July 28, 2010

Team Retro Profile: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Brian Snelgrove

The 1960’s created high expectations for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as they made six trips to the Grey Cup and came away winners three times (1963, ’65 and ’67).

Unfortunately in the 70’s, the Black and Gold could only claw their way to a single Cup in 1972.

The trip however, was a memorable one. The Grey Cup that year was played before an exuberant home crowd at Ivor Wynne Stadium on December 3, 1972. The hometown heroes prevailed in a thrilling 13-10 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Ian Sunter, a 19 year-old rookie from Dundee, Scotland provided the heroics as he kicked a 34 yard game-winning field goal for the Tabbies on the final play of the game.

The Tiger-Cats were led by first year Head Coach Jerry Williams (1972-75), rookie quarterback Chuck Ealey and a cast of outstanding veterans, including Garney Henley, Angelo Mosca, Bob Krouse, Dave Fleming and Tony Gabriel.

A number of Tiger-Cat legends retired as the decade got underway. In 1970 defensive lineman John Barrow (1957-70) ended his 14 year Hall of Fame career. Two years later, following the Grey Cup celebrations, Big Angelo Mosca followed his long-time teammate to the sidelines. Mosca became a member of the Hall in 1987. Wide Receiver / Kicker Tommy Joe Coffey ended his outstanding 14 year career in ’72 and was inducted into The Hall of Fame in 1977.

The early part of the 70’s started well for the Tabbies. In both 1970 and ’72 they finished in first place in the Eastern Conference. In ’71 they were second. For the balance of the decade they finished second twice (1974 and ’76) but failed to advance to the Grey Cup.

For the Tiger-Cats of the 70’s there were heroes aplenty.

In 1972, Garney Henley became the second Hamilton player to win the Schenley Award (Bernie Faloney, 1961) for Most Outstanding Player. Without question the greatest two-way player in Tiger-Cat history, Henley was a nine-time CFL all-star as a defensive back. Ironically he won the award in ’72 primarily for his role as an offensive player as he was named a CFL all-star at wide receiver. Henley retired after 16 seasons (1960-75) with the Tiger-Cats in 1975 and was inducted in to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1979. He is the Tiger-Cat leader in career interceptions with 59.

Chuck Ealey, (1972-74) one of the heroes of ‘72 arrived in Steeltown with a perfect football record. Throughout his high school and College career at Toledo he had never lost a game. After replacing Wally Gabler, Ealey lost his first start against Edmonton but went on to lead the Cats to a first place finish and a trip to the national championship.

Ealey was named CFL Rookie of the Year as well as the Most Valuable Player of the 60th Grey Cup as he was good on 18 of 29 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 63 yards and in the final two minutes put together a 68 yard drive to set up Sunter’s game winning kick.

Tony Gabriel (1971-74) was one of the finest tight ends in CFL history. After not catching a pass for nearly 60 minutes in the ’72 Grey Cup he caught three in the game-winning drive to set the stage for Sunter. Gabriel, who split his career with Hamilton and Ottawa was an eight-time CFL all-star and was named to the Hall of Fame in 1985.

Terry Evanshan (1974-77) grabbed 13 touchdown passes in 1975, tied for second most in a season in team history. He had the most receiving touchdowns in one season by any Tiger-Cat receiver in the decade. Evanshan was inducted in to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

It was also a decade of outstanding running backs in Hamilton. With the retirement of eight year veteran Willie Bethea in 1970, Dave Fleming, Jimmy Edwards, Andy Hopkins and Dave Buchanan all took up the mantle and gave Ticat fans something to cheer about.

Fleming (1965-74) who played for 10 seasons and is sixth on the all-time rushing list, still has the record for the longest pass and run play in club history when he and Joe Zuger hooked up for a 108 yard major against Toronto in 1971.

Edwards (1976-78) won the Most Outstanding Player Award in 1977 when he rushed for 1,581 yards, second best in team history. He is fifth on the Tiger-Cat all-time rushing list with 3,467 yards.

In just three seasons Hopkins (1973-75) reached seventh spot on the Tiger-Cat all-time rushing list with 2,629 yards. Buchanan (1971-72) was an Eastern all-star in ’72.

Defensive Back Al Brenner (1971-74) holds a CFL record that has stood for nearly four decades. In 1972 the former Michigan State Spartan picked off 15 passes (including four in one game against Joe Theismann and the Argos to tie a CFL record) to set a CFL record for most interceptions in a season.

Appropriately, Brenner also intercepted a Ron Lancaster pass in the Tiger-Cats Grey Cup victory to set up their only touchdown of the game. He ended his four year career in second spot on the club’s all-time interception list with 37, trailing only Henley who had 59.

Continuing the tradition of excellence the 70’s also produced many outstanding Tiger-Cats on the defensive side of the ball.

Linebacker Ben Zambiasi joined the team in 1978, won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in 1979 and began his journey to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (2004). He was a CFL all-star in ’78 and ’79. Bob Krouse (1963-75) was a hard-hitting linebacker who played 13 seasons with the ‘Cats. Lewis Porter (1971-78) was twice an all-star at defensive back.

Within a year of the decade closing the Tiger-Cats would return to the Grey Cup against the Edmonton Eskimos.