i dunno if anyone has seen this yet, or if it was posted on cfl.ca's main page....but just incase:[url=http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/02/sports/football/02canada.html?_r=1&oref=slogin]http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/02/sport ... ref=slogin[/url]
If football fans were asked to name the three pro teams that are located closest to one another, excluding arena teams, most would probably answer the Jets, the Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. But they would be wrong. The correct answer is the Buffalo Bills, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Argonauts.
It is sort of a trick question, in that the Bills play in the N.F.L. and the Tiger-Cats and Argonauts play in the three-down universe of the Canadian Football League. But just as the commercial and cultural bonds run strong and deep among the cities of Buffalo, Hamilton and Toronto, set within 95 miles of one another in Western New York and Southern Ontario, so do the ties among the fans and the shared histories of the three teams.
For example, the Argonauts won the 1950 Grey Cup on a legendary performance by a native Buffalonian, quarterback Al Dekdebrun, who had played for Buffalo’s team in the All-America Football Conference. The Buffalo Bills’ greatest rusher in their American Football League days, Cookie Gilchrist, was discovered after starring with the Argonauts and the Tiger-Cats. Quarterback Doug Flutie was the darling of Argos fans in the 90’s before he became the darling of Bills fans at the turn of the millennium. And the Bills’ career leading scorer, kicker Steve Christie, grew up in Oakville, Ontario, halfway between Toronto and Hamilton.
On Saturday and yesterday, an anomaly in the C.F.L. and N.F.L. schedules found all three teams playing at home on the same weekend for the first time since 1998. By doing a little rushing around, one could actually attend all three games, a gridiron hat trick of vastly contrasting experiences that encapsulated well over a century of football in North America.
The first game on Saturday afternoon was in Hamilton, where the sputtering Tiger-Cats lost, 28-8, to the British Columbia Lions. The Ti-Cats’ home field, Ivor Wynne Stadium, is a 76-year-old, 35,000-seat stadium of simple design set among streets of neat working-class homes and onion-domed churches. It is perhaps the last pro football stadium in a real urban neighborhood.
The south stands offered a view of the smokestacks and blast furnaces of Hamilton’s working steel mills, and the fans are right on top of the players. “You could literally reach out and touch a player if you so desire,? said Steve Bunn, a McMaster University professor and longtime Tiger-Cats fan.
The Tiger-Cats’ roots go back to 1869, when the Hamilton Football Club was founded above a fruit store. In 1950, the team, called the Tigers, merged with the Wildcats, another local team, and became the Tiger-Cats.
The sense of tradition in the industrial city of 500,000 was reflected in the customs at Ivor Wynne. Before kickoff, an elderly fan known as Pigskin Pete led the fans in a cheer from the days of rumble seats and raccoon coats: “Oskie wee wee! Oskie wa wa! Holy Mackinaw, Tigers! Eat ’em raw!? On the end-zone video screen, a group of white-haired nuns informed the fans of the stadium rules: “Thou shalt not swear.? “Thou shalt not fight.? “Thou shall cheer for the Tiger-Cats.?
Several among the 24,000 fans at Ivor Wynne were wearing Bills jerseys. “Some guys follow both the Bills and the Ti-Cats,? said Mike Zaborsky, a Tiger-Cats fan, “but others just pay attention to the C.F.L.?
On Saturday night, 32,000 fans watched the playoff-bound Argonauts defeat the Calgary Stampeders, 23-16, at the Rogers Center in downtown Toronto, with Ricky Williams scoring his first touchdown for the Argonauts. The huge domed stadium was a sharp contrast to the homespun atmosphere at Ivor Wynne. Rock songs blared after every play, the video scoreboard showed high-decibel contests and advertisements at every break, and stores, pubs and restaurants in the concourse served a steady stream of fans.
But the high-tech, multiplex-like experience at the Rogers Center — “simply an awful place to watch a football game,? said Pete Haidasz, a Toronto fan — belies the origins of the Argonauts, who were founded in 1873. And after the game at Joe Badali’s, a restaurant a few blocks from the stadium, players from the Argonauts and Stampeders mingled with fans and stood in the buffet line with fan club members.
Yesterday, the Bills — by far the youngest team of the three — beat the Minnesota Vikings, 17-12, at 73,000-seat Ralph Wilson Stadium in suburban Orchard Park. After a vast tailgating scene in the parking lots that resembled an outdoor rock festival, the sellout crowd inside the stadium nearly overwhelmed the standard electronic din common to every N.F.L. stadium.
Rich Dean, 77, a Bills season-ticker holder since the team’s founding in 1960, said that over the years he had been a casual fan of the C.F.L. “But I don’t pay much attention to them anymore,? he said. “I remember the Bills played that game against Hamilton in ’61,? he said, referring to the Tiger-Cats’ 38-21 victory over the Bills in an exhibition, the only time a Canadian team ever defeated a team from the N.F.L. or A.F.L.
The Bills’ front office says that 10 to 15 percent of the team’s fans at home games come from Canada. One of them, Mike deBenedictis of Mississauga, Ontario, said he attended several Argonauts games each year but was making the trip to see a game in Buffalo for the first time. “The tailgating, the excitement, it’s electric here,? he said. “You can sense it before you’re two miles from the stadium.?
The various differences between football in Buffalo, Toronto and Hamilton, however, were of little importance to some fans, like the group of merrily imbibing Tiger-Cat fans known as the Box J Boys, who were tailgating outside Ivor Wynne on Saturday. “N.F.L., C.F.L., Bills, Tiger-Cats,? said one of them, clad in a yellow and black plaid kilt and Ti-Cats jersey and identifying himself only as Dave. “Doesn’t matter. All football is good, eh??