Toronto Argonauts

- 1991 -

13 Wins 5 Losses - 1st Place East Division

East: W L T F A Avg Att Most Outstanding Player Doug Flutie (BC)
Toronto 13 5 0 647 526 36,353 Most Outstanding Canadian Blake Marshall (Edm)
Winnipeg 9 9 0 516 499 27,757 Most Outstanding Defensive Player Greg Battle (Wpg)
Ottawa 7 11 0 522 577 23,479 Most Outstanding Rookie Jon Volpe (BC)
Hamilton 3 15 0 400 599 13,834 Coach of the Year Adam Rita (Tor)
West:             Playoffs Ott 8 @ Wpg 26
Edmonton 12 6 0 671 569 33,771   BC 41 @ Cgy 43
Calgary 11 7 0 596 552 24,875   Wpg 3 @ Tor 32
BC 11 7 0 661 587 40,888   Edm 22 @ Cgy 23
Saskatchewan 6 12 0 606 710 22,597 Grey Cup Toronto 36 Calgary 21


Raghib 'Rocket' Ismail


3, 2, 1...blast Off!

A 73-yard run helped make Rocket Ismail's debut with the Toronto Argonauts a dazzling one

William F. Reed - Sports Illustrated - July 29, 1991

Not that anybody in the NFL noticed, of course, but Raghib (Rocket) Ismail sure did have a good time at his pro football coming-out party last Thursday in Toronto. The evening was so sultry that the Skydome roof was peeled back to allow the energized crowd of 41,875, which sounded as if it had warmed up in the arena's Hard Rock Cafe, to see the stars. The ones in the sky, not the ones hanging around on the field. The celebrity lineup included John Candy, Jim Belushi, Mariel Hemingway, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Super Dave Osborne. Oh, yeah, and the Elwood Blues Revue, featuring Dan Aykroyd on vocals and harmonica, performed at halftime and after the game.

All this glitz, hitherto unheard-of in the Canadian Football League, guaranteed that everybody would walk away reasonably happy, even if Rocket fizzled. After all, he was coming off a leg injury and was making his first appearance in uniform since bypassing his senior year at Notre Dame—not to mention the NFL draft-to sign a four-year contract with the Toronto Argonauts that guaranteed he would earn at least $18 million. But Ismail flashed enough glimpses of his well-documented explosiveness on Thursday to make even skeptics begin to think that the Argos' new owners—main man Bruce McNall and his cronies, actor-comedian Candy and hockey icon Gretzky—just might know what they're doing.

Sure, Rocket handled the ball only seven times, partly because he hadn't fully recovered from a strained quadriceps in his left leg, and partly because he was still learning the Toronto offense and adapting to the Canadian game, with its three-down series, 110- by 65-yard field and so on. In addition, he admitted after the game to having had such a bad case of the jitters that "I never could get my legs to stop shaking." Still, Rocket piled up 213 all-purpose yards, including 73 on a tricky punt return that was the most exciting play in the Argos' 41-18 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"Some show, huh?" said McNall in the Toronto locker room. "And that's only the beginning."

When McNall, Candy and Gretzky bought the Argos in February for $5 million, they not only picked up the CFL's most venerated franchise, they also got a scoring machine that last season averaged 38 points a game and fell four points short of earning a spot in the Grey Cup. The problem was, Toronto attendance had dropped from a club-record average of 47,356 in 1976 to 31,676 last season.

To McNall, who made the bulk of his fortune dealing in rare coins, the first order of business was to do with the Argos what he did when he acquired Gretzky for his Los Angeles Kings hockey team—get somebody with enough star quality to fill the seats, interest the TV networks and generate excitement. The answer was Ismail, the 5'10", 175-pound dervish whose potential to score a touchdown every time he touched the ball made him one of the most exciting players in college history during his three seasons in South Bend.

From Ismail's standpoint, the money was important, but he also liked Toronto, which many U.S. blacks find more congenial than most major American cities, and he liked the idea of joining a team with an offense so potent that he wouldn't be expected to do too much too soon. Indeed, the Argos already possessed two of the league's premier big-play men in 5'5" back Mike (Pinball) Clemons, who last season amassed a CFL-record 3,300 all-purpose yards, and slotback Darrell K. Smith, whose 20 touchdown catches in 1990 set a league record.

However, soon after practice began in June, Ismail strained the quadriceps and then needed to have some wisdom teeth pulled. The rumor mill had it that he was malingering in practice and not paying attention in team meetings. Earlier this month, when he made a five-day trip to Los Angeles, ostensibly scheduled for business purposes but also to get a second opinion on his leg injury, some of his teammates questioned his dedication.

