October 22nd, 2021

Inside the CFL: Hamilton boasts a rich football history spanning 150 years

By Medicine Hat News on November 22, 2019.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Hamilton Football Club. From the time of its birth, November 3, 1869, in a room over a grocery store, the team took on the personality of the city where the fans are as tough as the players.

Hamilton’s first Grey Cup was played before a hometown crowd of well over 12,000 in 1910 against the University of Toronto. Interest was such that an unruly mob stormed past a line of Mounted Police and forced their way into the stadium only to see their team lose 16-7. Hamilton won three of the next four championships. A team representing the Steel City won a Grey Cup in every decade of the 20th Century except the first.

In the 1920s and ’30’s, the Tigers won three of five Grey Cup games. When the Second World War broke out, the Big Four and Western Interprovincial Football Union suspended league play although teams still vied for the Grey Cup. In 1942, the Hamilton Wildcats were formed. In other cities, service teams were organized such as the Winnipeg RCAF. The Wildcats continued to exist as a member of the Ontario Rugby Football Union after the war. The city couldn’t support both teams – which were lousy – and so, in 1950 they amalgamated to form the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. For the better part of the next two decades they were one of the greatest organizations in Canadian sport. They appeared in five straight Grey Cups, 1961-65.

The first Cup after amalgamation came in 1953 when they faced Jack Jacobs, Tom Casey, Gerry James and the rest of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The score was 12-6 with seconds left when Jacobs threw a record 48th pass to Casey at the goal line. Defender Lou Kusserow timed his tackle perfectly, dislodging the ball and giving Hamilton the win.

A clash of dynasties began in 1957. Bud Grant’s Blue Bombers met Jim Trimble’s Ti-Cats five of the following six years, including the first overtime Cup in 1961 – Bombers 21-Hamilton 14 – the Fog Bowl the following year played over two days, won by the westerners 28-27, and the Wind Bowl of 1965 – Hamilton prevailing 22-16.

In between the Ti-Cats split back-to-back Grey Cups with the B.C. Lions. In the first game in Vancouver, Ti-Cat meanie Angelo Mosca was accused of deliberatly injuring Leo running back Willie Fleming. B.C. quarterback Joe Kapp was still incensed over forty years later when he attacked Mosca wih a cane at a CFL Allumni luncheon. Great stars like Ti-Cats Bernie Faloney, John Barrow and the wonderful Garney Henley clashed with Bombers Leo Lewis, Ken Ploen and Frank Rigney. Members of both teams expressed great admiration for each other.

Of the period from 1953-72, probably the greatest Ti-Cat team was the 1967 squad that didn’t surrender a touchdown the last six games of the season. During that stretch, their opponents totaled a measly 127 points. They finished the season by crushing Saskatchewan in the Grey Cup 24-1. “We were lucky to get one”, said Roughrider punter Al Ford.

They beat the green again in 1972 on Ian Sunter’s last second field goal. Between 1984 and 2014, the Cats got to the big game eight times, winning twice – the last in 1999.

For many years the team struggled to survive, and late in 2003 they were on the verge of bankruptcy. Hamilton native Bob Young came to the rescue on behalf of his dying brother, who was a huge fan. Billionaire Young, living in North Carolina bought the team. He told my friend, writer Terry Jones, “I couldn’t let my older brother pass away and his favourite football team pass away at the same time.”

In addition to saving the team, he got everyone on board to build a new stadium to replace decrepit Ivor Wynne. Young calls himself “the caretaker” rather than owner because he regards the fans as the real owners.

Said Hamilton lifer George Condon about his team, “We have a lot of talent, 13 all-stars. But it is the way they are committed to each other. These are the kind of men I’d be happy to have as neighbors. And you know, they like Hamilton.”

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 47 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com.

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