Saturday 14 August 2010

What the Tiger-Cats Mean to Hamilton

The thought of losing the Tiger-Cats has stirred a lot of emotions inside me. I have been a fan of this team for as long as I can remember. I have walked the streets of Toronto with an Arland Bruce jersey on; I have yelled "GO TI-CATS!" while standing at the 40-yard-line of Rogers Centre SkyDome. I bleed Black & Gold. The idea that my soon-to-be-born nephew might never get to experience Hamilton Tiger-Cat football makes me sick to my stomach.

But I'm not the only person who has a visceral connection to the Ti-Cats. Emily Scott, a friend of mine for almost a decade, has the same feelings about the Tiger-Cats that I do. She and I have spent almost every moment together this week talking about the Tiger-Cats, the Pan Am Stadium, and everything in between as it relates to what is going on right now in Hamilton.

When she told me she wanted to say a few things about what the Tiger-Cats mean to her and what she thinks they mean to this city, she said she did not know what to do with the finished product. I told her that if she sent it to me, I would post it.

She took me up on that offer.

Across Canada, Hamilton is known for three things: steel, Tim Horton's, and the Tiger-Cats. Not necessarily in that order. For 141 years – nearly as long as our country has existed – our players, be they Tigers, Flying Wildcats or Tiger-Cats, have left everything on the field; they have punished their bodies and pushed themselves to the edge, not for money – few millionaires are made in the CFL – but for love of the game and the city. And in turn, we love them back.

I would wager that no Hamiltonian who has said "Good riddance, Ticats" in recent days has ever been to a game. I cannot imagine that someone who has sat in an Ivor Wynne crowd and watched Earl Winfield or Darren Flutie or Dave Stala catch a touchdown pass, or seen Angelo Mosca or Grover Covington or Joe Montford crush an opposing offense, or witnessed (the incomparable) Paul Osbaldiston kick a last-second field goal to win the game, would leave feeling anything but inspired. In an atmosphere where people once again talk to their neighbours and where strangers, in an instant, become friends, the feeling that is generated – and that every single person in attendance feels – is, in a word, community. And even, dare I say it, pride.

It isn't easy to be from Hamilton. The unpleasant reality is that stepping outside the city limits means having to defend our hometown to virtually everyone we meet. I had the misfortune of living in Toronto for most of the last seven years, and I took a lot of flak from people who felt my city was a laughingstock. But there were a few bright spots: one of my favourite memories from that time is watching the Tiger-Cats play the Argos at the SkyDome. After the Ticats won the game (a fairly rare occurrence at the time), to walk down Front Street screaming "Oskee Wee Wee" and being met with the boos of the Argonaut faithful was the ultimate expression of my roots. A Tiger-Cats victory gives every citizen of Hamilton, a city with a persistent inferiority complex, license to look our supposed betters in the eye.

Tiger-Cat football is vicious and beautiful – yes, beautiful. The men who play it are heroes and martyrs – and may be lucky enough to get a free beer after a win. And the city that supports them has – every week – a chance at glory. I have heard it said repeatedly that no other private enterprise would be given such consideration, and that supposedly justifies Council's treatment of the Ticats, but to write off the team as just another business would be doing a disservice not just to the legacy of the players, many of whom continue to make Hamilton their home, but to the city as a whole. From the flags flying on Concession Street and from car windows, to the our yellow HSR buses, to the location of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, signs are everywhere that the Tiger-Cats are part of the soul of this city, and if that part is ripped away, all of us will be poorer as a result.

I think I can safely say that she sums up the feelings of many in Tigertown. It would be absolutely devastating if the Cats packed up and moved from the one city they have called home for over 140 years.

The Tiger-Cats have meant so much to my family, Emily's family and your family. I want to preserve the Tiger-Cats, not for myself, but for everyone. I want my nephew to be able to take his nephew to a game. I want Emily's niece to be able to take her niece to a game.

We cannot lose the Tiger-Cats; not now, not ever. They mean too much to too many people to see this all end.

Thank you, Emily. Thank you for letting me post what you wrote.

Thank you for doing your part to show that the Tiger-Cats are more than just a football team.

Thank you for showing all of us that the Tiger-Cats are worth saving.

Simply put, thank you.

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