By Rob Ficiur
The 1972 Tiger Cats were the first home team to win the Grey Cup since the 1952 Toronto Argonauts. Winning the Grey Cup at home is not an easy task. Since there have been eight (sometimes nine) teams in the CFL, the numbers would tell us that every eight years the host city should win the Grey Cup. In the 27 Grey Cups between 1973-2010 only two host teams won the Grey Cup (BC 1994 and Montreal in 1977). During that same 27 year time period five home teams have lost the Grey Cup in front of their disappointed loyal fans.
The first Grey Cup game I watched was the 1972 championship. The Saskatchewan Roughriders lead by Ron Lancaster and George Reed played the home town Hamilton Tiger Cats lead by Chuck Ealey and Tony Gabriel.
The Roughriders of that era were similar to the Calgary Stampeders of our day. Every regular the season the Riders (and now Stampeders) were a dominant team that fell short when the playoffs came. That year of 1972 was no exception. Hamilton pulled ahead ten to zero, thanks in part to a touchdown catch by Dave Fleming. Replays show that Fleming was out of bounds during the play, but the refs missed it. The Roughriders battled back to tie the game 10-10.
No Grey Cup game has ever gone into overtime, but this one was close. With the score tied 10-10 and under two minutes to play, Hamilton got the ball at their own ten yard line. Chuck Ealey threw three pass completions to Tony Gabriel which took the Tiger Cats down to the Riders 31 yard line. On the last play of regulation time, Tiger Cats nineteen year old kicker Ian Sunter kicked the winning field goal.
Hamilton and Saskatchewan are unique cities in the CFL. All the other CFL cities have had NHL teams. Neither of these cities is large enough to support a major sporting franchise; their numbers barely support a CFL franchise. The Tiger Cats are like perennial under dogs playing in the shadows of big city Toronto. They are traditionally seen as the working class team compared to their provincial cousins. The Regina based team is supported by an entire province of around one million people. If you have ever lived in Saskatchewan it seems like they paint your brain green – because once a person joins Rider nation they are fervent in that support no matter where they live.
The Riders and Tiger Cats have traditionally struggled financially. In the mid to late 1980’s the Roughriders were the weakest financial link in a league struggling to survive. It is amazing that a team that appeared so close to bankruptcy 20 years ago now generates more revenue for the CFL than any other team. The Tiger Cats were also near bankruptcy when Hamilton billionaire Bob Young bought the team. The Tiger Cats probably still lose a million dollars a year, but their billionaire owner is still building for the future. The immediate future will include a brand new Tim Horton’s football stadium set to open in down town Hamilton in 2014.
The last time the Riders and Tiger Cats met in the Grey Cup was in 1989. I still remember that as one of the most entertaining Grey Cup games ever. (I don’t remember every game – but a few stick out). With the game tied and less than a minute to go, Saskatchewan quarterback Kent Austin led the Riders 48 yards with three pass completions. With nine seconds left Dave Ridgeway kicked the field goal to give Saskatchewan its first Grey Cup in 23 years.
The 2013 Grey Cup will be considered a classic only to Rider-Nation. The Roughriders 45-23 win over Hamilton makes the game sound closer than it was. However, the Saskatchewan Roughriders won the team’s fourth Grey Cup, but the first one ever won on home field. Rider fans, who are more numerous now than they were a week ago, don’t care about their rivalry with the Tiger Cats – all they care about is they are the 2013 Grey Cup champions.
Now the rest of the CFL can be green with envy.