Fraser Caldwell | Ticats.ca
HAMILTON -- Every encounter with the Argos is a special occasion for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and their fans. The age-old rivalry needs no refueling, no explanation and no context. But if it were ever possible to intensify what is already the CFL’s most bitter match up, Monday might provide that spark.
This year’s edition of the Labour Day Classic – already the one date circled on every Ticat fan’s calendar – will be the final one at iconic Ivor Wynne Stadium.
Spectators aren’t the only ones excited by the prospect of such a historic event. Tiger-Cat veterans with long memories of Labour Day remain as eager as fresh-faced rookies for this annual grudge match.
Experienced offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski – who has participated in five Labour Day Classics as a member of the Black and Gold – believes that the rivalry will never lose its lustre.
“It never gets old,” says Dyakowski. “The level of energy, the excitement is fantastic to play in. The crowd is awesome – it’s the biggest crowd of the year.
“It’s loud and they get us fired up. It’s a level of energy that’s another step higher.”
Linebacker Kevin Eiben – who spent 11 seasons with the Argonauts – cautions that while the rivalry provides motivation, it should not influence the Ticats’ preparation for Monday’s Week 10 contest.
“It’s the best rivalry out there in the CFL. I’m ecstatic for Monday. But you’ve got to treat every game like it’s the same,” argues Eiben.
“Especially against an Eastern opponent, we’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game. We have 10 games left, and we’ve got to make sure that we win these next two, because they count for four points near the end of the season.”
Eiben admits that Monday’s status as a special occasion will make for a unique atmosphere, and it’s something he openly cherishes.
“It’s the last Labour Day Classic at Ivor Wynne Stadium and I think it’s going to be epic,” says the linebacker.
“I’m glad to be in the Black and Gold, because this is going to be one of those games that you never forget. They’re going to talk about this being the last one at Ivor Wynne and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Beyond the historic implications on Monday, there are two crucial points at stake for teams actively jostling for position in the East Division.
Dyakowski acknowledges the importance of a win on Labour Day, with his team desperate to reverse the slide that it has experienced in recent weeks.
“Not only is it the rivalry – the Labour Day Classic – but we need it,” says the lineman. “We’ve got to win this one. It would be huge for us to win this one, and Toronto sees it as an opportunity for them to take a step up in the division and get some distance.
“So we’ve got to play our best game, because we know that they’ll come out firing on all cylinders. With that crowd behind us, with everyone being as loud as they can be and screaming their lungs out, we’re going to do well.”
Grappling with the stresses and strains of midseason, the Tiger-Cats were helped this week by an extended layoff that has offered players some welcome downtime.
Dyakowski believes that such rest can only be positive as he and his teammates head toward Monday.
“We feel great,” says the lineman. “We had a couple of days off, our team golf tournament – which is good for the legs – and that nice practice out in Kitchener-Waterloo to hit on a few extra things, things that you don’t usually have time for during a normal game week.”
Every extra preparation made for the Labour Day Classic is critical. The game comes with its own unique set of challenges for players in the form of added emotion and physicality.
Eiben carries a sense of duty into the landmark event, mindful of its special place in the CFL’s history.
“Look at all of the names on the wall. Those are some of the guys that built this place before us, and we’ve got to carry it on,” says the linebacker.
“We’re going to bleed out here and there’s going to be some fights, there’s going to be a lot of trash talk. That’s all part of the Labour Day game.”
It may still be days away, but Eiben can already visualize Monday’s pomp and circumstance. It’s an inspiring image.
“The best thing is when we have those jets flying overhead, your blood is boiling and you just want to go out there and have some fun and win a football game.”