For a Week 5 matchup between two non-division teams, tonight's Hamilton-Saskatchewan game s ripe with story lines.
The most obvious one is Andy Fantuz's return to the place he called his football home for six years. After being drafted in the first round of the 2006 CFL Draft, Fantuz starred for the Riders, helping them get to three Grey Cups and winning one in 2007. Fantuz opted to leave the Riders to head home to play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It rubbed some Rider fans the wrong way – though it is rather hypocritical of them considering the Riders were able to land Brendon LaBatte, the consensus best lineman available, only because he wanted to play closer to home – so it will be very interesting to see the type of reception Fantuz gets. It will likely be a lot of boos, with the few classy fans the Riders have giving him the warm ovation he rightly deserves.
We also have the mini-controversy that was Corey Chamblin's "Meow" comment following Saskatchewan's 43-16 win over Hamilton back on June 29th. Everyone has seemingly dismissed the comments as meaningless, but disrespect is disrespect. While I doubt it will be a major motivating factor behind Hamilton's performance tonight, there are more than a couple of players that would love to stick to Chamblin, Hamilton's defensive coordinator in 2011, just a little bit (especially those on the defense).
As we have seen for some time, whenever Henry Burris returns to Regina he is bombarded with boos. Burris left the Riders following the 2004 season and their fans have been on his case ever since. With Burris no longer in Calgary, perhaps the vitriol will dissipate over time, but he is not far removed from his days as a Rider tormentor that he will not be showered with boos. I'm sure the Rider faithful will be on his case tonight in the same way they have been since he left.
Lastly, this is a revenge game. The Riders marched into Hamilton back on opening weekend and spoiled the final home opener in the history of Ivor Wynne Stadium. The Ti-Cats will now try to go into Regina and return the favour.
But at the end of the day, it is still a football game between two teams trying to establish themselves. Hamilton is looking to continue their strong play of the past two weeks, while Saskatchewan is looking to bounce back from their first loss of the season last week at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders. Both teams will also be looking to stay atop their divisions; with a win, Hamilton will keep pace with the Toronto Argonauts, while Saskatchewan will stay a game up on Edmonton with a win.
Hamilton has been a little vexed by the Roughriders, especially in Regina where the team has not won since the 2000 season. But this might be the best Tiger-Cat team since the heyday of Danny McManus, Darren Flutie and Ron Lancaster, so if any Hamilton team is going to break the 11-year losing streak in Saskatchewan, it will be this one. To see if the Cats can extend their win streak to three games and send Saskatchewan to their second straight loss, make sure you tune in to TSN starting at 6 p.m.