SIMMONS: Old legs, new hope for Argos season


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Brandon Banks looks at his birth certificate and, in his mind, demands a recount of some kind.

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His age is listed as 34. He doesn’t feel old or football old, which are two different things but both seem to matter around this time of year.

“I don’t know if I’m aging backwards or forwards,” said Speedy B, who always has a way of turning a phrase, and not that many years ago was pound for pound and yard for yard the most exciting player in Canadian football.

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This is his 12th season of professional football – his first with the Argos.

Andrew Harris is 35 years old and used to be the most productive running back in the CFL. The key words he hears too often are “used to be.”

He doesn’t think about his age very often, only when the music is blaring in the locker room and it’s not his kind of music, only when the conversation around the kids he now calls teammates are about something he can’t necessarily relate to. On the field, he says, he feels the way he’s always felt: Ready to make a difference on Thursday night in the season opener against Montreal. Ready to be Andrew Harris.

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Ready to begin his 12th season of professional football – his first with the Argos.

This has been an unusual off-season of spending and decision-making for the forever unusual Argos.

They signed the receiver and former kick returner Banks from Hamilton of all places, where players grow up learning to hate Double Blue. They signed Harris to play running back at 35, an age when running backs have normally stopped carrying the ball or playing at all for that matter. Only two backs in CFL history – the great Mike Pringle and the even greater George Reed – have had anything resembling success carrying the ball after their 35th birthday.

This new Argo lineup, with young second-year coach Ryan Dinwiddie just coming back from COVID, is so much about age and experience. There is Harris to run the ball and he can catch it too. He has 14,484 yards of rushing and receiving in his career. Those are hold-your-breath Hall of Fame numbers. For a Canadian, those are all-time great numbers.

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“It’s a blessing to still be able to play this game,” said Harris, who was slowed by injuries last season in Winnipeg, but still wound with 20 touches in the Grey Cup overtime win over Hamilton, 80 yards rushing, and three yards receiving, the most combined yards in the title game. “I wasn’t as healthy last year as I am this year,” said Harris. “I’m feeling confident, I’m feeling strong, I’m back to being my normal self.”

Signing old free agents in football rarely works out. Unless the old happens to be Tom Brady or some other quarterback who doesn’t have to move a lot. You don’t see a lot of running backs at 35 making a difference unless they happen to be named Frank Gore. You don’t see a lot of little receivers – and that’s what Banks is now that’s he’s not running back punts or kick returns – changing teams at 34 and lighting it up.

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But the Argos believe they have the right people in the right places and to hell with conventional wisdom about what works or what doesn’t work in professional football.

You want to see Speedy Banks lighting it up for the Argos because football in Canada is better when he is dancing. You want to see Andrew Harris rushing for 1,000 yards and catching another 50 passes because the game is better when he can do his kind of dancing.

“I’m a firm believer that age is just a number,” said Ja’Gared Davis, the disruptive defensive lineman and perhaps the best of all the Argo free agent signings this year. Davis is not ancient by football standards. He is 31 years old, having kicked around the NFL for three seasons before coming north. He was a Tiger-Cat the last two seasons, a lineman the Argos couldn’t find a way to block. “What’s Tom Brady?” said Davis, “close to 45. Age is literally a number. I think mindset and determination mean a whole lot more.”

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This is his ninth season of professional football – his first with the Argos.

He arrives with an impressive resume. Five years in the CFL. Five times to the Grey Cup. He won one of them in Calgary, probably should have won three. He already has a popular phrase around him – Six for the Six. After losing the last two for Hamilton, the same two Banks lost, the same two Harris won, there is some unfinished business here.

Hamilton didn’t really make an offer of any kind to keep Banks. Winnipeg didn’t really make an offer of any kind to keep Harris. The Ticats still wanted Davis: They just didn’t want to pay him.

Winnipeg won every game Harris played in the last year. Davis dominated just about every game he played in. Speedy B was out of sync last season, not well physically or mentally, not fitting in the way he used to fit in.

Now a new season begins with old legs and new hopes being counted upon.

“A lot of people doubted me after last year,” said Speedy B. “But me, (Harris) I guess it’s in our genes. I think we have a love for the game of football.”

A love to keep going before the Hall of Fame is ready to claim them.

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