For this year's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the goal is to go from average and inconsistent to dominant, a true Grey Cup contender.
I remember the last time the Tiger-Cats won it all. It was 1999 and Danny McManus, Darren Flutie, and Joe Montford were the stars. The great city of Hamilton was very proud of their Ticats. That was 13 years ago. It's time for this current Ticats team to make that 1999 Ticats team a fond memory, not the last championship team for the city.
After two years of finishing 9-9 followed by last year's 8-10 record, you couldn't tell if the Ticats were rebuilding, reloading, or refining. It seemed like they were in this grey area of anticipation. One week, they were excellent in both energy and execution, the next week, no energy and no consistent execution. Enter George Cortez.
It's hard not to like Cortez. He's straightforward, to the point, dedicated to both the sport and to winning, and most important, he's qualified. Cortez has won four Grey Cups with four different quarterbacks. He knows what it takes to win on a consistent basis because as an offensive coordinator, he won with a variety of different teams.
One of Cortez's big moves was to bring in Henry Burris and name him his starting QB. Burris is 37-years-old, so the natural question is how much he has left. Well, if Burris was happy with how his career ended in Calgary I would say not much. But he wasn't, and that's a good thing.
Pro football is a young man's game in almost every way. But when you have an old man – yes, 37 is old in football – who is angry and feels the need to prove himself again, you have a much younger player.
Intense focus can keep retirement away for a couple of years, and I think Burris has that intense focus back.
He also has a lot of talent around him to work with. Often a QB will make his receivers, linemen, and backs look good by being exceptional himself. But every now and then there comes a game, or a moment in a game, where the players around the QB have to make him look good. They do that by making things happen by themselves.
The Ticats' receivers have the potential to be the best in the league, and Avon Cobourne is a proven 1,000-yard plus running back – and now he has even more to prove. The unknown will be the consistency and continuity up front. But when it comes to throwing the football and handing the ball off, Burris has the people he needs.
This will be a unique year for Ticats football, not just due to the team and players, but also the team's history and stadium. I never thought I would be saying goodbye to Ivor Wynne Stadium, I figured it would outlast me. But as Hamilton's last regular season home game (Oct. 27)draws nearer, many will reflect on how that stadium and our childhood meshed together. For many in the Hamilton area, it represents a lifetime of experience – myself included.
Maybe it is fitting though that less than a month from that final regular season game at Ivor Wynne, the 100th Grey Cup will be played. Two sections of history within 28 days; makes sense in an odd way.
Last year, the BC Lions won it all at a newly renovated BC Place, and that was after a 0-5 start.
The Ticats have a chance to win a Grey Cup in their main rival's stadium and close out Ivor Wynne Stadium as Grey Cup champions.
I hope Coach Cortez has told his players what a memory that would be; not just for the players, but also for all of us who grew up at that stadium throughout the years. And that group includes myself.