Running through a storm

August 29, 1976

It is the morning after his second Canadian Football League game and Anthony Davis, formerly of USC and the WFL and now a Toronto Argonaut, is utterly resplendent as he prepares to drive to practice. His salmon-colored three-piece suit is nicely set off by a pale blue shirt, dark blue tie and dark blue patent leather shoes. A dark blue handkerchief and a gold watch chain protrude from his breast pocket. On both of his little fingers Davis wears a large glittering ring, symbols of the two NCAA championship baseball teams he played on at USC. On his left ring finger he wears an even larger, more ornate ring, a memento of one of the two USC football teams he led to national championships. His other football ring is back home in Los Angeles. So are his three Doberman pinschers—Stinky, Sweetness and Scooby—and his collection of seven cars, including two Rolls-Royces and two 1941 Cadillac Fleetwoods. His Toronto car is a white Lincoln Continental Mark IV complete with telephone, bold gold GOOD LUCK ANTHONY DAVIS FROM GATEWAY MERCURY lettering on both doors and this morning's message finger-printed in the dust atop the car's retractable glass roof: YOUR CHEERLEADERS LOVE YOU. Davis smiles smugly, acknowledging this declaration of affection.

Anthony Davis is the controversial new superstar of Canadian football, on and off the field. So controversial, in fact, that after only two games he has found himself enmeshed in a name-calling war in which his Los Angeles-based agent, Mike Trope, has demanded the immediate dismissal of Toronto Coach Russ Jackson for alleged misuse of his client's talents. "When we signed with Toronto, the Argonauts told us that Anthony Davis would be the O.J. Simpson of Canada," Trope said in a magazine article published last week. "Now they're keeping a guy with A.D.'s talents buried."

Buried? Last Wednesday night Davis rushed for 78 yards in 11 carries, including a 48-yard touchdown sprint; caught four passes; returned two kickoffs for 42 yards; ran back a punt; and even attempted an option-play pass as the Argonauts defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 14-11 before 49,724 in Toronto. One week earlier Davis, who had to sit out Toronto's first three games because of three cracked bones in the small of his back, lured a league-record crowd of 50,212 to his CFL debut, then captivated his audience by carrying 11 times for 77 yards and one touchdown; catching a 10-yard touchdown pass; returning two kickoffs for 52 yards; and galloping 69 yards with a pass on a swing play that was called back because of a holding penalty.

Rhapsodized one Toronto journalist after Davis' effort: "Long after the outcome of last night's football game here is forgotten—it was just another Argo defeat, after all—it will be recalled as the beginning of the Anthony Davis era in Canadian sport. Those among the 50,212 spectators who generate grandchildren will be telling them, half a century from now, about the memorable evening...when A.D. played his first official Canadian Football League match."

While Davis' statistics may indeed be impressive, Trope argues that they are hardly memorable when compared with other performances in the career of the man who broke O.J.'s USC rushing record, who once scored six touchdowns in a single game against Notre Dame and who rushed for 1,200 yards and scored 133 points in 12 WFL games before that league folded.

Trope says, "A.D. is not being used right in Toronto. He should carry the ball 18 to 25 times a game to be effective." Earlier, while watching a Toronto exhibition Trope had said, "Listen, I'm telling you, A.D. is very upset. A.D. says this Argo offense has only three or four basic plays. Can you believe it? They haven't got a sweep, something to get A.D. clear for a swing pass. They should fire Jackson, they should fire the coaching staff. They're incompetent. Here they have the greatest back in Canadian football and they don't know how to use him. There's more to this than just football. I have a marketing man setting up a program for A.D. in Canada—endorsements and public appearances—and he has been running into trouble lately."

When Trope's comments were made public last week, they prompted an immediate response from Toronto television commentator Pat Marsden, who viewed Trope as strictly a mouthpiece for Davis. "If I was [Toronto Owner] Bill Hodgson," Marsden said on the air, "I'd inform Anthony Davis in no uncertain terms that a lot better ballplayers than himself have come down the pike and gone back up it, too, because they couldn't keep their mouth shut and their mind on their job."

Davis fumed when he heard about Marsden's comments. "That's outrageous," he said publicly. "Sickening. I just want to win. I'm here to play, and if the man wants me to run 11 times, then O.K." Privately, though, Davis told an associate that the situation in Toronto was discouraging.

Davis signed a five-year $1 million contract, including a $150,000 bonus—his second in six months—with the Argonauts last season shortly after the collapse of the WFL. After completing his USC career, Davis was drafted by the NFL's New York Jets but signed, instead, with the WFL's Southern California Sun, pocketing the first $150,000 bonus and, as it turned out, $70,000 in salary for four months' work. Trope offered Davis' services to the NFL again, but the notoriously penurious Jets once more declined to meet his financial demands. In fact, the Jets placed Davis' name on its list of players available to the Seattle and Tampa Bay expansion teams, and John McKay, remembering what Davis had done for him at USC, promptly drafted him for Tampa.

While Davis' contract is immense by CFL dollar standards—the average Canadian salary is only $22,300—he has already proved to be a financial bargain for the Toronto franchise. The Argonauts finished in last place the past two seasons, and they desperately needed an instant box-office attraction to help pay the rent at the Canadian National Exhibition Stadium, which had been expanded and modernized for the arrival of an American League baseball franchise next spring. With Davis in the fold, Toronto's season-ticket sales increased almost 6,000, and in his first two games at Toronto, he brought almost 100,000 people through the turnstiles.

However, the CFL has been something of a cultural shock for Davis. Although the Canadian game, which is played on a field 12 yards wider than American gridirons, is wide open offensively and thus tailored to his abilities, Davis has discovered that the caliber of play is below what he experienced in the WFL. The CFL dictates that a minimum of 17 players on every 32-man roster must be Canadians, and, well, Canadians play football about as well as Americans play hockey. Besides, there is a minor league aura to the CFL. Coaching staffs consist of no more than a handful of men; unlike the NFL, there are no strength coaches or movie projectionists on the payroll. Many of the teams even practice in late afternoon so their players can hold down full-time jobs. Davis is constantly reminded of the differences between the CFL and the NFL. Last week, for instance, a Canadian journalist, trying to offer Davis the ultimate in encomiums, wrote, "Some day Anthony Davis will be as good as Leo Lewis."

Prompting such praise have been moves like one Davis play in Toronto's victory over Hamilton. He received a pitch from Quarterback Matthew Reed, another former WFL player, then turned the corner and began dashing for the end zone. At the 15 it appeared that Davis would be stopped by a Tiger-Cat defensive back who had a good angle on him, but Davis cut inside, cut outside again to avoid another defender, and, as he did at USC, showboated after crossing the goal line, this time bowing to the crowd.

Unfortunately, Davis went into eclipse after that touchdown, and for the rest of the game he spent most of his time going in motion or jogging downfield as a decoy. "From Anthony's standpoint, I don't think the coaching can get worse," Trope said after the game. "If you polled football fans, I think they'd agree. If you polled the Toronto front office, I think even they'd agree." Indeed, although Toronto is off to its best start since 1973, there are rumors that Jackson, a former All-Canadian League quarterback who last year gave up a job as a high school principal to handle the Argonauts, might soon be fired, despite his rich five-year contract.

So, with the NFL, Tampa Bay, John McKay and, yes, another lucrative signing bonus obviously in mind, Trope notes, "A.D. has an option to get out of this Toronto contract after two years if we wish. If this situation continues, there's no way he will stay with the Argonauts."