The Hamilton Tiger-Cats stood at centerfield on Thursday in the spitting rain, surrounded by legends.
The 2019 Ticats shared the turf with members of the 1999 Grey Cup-winning squad. The past met the present, a now 12-3 team with serious Grey Cup aspirations listening to members from the last Hamilton team to accomplish that feat. It was a superfan’s photoshop come to life.
These kinds of end-of-practice speeches don’t often go long. Everything in football is about the schedule, with practice broken down by the minute and media availabilities following immediately after. Except on Thursday. Time seemed to stand still that day.
Orlondo Steinauer, of course, is the link between the two teams. He won a ring with that ’99 squad and as the head coach of the ’19 team, is trying to end the second-longest Grey Cup drought in the league.
“We stood out there and sometimes those talks can get a little bit long,” Steinauer said on Friday night after his team thrashed Edmonton 42-12.
For many of the Ticats’ players, the significance of that ’99 team’s speeches would resonate. Mike Filer, Simoni Lawrence and Ted Laurent, to name a few, have been with the team through highs and lows with the organization over the years.
It might seem strange that one of the newest members of the team stood in that cold rain on Thursday and came out equally motivated.
“I haven’t even been to (a Grey Cup). That’s what I’m trying to do,” running back Tyrell Sutton said, after running for 88 yards and adding 23 receiving yards in just his second game on the active roster with the team. He was signed to the practice roster on Sept. 9.
Sutton spent the first 5.5 years — 2013 to 2018 — of his career with the Montreal Alouettes, only seeing the playoffs twice in that time. He was traded to BC last season and got into his third playoff game with them, only to lose to the Ticats in the crossover.
“Honestly, I feel like this is the perfect marriage for both sides — me and the Tiger-Cats — because over the course of six years, I’ve lost to (Hamilton) every time in the playoffs,” Sutton said. “Every time they’ve beat me, they lost (after). Hopefully, we can help each other get over that hump and bring back that championship.”
Sutton has been effective in both games with his new team. He had a touchdown in his Ticats’ debut against Winnipeg two weeks ago, filling in at a position that’s been decimated by injuries this year.
“We ran the ball effectively,” Steinauer said on Friday, shortly after he was interrupted at the post-game podium by a trio of his former teammates who were enjoying the win as much as anyone in the locker room.
“Sutton’s a fall-forward back. He’s tough. He’s hard to tackle for four quarters. I thought we changed it up. Got some perimeter runs early and bigger than…the individual, the yards in between are great, but you need to finish drives with points. We got field goals, we got touchdowns when we needed it. We spread the ball around. The most important thing is the W.”
At 32, Sutton is happy that he’s gotten away from what he’s always known to be a punishing Ticats’ defence.
“Being in Montreal, I hated these guys,” he said. “Physicality…I’ve been on the wrong side of that for six years.”
Sutton got a glimpse of the tribute video that played on Friday night at Tim Hortons Field, honouring Rob Hitchcock. The team’s former linebacker and safety went up on the Ticats’ Wall of Honour, surrounded by upward of 30 of his former teammates.
Sutton wasn’t there for the lean times in Hamilton. He wasn’t a part of the Grey Cup disappointments, or the wheels falling off of that team two years ago, but he’s here now, driven by similar things. And in moments like Thursday’s walkthrough or Friday’s tribute video, he’s learning more about his new surroundings.
“Seeing the highlight tape, I swear to God,” Sutton laughed, “it was like doppelgangers.
“If you see Hitchcock out there hitting people, that’s the way they’re hitting people out there today,” Sutton said.
“That shows you the mentality of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That’s the mentality of this city. We won’t be denied. Blue-collar, steel factory. Everybody’s here to get down and dirty and just work.”
Tyrell Sutton had over 100 all-purpose yards for the Ticats in their win on Friday night (Shannon Vizniowski/CFL.ca)
With members of that ’99 team around, everything moved a little slower for the Ticats over those two days. Steinauer called it a good distraction, and something that the young guys could learn from as they inch closer to a prize that’s been extremely elusive over the last two decades.
Steinauer himself seemed emotional on Friday. It may have been the memories coming back, or perhaps a realization that his team is taking steps in the right direction at the right time of the year.
“We’re always emphasizing studying greatness and that ’99 was about greatness,” he said.
“Any time you can get firsthand information from them, ask them questions…talk to them, those types of things. I think whatever they take from it, they take from it. I think was the timing was right for us.”
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