May 26, 2020

O’Leary: Win-and-host could suit the Ticats

The Canadian Press

From lineups outside of stores to streets that were once full of cars gridlocked in traffic opening up for pedestrians and cyclists, we’re seeing the change that a pandemic can bring to the world around us.

That hit home for CFL fans this past week, when commissioner Randy Ambrosie had three major announcements at his online town hall. His biggest news was that the league will not be able to have an 18-game season this year and is hoping for a reduced schedule that could get underway in September. The Touchdown Atlantic game has been lost amidst those cancellations and finally, the Grey Cup will not take place as it was scheduled to in Regina at the end of the season.

It’s the contingency plans — there are a lot of them being thrown around right now — that have stuck with me. In the days after hearing what the commish had to say, one scenario keeps running through my mind: The win-and-host model of the Grey Cup.

This would be a big departure from the tradition that goes with the Grey Cup, which has had a host city for the game for multiple generations now. Regardless of how 2020 plays out for the sporting world, this will be a season that people will look back on well into the future and see that it was a break from the norm. Since 1909, only four years have passed that didn’t see a Grey Cup game. World War I took the game away from 1916 to 1918 and a rules dispute with the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union and the Canadian Rugby Union saw the 1919 game go un-played.

If things fall into place and we do get a season, the win-and-host model would stand out in Canadian sports history.

I’ve thought about the possibility of each of the nine teams hosting this year’s Grey Cup and there’s one team that would be a clear cut choice as the most compelling situation.

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Brandon Banks and the Ticats saw a magical 2019 season end in heartbreak at the Grey Cup (Photo: The Canadian Press)

That team is the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

As things stand right now, the Ticats would be a fascinating story in this bizarre year. After last year’s Grey Cup loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Ticats hold the longest Grey Cup drought in the league, having last won it all in 1999.

About last year. The Ticats had put their best-ever regular-season together, with a 15-3 record that saw them go a perfect 10-0 at Tim Hortons Field. They had the MOP, the coach of the year, the special teams player of the year and (AND!) the league’s top offensive lineman. The Ticats scored a blowout win over Edmonton in the East Final to head to the Grey Cup, where they were soundly stopped by the Bombers, who put their own streak (previous Grey Cup win:1990) to bed in Calgary.

So you’ll understand that whenever they do get on the field again, the Ticats will be motivated.
They’re in position to take the lemons they were handed at the end of November and turn them into lemonade this year…even if we’re past lemonade season when cleats are laced up and pads are put on. The Ticats will return the majority of that killer defence, both QBs Jeremiah Masoli and Dane Evans, Speedy Banks and return specialist Frankie Williams. A team that’s talented and deep is now battle-tested and should be in position to continue rattling off wins the way they did last year.

So, say they do just that. Say they take way more Ws than Ls in a shortened season. Say they find their way out of the East again. There’s another streak that’s longer than that Grey Cup drought that has irked Ticats fans, maybe even more than the absence of a championship. Hamilton last hosted a Grey Cup in 1996. If you want to pour salt in black and yellow wounds, you’ll remember that in that icy cold game, the Toronto Argonauts beat the Edmonton Eskimos.

Sure, a win-and-host Grey Cup is drastically different than hosting an actual Grey Cup, which is an open invitation to the rest of Canada and the football-loving world to come to town for a week, socialize, forget a lot of fun nights had and then possibly fend off frostbite while watching a football game. Hamilton can do all of that in 2021, when it hosts the Grey Cup it was awarded in 2019 (imagine the possibilities of that Grey Cup festival?).

Win-and-host would come without the festival, without the pomp and circumstance and probably with less hangovers, but it’d still be a fantastic story. It’d be the Ticats in their own backyard, with a chance to put their drought to bed and right the wrongs of last year’s Grey Cup game.

And while there might be talk of an asterisk going next to a champion in any sport in 2020, there’s another side to the coin here. A champion in 2020 will be the team that best adapts to an adversity and obstacles that have been unseen in most of our lives. Lifting a trophy this year will be unlike doing so in any other year of sports since the years of World War II. However that game looks and wherever it might be played, that’s something special.