has lived in the Philippines since 1994. “The original maverick was Leo Cahill (the team’s coach) and I was the first guy who he traded for. He got me from Winnipeg soon after he got the job.

“Leo kind of said to himself, ‘Hey I’m a maverick, let’s get a team of mavericks together and see if it will work.’”

Thornton, a CFL all-star who played both defensive back and receiver, said the team of characters managed to work as a unit despite their individualities.

“Back in those days, the Vietnam War was going on. There was a lot of protests and demonstrations. Football was my focus and it allowed you to get away from all of the outside influences that were disturbing people,” Thornton said.

“The history of the Argonauts of the previous decade was pretty bad. They had hardly won anything. People started to recognize that we had a team and our fan base grew. They really got behind the team. It wasn’t unusual for players to walk down the street at any time of the day and be recognized and stopped for autographs.

“We all grew our hair long. I wore an Indian hat with an arrow through it and had a Fu Manchu moustache. Dave Raimey had his fancy suits and Gene Mack had his top hat and cane and cape. I guess you could say we played to an audience.

“We used to draw a thousand people out to the airport to wave goodbye to us. They’d come out to see what we were wearing.”

Born in Chicago, Thornton retired in 1972 and spent the next 32 years with Coca-Cola, travelling the world as a representative. He played quarterback for Northwestern University and was drafted originally by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns only to be traded to St. Louis. But he went to play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, where he won two Grey Cups before being traded to Toronto in 1967.

“The weather in the Philippines is good for my injuries. I’ve got a lot of them,” Thornton said. “I have a 6-year-old daughter who keeps me young at heart. I had her when I was 67. I feel pretty good. What’s really helped me is taking testosterone shots. It keeps me strong and has really helped me in a lot of different areas. I can even hit a golf ball 40 yards farther.”