"A lot of baloney," Argo defensive back Carl Brazley said after the game. "There was no story when I missed four days because I got my wisdom teeth pulled. I felt sorry for him. He's been trying to fit in and do his thing and be one of the gang. But it's hard with all the hype."

His ailments caused Ismail to miss both of the Argos' exhibition games, plus their season opener on July 11 at Ottawa, where he at least sat on the bench and cheered his teammates to a 35-18 victory. Of course, nobody, least of all McNall and his partners, could feel too disappointed, because it meant that Ismail would make his debut at home, amid all the hoopla.

So confident was McNall of a good show that he waived the TV blackout clause that goes into effect when a game isn't a sellout. "We're in the entertainment business, and I wanted as many people as possible to be exposed to what we're doing," McNall said.

Although Ismail spent most of the game serving as a decoy, his presence meant that demons, Smith and the other Argo weapons had an easier time finding holes and gaps for big gainers. Three passes were thrown Ismail's way. He made a nice leaping catch of one of them for 38 yards, and the other two were knocked away at the last moment by aggressive defenders. He returned four kickoffs for 88 yards and ran back a punt for 14. Every time he touched the ball, the noise level in the Skydome rose a notch.

But his finest moment came as a result of Argo coach Adam Rita's innovative decision to use Rocket as a punt blocker, of all things. On his first rush, Ismail was no factor. On his second, he came within a whisker of getting a block. And on his third, with Toronto holding a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, Ismail took a step toward the punter, then drifted back toward Clemons, who received the kick.

After taking two steps forward, demons handed off to Ismail on a reverse, and Rocket took off. Ignoring a tug at his face mask, he swerved up the middle, broke to the right and was off on a 73-yard gallop that ended when he was overtaken and knocked out of bounds at the two. "I'm disappointed that I didn't get to pay dirt," he said later. "That's a long field, man. I was out there thinking like, 'Whew.' But even then it was like my legs were not there. I just wasn't myself."

Not to worry. The jitters will disappear, but the jitterbugging should only get better. Ismail's potential is so vast that already some fans are worried that he won't stay in, Toronto for the duration of his contract and will instead join the Los Angeles Raiders, who own his NFL rights, after two seasons. Indeed, the Washington Post reported last week that he was already contemplating doing exactly that.

For now, however, Rocket will do his launching for the Argos, and the owners won't have to import their Hollywood pals for future dates. Rocket and his teammates can take it from here.



1991 Team Statistics



  Passing           Rushing    
Att Cmp Yds Pct. TD Int Lg C Yds Avg Lg TD
Matt Dunigan 196 121 2,011 61.7 16 10 87 34 190 5.6 14 2
Ricky Foggie  352 171 3,108 48.6 21 19 89 95 644 6.8 61 8


Running Back

  Rushing         Receiving  
C Yds Avg Lg TD C Yds Avg Lg TD
Mike Clemons 64 443 6.9 64 3 38 417 11.0 28 2
Raghib Ismail 36 271 7.5 42 3 64 1300 20.3 87 9
Kevin Smellie 48 252 5.3 21 2 7 57 8.1





  Receiving       Punt Return  
C Yds Avg Lg TD No Yds Avg Lg TD
Darrel K Smith 73 1399 19.8 89 10          
Raghib Ismail 64 1300 20.3 87 9 48 602 12.5 73 1
David Williams 29 552 19.0 68 6          
Jeff Boyd 22 460 20.9 85 3          
Paul Masotti 23 360 15.7 36 2          
Andrew Murray 15 286 19.1 52 2          
Trumaine Johnson 12 206 17.2 34 1          
Mike Clemons           32 440 13.8 94 1




Conv     Field Goal      
A G % A G % LG Pts
Lance Chomyc 64 64 100.0 65 55 84.6 53 236





Avg Att: 36,353


Week 1 @ Ottawa

Toronto 35


Att: 23,254

Raghib (Rocket) Ismail held a press conference and paced the sidelines with co-owners Bruce McNall and John Candy, while the Argos beat the Riders for the 14th straight time.


Week 2 v. Hamilton


Hamilton 18

Att 41,178

Raghib "Rocket" Ismail made his play-for-pay debut with the Argos, contributing 213 yards in total offense, including 73 yards after a handoff on a punt return.


Week 3 v Winnipeg


Winnipeg 16

Att: 37,486

The Bombers were guilty of 10 turnovers while the Argos turned the ball over just twice. Winnipeg had 458 net yards compared with Toronto's 275.


