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FAREWELL TO THE GRAND LADY OF TIGER CAT FOOTBALL

Hamilton, Ontario - The final curtain call is just days away.
 
Barring a playoff miracle, the curtain will rise and fall for the final time at Ivor Wynne Stadium this Saturday afternoon when the Hamilton Tiger Cats host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
 
And if the Cats are to have any chance of a playoff appearance and a possible home playoff date - they’ll have to give a command performance against a Bomber team which also has its sights set on a playoff berth.
 
I’ve been going to Tiger Cat games since 1972 - two years after the aged Civic Stadium was refurbished and renamed Ivor Wynne Stadium.
 
My most cherished Ivor Wynne memory took place on Saturday October 20th 1984. The Tiger Cats beat the Ottawa Rough Riders 20-14 that evening to secure a playoff berth and eliminate Ottawa from the post season.

But it wasn’t just the game that I fondly recall but what transpired afterwards that I’ll cherish forever. But I have to digress first.

Four years earlier the Cats lost the Grey Cup 48-10 to the Edmonton Eskimos. I thought that if Tom Clements hadn’t left Hamilton after the 1979 campaign for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs - the 1980 Grey Cup (as well as the season) might have been much different.

After a sleepless night - I got up Monday morning November 24th continuing to procure an idea that had come to me in the middle of the night. What if I called the Chiefs and confirmed a rumour that Clements wanted to return to Hamilton??

Around 3 pm. I finally mustered the courage to dial Arrowhead Stadium (816-924-2300.)  Clements wasn’t immediately available but I left a message. Around 3:30 pm. EST that Monday afternoon - my phone rang at my West dale home and it was Mr. Clements himself. To this day I still DON’T BELIEVE IT!!

I was obviously a little nervous but I got straight to the point. Yes, Clements indeed wanted to return to the CFL. The only problem was his contractual obligation to KC. The studious Clements was quite amiable even though our conversation lasted only five minutes. Yet this brief moment remains forever frozen in time for me.

Now I felt that I could do anything. I called Maple Leaf Gardens (416-977-1641)  and asked to speak with (then) Tiger Cat/Leaf owner Harold Ballard. When I told his secretary about my phone conversation with Tom Clements she put me through to Ballard.

The bombastic owner was quite receptive and confirmed that the Cats would dearly love to have Clements back. However, it would take about a million dollars to free him from Kansas City. I asked Ballard if there was anything he could do and he immediately asked me, “if I had a million dollars.” I replied no but it was on the tip of my tongue to add, “but you have a million dollars Mr. Ballard.” However, my assertiveness would only take me so far.

We parted amicably and the pain of the Grey Cup loss had lessened considerably.

When Tom Clements returned to Hamilton in the spring of 1981 - I felt I had died and gone to football heaven. I would never be so arrogant to think my conversations with Clements and Ballard had anything to do with the SB’s return but I can always dream.

Fast forward to October 20th 1984 and the Cats’ win over Ottawa at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
 
After the game my friend and I basked in the moment as most fans left the stadium. We managed to catch up with Ballard and King Clancy as they descended the stadium stairs from the press box. It felt as if we were the only four people remaining in the quiet still that engulfed Ivory Wynne on a cool, dark autumn night.

I asked Ballard about our phone conversation and he said he remembered me. Now I realize that maybe he was only being polite. After all, this was an 80-something-year-old man trying to remember a phone conversation from four years earlier. But he thanked me for my loyal support as did King Clancy. As we parted I had never felt more proud to be a Tiger Cat fan.

While it didn’t work out for Clements in Hamilton - I can always look back to that chance encounter with the late Ballard and Clancy at Ivory Wynne in 1984 - and what preceded it four years earlier - and claim that I am a Hamilton Tiger Cat fan forever and will forever cherish this memory along with many great memories at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
 
 
 
 
 

 

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