Final score of last year's Grey Cup: Saskatchewan 45, Hamilton 23. What a disaster right? No, far from it.
I thought last year for the Tiger-Cats was an immense success, not the ultimate success, but immense in my evaluation. Ending the season at 10-8 was the first time the Ticats had a 10 win season since 2001. Getting 10 wins has a psychological comfort about it in that it means you are not great but by no means are you a disaster. And then you consider in support of those 10 wins the team made it to the Grey Cup, first time since 1999, the 45-23 loss has to be put into rational perspective against the season.
The Ticats had a good season last year, a type that leads to the inevitable feeling of impending improvement. Consider playing the season basically on the road at University of Guelph.
To be clear, that city receives my praise for embracing the Ticats with both arms and not letting go. All adversity considered, we all thank them for what they did both on and off the field. Sure, I am positive the revenue they received enhances the quality of what it was invested in, but my attitude is "thank you for being there." If not for you, not sure what the league could do.
But, this year could be different with the building of Tim Hortons Field. I live about 15 minutes away and have keep my eye on its progress month after month. It is coming, may not yet be 100 per cent ready, but its mold gives me a feeling that this could be unique. A home field advantage could finally be a tangible aspect of winning football.
What needs to improve? Well, like all teams there is always room. First and most importantly, continuity of personnel. Hamilton went through 57 different starters over the course of the year; some due to injury but also some due to simple evaluation of whether this player can play productively and consistently. Given those two factors, this year can't be another 57 player year; way too many.
Also a 1-4 start is hard to overcome. I always hear about how the real CFL season doesn't start until September and it is a false observational claim. Toronto finished 11-7, Hamilton 10-8; if their 1-4 start was 3-2 or 4-1, the Ticats could have been a first place team in the East.
Improvement points are everywhere though when you look at the overall statistical package. Finishing eighth in protecting the quarterback and eighth in getting to the quarterback has to improve and will. Improving on their only 14 interceptions is also a priority when you compare that to Montreal's 27. Red zone offense was just sixth best, as was red zone defence. Point being Hamilton's 10 wins were done the hard way, not the dominate way.
Major point of optimism? Ticats finished second best in total yards, averaging 373 a game. Which brings us to the most important names in priority of performance: Zach Collaros, Dan LeFevour or maybe even Jeremiah Masoli.
That battle through training camp will be entertaining and interesting. Entertaining in that all three are good athletes that can adapt exceptionally well when the situation regresses. Interesting in that Kent Austin will give the job to the guy who is the smartest under stress; a quality not always recognizable from the outside looking in.
When you play a position in football you truly know the position because you have played it under pressure. I know the left tackle position. I can recognize a good one, an average one, and everything in between very quickly.
The exact same can be said for Austin as a quarterback. Whichever player can take the pressure Austin puts on him - and he will - and respond, will be the starter. When you have played the position you know the position and the Hamilton Tiger cats are fortunate their head coach is a former successful CFL quarterback.
Now as much as quarterback is the man in football, Hamilton's second best move this off-season was getting Justin Medlock back as kicker, punter and kickoff specialist. He was an 89 per cent kicker and 41 yards-per-punt punter. So many CFL games come down to a kick or a moment the kicker can control. Getting Medlock back is a big deal in the world of off-season football moves.
Interesting time if you're a Hamilton Tiger-Cats fan. A 20-year agreement with a new stadium, a team that knows how to win through experience and yet still has a lot to improve upon. It will be entertaining and interesting to see how the new season unfolds.
Entertaining as a new era of football begins in the exact physical area of history and respect. And interesting in that given the avoidance of injury disaster, this is a team that should progress on many fronts. I will miss Ivor Wynne, it was a big part of my childhood. But I will embrace Tim Hortons Field as it becomes part of my adulthood. Everything changes, but this may be easier to adapt and enjoy than anticipated.