But in one city in Southern Ontario – Hamilton, to be exact – the first Monday of September feels almost like Christmas.
It represents one of the greatest rivalries in professional sports: one that’s about more than the teams on the field or a couple of points in the standings, but two fan bases that hate one another. It’s about bragging rights.
The two franchises have met on Labour Day 44 times, dating back to 1948 when the Toronto Argonauts beat the Hamilton Wildcats 14-7.
After a one-year hiatus in 2011, the game is back in Hamilton, and this year’s edition, as if it were even possible, has a little more meaning than usual.
With Ivor Wynne Stadium set to close at the end of the season to make room for a brand new stadium for the Ticats, one of the league’s most storied venues is making its last round.
Angelo Mosca and Bill Symons, Ticats and Argos legends respectively, will be on hand Monday to watch their former teams do battle in this special game for the final time. They know quite well what the rivalry means for both fans and players.
“From the way I’ve looked at it, it was like the city slicks coming over here to the nasty boys,” says Mosca, who anchored the Ticats’ defensive line from 1963 to 1972. “That’s the way I always looked at it, we were the bad boys and they were the city slicks.”
Symons, who played for the Argos in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and became the first running back to break the 1,000-yard plateau in franchise history, agreed that it was the clash of two very different cities in such close proximity that made the rivalry so big off the field.
“They always played up the fact that Toronto was big and spoiled, they were the rugged, poor sister team down the road,” says Symons. “But there were a lot of things the two towns could play against each other that made it a lot of fun.”
While Mosca tries to make it to every Labour Day game between these two teams and continues to be an avid Ticats supporter, he also has fond memories of suiting up and going to battle against the Boatmen in front of a wild Ivor Wynne crowd.
“It was always fun – they made it easy for us, always behind us,” says Mosca. “When you’ve got 27,000 people or so cheering for you it’s always a good thing, and a fun thing too.”
For the visiting team, it’s not always so easy. But, it does get everyone on the field riled up.
“In Hamilton it was easy to get up because the stands were so close, it was a great stadium to play football in because everybody was right there on top, from a standpoint where you could see the game,” says Symons.
The Ticats now hold a 29-14-1 edge on Labour Day, with the Argos failing to win a single one of those contests in the ‘60s. Mosca and the Ticats’ dominant defence played a huge role in protecting their home turf.
While Symons and quarterback Joe Theismann finally helped the Argos capture bragging rights in the ‘70s, it was all Ticats before that.
“In the early years we had some great football teams, and we were lucky that we always beat the Argonauts as it was probably 8-10 years before they won a game over here,” says Mosca.
“There was a lot of pride,” he added. “Defensively we had great pride – there were guys that we played together for 10, 12 years so there were a lot of veterans on those teams. And we were proud to play together and win together.”
Symons was one of the players who helped crack the Ticats Labour Day winning streak, when he took the Argos from their own five-yard-line and ran 105 yards for a touchdown.
Well-removed from his playing days and now running a farm in Hockley Valley, the former Argo running back doesn’t remember the specifics. Instead, he recalls the intensity on the field whenever these two teams met on Labour Day. “You get to know each other a lot better, and you get individual rivalries,” says Symons. “You get a defensive back going against a receiver and it gets a little chippy, and a linebacker would come in and give you a late shot and you remember that and look to get even with them sometimes.”
“So it puts a little bit more interest in the game, anyway.”
Mosca says he couldn’t be happier that the Classic is back this season, after the Ticats were forced to play the Alouettes on Labour Day because of a stadium conflict for the Argo earlier in the season.
“I really miss it myself, and my wife has been a Tiger-Cats fan for umpteen thousand years and she missed the Labour Day game too,” says Mosca. “And the first question out of her lips this year was ‘when we get season tickets, are we going to have a Labour Day?’ And I said ‘yes, we are’.”
And while there may be plenty of Labour Day battles between these two teams in the future, this Monday marks the end of an era. It’s the last Labour Day game ever at Ivor Wynne Stadium, and that’s something that likely hasn’t quite sunk in yet with fans and players alike.
“I don’t know how many Grey Cups – I mean you take somebody like Ange (Mosca) who’s got seven or eight Grey Cup rings, all of those years have been played right there at Ivor Wynne,” says Symmons. “It’s got a big past on it and I hope the stadium they build is similar, because it’s an ideal stadium for football and for the CFL.”
Mosca considers himself privileged to have the experience of playing with such a great team, in such a storied rivalry.
“I was just a lucky guy to play with a good football team,” says Mosca. “I was in many Grey Cups with them, so that tells the story I think.”
“Always trying to get to the playoffs, that was the key. We always worked to get to the playoffs, and I hope these guys do that this coming Monday.”
With tickets close to being sold out already, the biggest thing left for the Ticats to worry about going into Monday is getting the win.
“This is a very important game for our team this year,” added Mosca. “It’s the last Labour Day game that’ll be played here in the old stadium, so it’ll be kind of nice to go out here as a winner.”