Hamilton vs. Saskatchewan – Saturday July 12th, 2008
After a memorable trip to Toronto in week 2, I was looking forward to returning to my favourite sports venue to cheer on our hometown team. Aside from the 101 reasons why I already loved football at Ivor Wynne Stadium, there was a 102nd that was most certain to be added to that list by the time this particular afternoon came to a close.
For a guy who usually made plans last minute to attend Tiger-Cats games, I began preparing for Saturday’s game a week in advance. I started making lists. What I needed to bring, what we could do while we were at the game. Doing everything in my power to make this day, something we would both remember forever.
My daughter, Emma, is 20 months. I had bought her a Tiger-Cat outfit last season, but we never had the opportunity to attend any games. I had waited a long time to take my children to see the Tiger-Cats, so before the season started, I had decided this was the year my girl was going to learn how to Oskee wee wee.
I bought our tickets for the game mid week, figuring that if it rained, I would just have to call my wife to pick us up. I checked the forecast faithfully every day, hoping that the weather wouldn’t play a factor in the outcome of Saturday’s experience. It wasn’t looking too promising though.
The night before the game, after reading Emma a bedtime story, I told her that daddy was going to take her to watch football the next day.
“Football?? she inquired.
‘Yup. Row!? I growled back at her playfully.
As is usually the case, Emma woke us up the next morning by jumping into our bed. She climbed over my wife and her baby bump, and found a spot in between us. I rolled over half awake, and started to get her into the football spirit.
“Football,? I sang cheerfully. She surely didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, but I was excited enough for the both of us.
‘Row!’ she laughed, swiping at me like a cat.
My wife took our daughter out shopping the morning of the game to buy her some gold and white ribbon for her hair, and to my surprise when they returned, Emma ran into the living room chanting “Tiger-Cats. Tiger Cats.?
That’s my girl, I thought to myself.
While she was having her afternoon nap, I finished packing our bag – checking my list 3 or 4 times to ensure there was nothing that could get in the way of this daddy/daughter time. I was still keeping a close watch on the weather, but it seemed to be getting darker as the hours closed in on kick off.
Just as I was about to go wake Emma up, I suddenly heard footsteps coming from the front stairway. She had gotten out of bed on her own, and slid downstairs on her bottom to greet me.
I quickly got her dressed into her Tiger-Cat outfit, but just before we were about to head outside, it started to pour. Not good.
I quickly took off her sandals and switched to her pink rain boots that of course, I had packed at the bottom of our bag - along with her pink rain coat and equally pink umbrella.
I got her strapped in for the trip, and loaded our rather heavy pack on my back. As we made our way to the front gate, I was reassured at the site of our street still alive with football - Even though just moments before, the sky had attempted to rain on their Tiger-Cat parade.
By the time we found our place amongst the march to Ivor Wynne, the rain had subsided. Still, I opened up Emma’s umbrella just in case, and she held on tight until just before we entered the stadium.
Emma was quiet for the better part of the 15 minute trip. She just watched with a curious eye, as we walked amongst the crowded streets full of fans all decked out in their Tiger-Cat gear – including quite a few children around the same age as Emma. She must have thought we were at a circus or something.
I was elated that I was now amongst the parents and children enjoying one of Hamilton’s favourite past times together, and that Emma was the newest member of a new generation of fans.
I picked up our tickets at the Will Call, and we made our way around to our gate. We check in her stroller, and for the first time, we walked hand in hand together under the south stands bleachers. I am not sure if she noticed, but her proud daddy was grinning ear to ear. I was finally sharing this very special part of my childhood with my little girl. My little black and gold princess.
It was a lot to take in for Emma, but a few months prior, we had had a sporting event trial run in Toronto for the Jays home opener, when I thought it would be a good idea to take a bus and a train and experience baseball on a warm spring day. No nap, no stroller and a few tantrums later, I realized perhaps that I hadn’t planned that outing as well as I should have. This time around, things were going to be different. Nap? check. Stroller? Check. Really long list? Check.
She walked by my side for a little bit, but soon Emma requested that I pick her up. I can’t imagine what was going through her little head watching all the different people towering over her. The sounds, the smells, the sites. There were certainly some eccentric fans in Hamilton, but after making the trip down the Queen Elizabeth way the week before, I realized those passionate fans weren’t only to be found Hamilton.
We bought our jumbo hotdogs, purchased a tiger claw for cheering, and then made our way to our front row seats in the family zone.
By the time we got settled in, the game was already in progress. No sooner had we sat down, than the place erupted with celebration. The loud cheers certainly startled Emma, but by the half way point of the first quarter, she had settle in and released me from her clutches.
We had a great view of the stadium from our seats. It was a little hard to tell what yard line the teams were scrimmaging from, but that’s what the score clocks were for. If what was happening on the playing field and people watching weren’t enough to keep her occupied, the big screen television practically in front of her, surely would suit her curiosities. Of course, it was the two mascots that would provide most of her entertainment that evening. Or should I say, most of our entertainment.
