Inside Enemy Territory, Vol. 1

Inside Enemy Territory
by Russ Harrison

Vive la difference...

As the freezing hit my palate today as part of an extraction procedure on a dead molar I needed removed, I thanked my lucky stars that my dentist is in fact a long-time Tiger-Cats fan from the Prince Hal Patterson days of the early 1960s.

Not that an Argo-backing dentist would not have frozen me properly or simply taken out the elephant pliers and have at me. No, it was just curious to realize again how Ticat Nation is a far bigger phenomenon than we sometimes think.

I have lived outside of Hamilton since the fall of 1991. During that time, i have met many people who are Ticat fans in my travels, many of those people who try to make a pilgrimage to Old Civic at least once a season to catch the Cats in action.

I recall a friend who was a bit trepidacious when I told him that I was going to drape my Tiger-Cat flag along my balcony here in Verdun, Quebec.

"Are you nuts?", he said to me, thinking I was going to suffer some kind of backlash from a mob of Als fans.

I told him that Verdun has for years had their kids' minor league football teams called the Tiger-Cats. No biggie. I n fact I do get the odd person giving me an Oski Wee Wee in the neighbourhood because I am the Tiger-Cat guy on my block.

I suppose if you were to do a poll of CFL fans in Quebec for their second favourite team, the Cats would rank pretty high up there, particularly with older folks than I who recall vividly the aborted 1960 Sam Etcheverry trade that landed Hal Patterson in Tigertown. I think the affection the fans here in Montreal had for Prince Hal definitely rubbed off somewhat on their feelings for the Cats as a whole.

I often wear my Ticat hats around town and I can honestly say I've never been heckled at all on the street. Even when my ex-girlfriend, a Quebecoise, and I went to a Ticats-Alouettes game in 2000 in Tabbie colours, the ribbing we received was good-natured. One guy though was a bit too fuelled from brown pops and started to give me the gears. My girlfriend cut into the guy's heckling by telling the guy in French to relax and it wasn't my fault the Cats were winning at the time. The guy was stunned as about 10 other people started laughing. Things were okay after that, but I don't think I would have had the same type of cool-down if I were supporting another southern Ontario team winning in Molson Stadium but I digress, LOL!

Living in Montreal as a CFL fan, you can see the swagger Als fans have for their team. Perhaps I am lucky to be here while the Als remain a model franchise. Even when Ozzie made The Kick in 1998, I didn't feel any real hostility from folks that week leading up to the Grey Cup. Als fans are extremely passionate about their team. The football renaissance here is palpable, particularly as the fall begins and the CIS season kicks off. Montreal is a football hotbed when its university rivalries are renewed each September. This is a great football town. I am lucky to live here!

Thoughts on the Winnipeg game

The Winnipeg game last Friday was a needed shot-in-the-arm for me as I felt the season was slipping away from us with the 29-0 pasting the team took the week before. Being inside enemy territory takes on a certain strangeness during the week after a loss because the main feedback I have about the team is at Ticats.ca.

As a kid, I used to revel in reading the coverage of the team by Bob Hanley and John Kernaghan in The Spec and felt the ebb and flow of the team's fortunes through really solid football journalism.

It isn't the same today -- in part because of the distance I physically have from The Hammer. Relying on Ticats.ca for most of my news is fine for its links to papers and sport sites across the country, but it's life in the forums that intrigues and repels me at the same time, like watching a train wreck on TV and wondering when the microwave popcorn is ready...I don't expect Jerry Springer's investigations into the human spirit to win a Pulitzer Prize either, so working through the various threads fans put up is par for the course of what you’ll find in any public forum on the Internet.

I’m almost 41 now and I find the time between games whips by a faster and faster speed these days. My passion for football in all its varieties (except Arena Football when the teams are really bad, making it seem like a bad game of Electronic Quarterback in a mid-eighties untipped-over Gore Park phone booth) has grown over the years as my love of baseball has waned. Hockey has never interested me as much, to be honest, nor has basketball except in the playoffs. Football commentary and strategy discussion has always interested me. I heard someone once say that football is chess for violent people. It may be a crass analogy, but I get it.

In no other team sport are the efforts of each individual player impact so much upon the success of the collective as a whole as plays in football. I’m a collectivist by nature, so I relate to that and am moved by heroics on the field that uplift teams to new heights.

The 37-yard Josh Ranek TD reception, breaking three tackles through the heart of the Winnipeg Blue Bomber secondary on Friday night, was one of those plays that seasons can turn on. A surge of adrenaline that can get 42 guys going nuts on the sideline and thousands upon thousands more fist-pumping and high-fiving wherever they are watching the contest. The effort of the O-line throughout the game to raise their level of intensity and make things happen for the skill players to shine. The between-game period just flies by for me now, yet the in-game experience is way, way slower for me than it was when I was a kid.

It is getting the nuances of it, the drama you see when you see the guys on the sideline fighting adversity and sometimes injury. I recall watching the 1972 Grey Cup at home with my dad and fighting the urge to blink before Ian Sunter kicked what was The Kick for Ticat fans for an entire generation. As Ranek was running to daylight at around the 10 yard line, I said to myself this could be it, the green light we’ve been waiting for since the Maas trade in the off season. Game on, as the hockey cognoscenti might say. Game on indeed.