Week 4 @ BC

Toronto 41

BC 52

Att: 53,527

The Lions finally endured over the Argos in a game that look almost four hours to play and went into OT until B.C. emerged with a win before the largest crowd at B.C. Place in five years.


Week 5 @ Saskatchewan


 Toronto 37

Att 27,093

Argos quarterback Rickey Foggie ran for one touchdown, and Toronto RBs added two more, but much of the Argos' scoring came from the five FGs of placekicker Lance Chomyc.


Week 6 v Saskatchewan


 Saskatchewan 10

Att: 35,786

Argos QB Rickey Foggie threw three TD passes and ran for one score while Pinball Clemons added three majors. Rocket Ismail scored his first two TDs in front of the home crowd.


Week 7 @ Edmonton


Toronto 39

Att: 43,826

The Eskimos scored 29 second quarter points to crush the Argos. QB Tracy Ham padded his league-leading touchdown pass total to 21 with five tosses for major scores.


Week 8 v. BC


BC 25

Att: 39,508

With QB Matt Dunigan throwing just 16 passes and with RB Pinball Clemons injured early, the Argos made a 21-point first-quarter stand up and rushed for a season-high 213 yards


Week 9 @ Hamilton


Toronto 24

Att: 18,461

With QB Mike Kerrigan at the controls, the Hamilton offence rolled up 523 yards while LB John Motion picked off two Matt Dunigan passes. Kerrigan was 29 of 40 for 383 yards and three TDs.


Week 10 v Hamilton


Hamilton 25

Att: 36,102

Rocket Ismail scored three first-half TDs to lead the Argos, while WR Darryl Smith passed Terry Greer as the Argo's all-time leading receiver, with 6,900 yards. Greer had 6,817.


Week 11 @ Calgary


Toronto 24

Att: 26,122

Argos GM Mike McCarthy wants Dan Wicklum banned for a late hit that sent Rocket Ismail to the hospital with a concussion. Toronto also lost QB Matt Dunigan for up to six weeks.


Week 12 v Edmonton


Edmonton 28

Att: 34,985

David Williams, traded to Toronto by Edmonton earlier in the week, had a pair of TD catches. Rickey Foggie also connected with Rocket Ismail, Paul Masotti and Darrell Smith.


Week 13 @ Ottawa


Ottawa 24

Att: 26,172

The Argo won despite just 216 yards in total offence compared with 520 for Ottawa. Toronto QB Ricky Foggie passed for 181 yards compared with 316 yards thrown by Ottawa's Damon Allen.


Week 14 v Winnipeg


Winnipeg 21

Att: 32,194

An objectionable penalty called on Winnipeg's Matt Pearce and Eric Streater late in the fourth quarter set up a Lance Chomyc FG with 40 seconds left in the game to give Toronto the win.


Week 15 @ Winnipeg


Toronto 27

Att: 30,760

Winnipeg jumped out to a 21-7 lead, fell behind 24-21, but played strongly over the final 20 minutes to earn the two points and stalled Toronto's attempt to clinch first place.


Week 16 v Calgary


Calgary 27

Att: 33,590

Rocket Ismail scored his first pro punt return TD, a 69-yard gallop, in the final two minutes of the game to give the Argos a thrilling win and the Eastern Division title.


Week 17 @ Hamilton

Toronto 39


Att: 17,453

Rickey Foggie threw two TD passes and scored another to lead the Argos. With Hamilton leading 31-29, Foggie gave Toronto the win with an eight-yard scoring toss to David Williams.


Week 18 v Ottawa


Ottawa 31

Att: 36,001

Lance Chomyc's 50-yard FG as time ran out gave Toronto a perfect home season. Chomyc established a new single-season scoring record, finishing with 236 points.


Eastern Final

Sun Nov 17


Winnipeg 3

Att: 50,380

Winnipeg was outplayed in every phase of the game. The offence could only muster 180 yards and failed to reach the end zone. The special teams allowed the Argos 151 yards on nine punt returns including a 75-yard TD by Rocket Ismail.


Grey Cup



The temperature was -27 degrees Celsius (-17 Fahrenheit), making the game one of the coldest Grey Cup finals ever. The Grey Cup was held in Winnipeg for the first time, as the Argos capped off a memorable season under the new ownership of LA Kings owner Bruce McNall, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and actor John Candy. The Argos started the game with a bang as DB Ed Berry intercepted Danny Barrett’s first pass attempt and returned it 50 yards for a TD. Calgary had 28 first downs compared to Toronto’s seven. The Stamps had 406 yards of offence compared to 174 for the Argos.