Sitting next to us, was Marg and her husband Bill. Marg was a fairly new Cats fan, but when her husband finally persuaded her to attend a Ti-Cats game, she was hooked – And she was just as spirited as the next person.
Emma played shy with the neighbours to our left at first, but we couldn’t have asked for a nicer couple to share this first experience with. They were grandparents themselves, so they were very patient with Emma, and every once in awhile they would try to warm up to her to make her feel more comfortable amongst all these strange faces.
Early into the half, free t-shirts were being launched into our section. I was amazed (touched actually), at the swarm of people that were suddenly hovering around us - pointing their fingers down at my little girl. Standing their unaware as to what was going on, all decked out in her team’s colors, she was looking as cute as ever with her little pony tales and matching ribbons. The crowd of people around us continued to shout desperately to get the attention of the shirt tossers down on the field, trying to get them to throw something Emma’s way. She didn’t get a shirt, but I think she was too taken by TC and Stripes, to even notice things flying over her head.
By half-time, Emma was right into the game. She was even getting involved with the crowd. “Tiger-Cats,? she would sneak in every once in awhile in a playful little voice.
Marg offered to watch all of our stuff during half-time so I could take Emma for a walk. I took her up on that offer, and away we went.
Emma started off holding my hand and walking on her own. It wasn’t long though, with all the hustle and bustle around us, before she asked to be picked up. So, I threw her onto my shoulders and we bounced our way through the crowded concessions.
I suddenly noticed a big blue mascot near the south/east gates, so I started to make my way over so Emma could meet him. I had hoped to run into TC or Stripes, but this blue bear looking creature would have to do. As we made our way closer, I could feel Emma squeezing my hands tightly, and the lady standing next to the pizza mascot told me my little girl was looking a bit frightened. So, we escaped the rath of the smurf bear, and continued on our way.
During the second half, the stadium tone was set at a fine roar. The wave was being initiated for the first time in what seemed a very long while, and the fans were enjoying a Tiger-Cat lead.
At one point, TC was making his rounds - doing his part to get the crowd all riled up, when suddenly Emma noticed that he was coming towards us. I didn’t think anything of it. I figured all kids loved TC. I thought perhaps, that the blue Smurf incident was just a coincidence.
A bunch of people called and whistled at TC to come over to sign Emma’s shirt. He eventually acknowledged their request, and started to walk towards us. That’s when we realized, that Emma and the overgrown kitties weren’t going to be friends this time around. She screamed frantically and jumped into my lap.
By this point in the game, Emma was hamming it up with all the fans around us. She had especially warmed up to Marg and Bill as if they were one of the family.
Marg was from a little place 3 hours west of Winnipeg called Brandon, Manitoba. With the noise of the stadium and trying to make sure Emma didn’t try to climb through the railing onto the stadium floor, I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to Bill, but all I know is how special they made our night.
By the time Emma had taken to them, she was sitting in Margs lap, and passing around high fives with her foam claw that was twice the size of her head. Periodically, she would update all of us with highlights as to the whereabouts of TC or Stripes too, but the minute either of them appeared to be getting near, she jumped into my arms and squeezed with all her might. Eventually, she would carefully peer over each shoulder to ensure the kitties were well out of harms way. When they were at a safe enough distance, Emma would point at them with new found bravery, and repeat“Kitty o’er der.? She had us all looking around for them. It was like finding Waldo.
Keeping a child entertained, you tend to miss a fair bit of the game, but the energy in that stadium Saturday was something that had been missing for a very long time. Yes, the Cats still have a ways to go, but that was the most exciting game I had been to at Ivor Wynne Stadium in a very long time. Considering the forecast for that afternoon, you couldn’t have asked for a better game.
As is always the case, the time went by too quickly. I couldn’t believe that the afternoon had gone over so well. It wasn’t until the final couple of minutes of the fourth quarter, that Emma had started to get antsy.
When it was finally time to go, Emma’s yellow outfit was a little black around the knees, Her hair was scattered about and the ribbons had been yanked out, her eyes were heavy, and her energy level was quickly fading, but she was still smiling and enjoying every minute.
We said our goodbyes to Marg and Bill and the rest of the fans sitting around us, and started home.
As we neared our house, I asked Emma if she wanted to go to the park. “Park?? she blurted - suddenly alert. She had been such a good girl for daddy, how could I walk by the swings and slides without rewarding her for such a memorable night.
It was an exciting game on the field once again. The entire team should be proud seeing as though Saskatchewan is undefeated and they are the defending Grey Cup champions. They had many reasons to hang their heads high that night. It was a tough game to lose, but it made for one of the most exiting finishes in recent history. In the end, the fans were left with a strong sense, that this Tiger-Cat team was for real.
I was touched by the support of the fans and how they doted over Emma - doing everything in their power to make her experience a memorable one. They were incredible. It was encouraging to see this side of the game. After all, our children are the future of this leagues success.
My wife and I get Emma ready for bed, tuck her in tight, and I read her a story to end our very special day together.
“Night sweetie,? I said softly as I leaned over to kiss her goodnight.
“Daddy?? she called out just as I was leaving her room.
“Yes, Emma,? I asked peeking back through the doorway at her.
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