Ticats.ca is a much more hospitable place after a big win. Having 30 “Danny Mac to Siberia? threads at once during most of the 2005 season, nothing there really surprises me anymore. It brings home the point that Hamilton is one heck of a place to play football and fan expectations match that. Now if the boys can cooperate and get a win streak together…

Argos on Saturday...

I don’t know about you, but I think Saturday’s tilt against Toronto amounts to a message game. Whoever wins is going to have a ton of momentum happening in the playoff race leading up to Labour Day – the biggest game on the Ticat calendar short of a Grey Cup date.

The Ballard Cup is an often-understated piece of silverware. In my life as a sports fan, it has been the fourth most-impactful trophy awarding for me – short of the Cats winning the Grey Cup, the Canadiens winning the Stanley Cup, or the Raiders winning the Super Bowl. Since its inception as the prize for the winner of the biggest rivalry in Canadian football (take THAT, Edmonton and Calgary!), it has been a passionate battle to follow for me every year to see whether Steeltown prevails over Queen’s Quay.

The opening game of the season was a big disappointment for me since the win was there for he taking, but a very undisciplined effort by the team as a whole cost us the win. Saturday is payback. It is not just another game. It’s the Argos. And if you can’t tighten that chinstrap a little harder and bring wood, you really shouldn’t be in Tigertown.

It is a great opportunity off a big win in Winnipeg for Jason Maas to have a signature game before the hometown fans in Ivor Wynne Stadium. I recall how Danny McManus’s arrival in Hamilton raised the Cats to new heights against the Boatmen in the late nineties. Excuses can be made for either team having a setback this weekend. What is clear is this: the opportunity is there for the club to establish itself some huge momentum for the rest of the season. It is a bigger “must? game than all the other must games a 2-6 can have. I expect the passion and leadership Jason Maas showed last week to rub off on his teammates heading into Saturday’s clash. It may be only game nine in his first season here, but this is one defining moment.

Eat ‘Em Raw!

Russ Harrison

Great job Russ I really enjoyed it !!!

Why aren't you working for the Spec, Russ?

Very well written!

I am coming to understand Labour Day Game in Hamilton, (Forgive me, I come from Saskatchewan, and the home and home series against the Bombers-win, lose or draw, send them home lame!); but how Hamilton DEMANDS a win that day, no matter what the rest of the season brings.

Well, we now have the chance; two wins, same as the Argo's; a win now will take away that game in hand opportunity, and give us a rest week where we might need it.

Wpg has hit the wall, as last week we exposed their weakness at QB, and there is every chance we could be in the Eastern Final...its a tough target, with all the losses so far accumulated, but you are right...some of the performances, like Ranek's, could be the jewel on which this season turns...

Lets go for it!

Lifter, so right and I have to laugh at an interview on CHML before the game on friday night . I believe it was the Bomber play by play guy and he as much as laughed off any chance Hamilton had of making the playoffs and dismissed us as an easy win for the Bombers . Boy I wish we could talk to him now !!!

We didnt use Maas injry as an excuse and neither should they use Glens injury either as they had Stegall out but we had Ranek out the game before . If we can get it together now and beat the Argos suddenly we`re looking pretty good !!!!

Sorry to get off topic Russ but the interview memory just popped back into my head .

Russ, I feel privleged to be sharing this site with you. Lifter was right; you could easily be working for the Spec.

Thanks for all of your interesting, descriptive writings. and please, keep em comin!

I remember well the days of Sam Etcheverry and "Prince" Hal Patterson along with some of the other athletes that made the Alouettes a formidable foe in the 50s. Pat Abruzzi, Red O'Quinn, Joey Pal and several others come to mind.

Hamilton's acquisition of Hal Patterson really helped put our boys on the CFL map.

In terms of flaunting Ticat colours from your Verdun home and at Molson Stadium, I admire your nerve. This would be akin to flying the Fleur de Lis at Queen's Park!

Thanks for your submissions Russ.

Thanks for the kind comments guys...I love writing about football here and elsewhere. I got away from it for about a year and a half, but I'm back now. I hope to write this feature regularly. Other than that, who knows? :stuck_out_tongue:

Oski Wee Wee,

Good stuff Russ, if we do turn this season around, Ranek's 37 yard t.d catch should definately be considered the turning point for the season.

Good work, Russ. I love your pithy comments in your regular posts, too, Russ.

P.S.

I don't have a lisp, nor do I write with one. :oops:

Russ, that was well-written and very interesting. It certainly is interesting to get a perspective of what it is like to be a fan of this team in another CFL city. I also liked the way you went into detail about what you like about football in general. It that combination of startegy and brute force that one has to like. And that chess analogy reminded me of chess boxing, which you can click here to read about. But I digress, and I'm looking forward to the sequel to this post.

P.S. Ron, that was some rather amusing subtle hunour in your post, I must say.

:)

Russ:

Vive la difference for sure. Sounds like the Montreal fans have a lot of class. Their conduct is a far cry from the " I'd rather be 1-5 than...etc" stupidity a couple of our fans stooped to on national TV.
Anyway....its great to see you still have so much enthusiasm for the Tiger Cats. I have been away from Hamilton since 1962 and, apart from being able to see the occasional game at Ivor Wynne, I have had to rely on TV and the net to feed my appetite for Tiger Cat happenings.
Some of these guys who are able to attend all the games and whine and complain about the team on this forum don't realize how lucky they are.
So thanks for being a positive voice from the Tiger Cat wilderness of Montreal.