Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Rivalry Renewed

When people think about the rivalries in the CFL they usually talk about Toronto-Hamilton, Calgary-Edmonton or Winnipeg-Saskatchewan. Others have sprung up recently – Hamilton-Montreal was pretty intense this year; Calgary-Saskatchewan had some fire to it because of playoff matchups and the Henry Burris factor – but they pale in comparison to what I would call The Big 3.

But another less celebrated rivalry gets dusted off this weekend in the East Division Final: Winnipeg-Hamilton.

These two teams have a lot of history between them, but most of it is not known to fans under the age of 50. The heyday of the rivalry was the 1950s and 1960s, when the Bombers and Ti-Cats met in the Grey Cup in seven times (1953, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1965). In total, the Blue Bombers and Tiger-Cats have met in eight Grey Cups and four East Division Finals. At one time, these were the two giants of Canadian football.

The rivalry died down for next four decades as Winnipeg bounced from East Division to West Division and back again, and both teams went through some down years. It's hard to cultivate a rivalry when both teams spend as much time in last place as they do in first place. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was the 2001 East Division Final. It is also the last time both teams made the playoffs in the same season until this year.

The rivalry has become a little more heated over the last couple of years, starting when the Tiger-Cats eliminated the Blue Bombers from playoff contention on the final day of the 2009 season. That game will forever be remembered as The Boat Game.

This season saw some back and forth, especially via social media. Dave Stala took exception to the nickname the Blue Bombers gave themselves (yes, I am still boycotting using that ridiculous term) and the wife of Blue Bomber Head Coach Paul LaPolice to exception to Stala's comment. Probably one of the silliest spats in recent memory.

A major key to any great rivalry is fan involvement, and I have noticed a nasty rivalry brewing between the two teams' fans. Just go to the CFL forum and read the back and forth between some of the Tiger-Cat faithful and their Winnipeg counterparts or read what fans of both teams write in comment sections on newspaper articles. The hate for the other just oozes off the page.

But until Sunday, these two teams had not met in a truly meaningful game since that 2001 East Division Final. So while there has been some sniping at one another, it doesn't compare to the time when these two teams battled for league supremacy.

But all that could be changing. With the Toronto Argonauts in another rebuilding mode, and the Montreal Alouettes dynasty looking to be on its last legs, the time is now for the Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers to take the clock back to when it was a two-team show.

If these two clubs can continue to meet in playoff matchups over the next few seasons, we could look back on Sunday's East Division Fial as the day a long-dormant rivalry was renewed.

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