Veteran Grey Cup champion Davis gearing up for return to Tiger-Cats
Following season-long Grey Cup-winning hiatus from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with their rivaled Toronto Argonauts, Ja'Gared Davis is back in Black and Gold as he gears up for his second stint with the team.
The native Texan made a home in Hamilton after breaking into the Canadian Football League in 2016 with the Calgary Stampeders following time in the National Football League.
Davis made an almost immediate impact in his first season in Tigertown in 2019, racking up a career-high and CFL second-best 13 sacks. The towering 6-foot-1, 238-pound defensive lineman from Southern Methodist University helped lead the Ticats to first place in the East Division and punch their ticket to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2014 with six tackles and a sack against the Edmonton Elks in the Eastern Final.
Following back-to-back Grey Cup losses to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2019 and 2021 –broken up by the COVID-19 pandemic-cancelled 2020 season – the 32-year-old traded in the Black and Gold for Double Blue as he trekked down the Queen Elizabeth Way to join the Argonauts.
"It was more so like a business opportunity – just on the field and off the field as well - making my ultimate decision to jump ship and head down to Toronto," Davis told TSN.ca on his decision to sign with the Argonauts as a free agent in February of 2022.
An hour-long drive separates the historic foes from the doors of the Argonauts' lakefront-BMO Field with the Tiger-Cats' Stipley neighbourhood-dwelling Tim Hortons Field. However, Davis and the Argonauts would tangle with the Tiger-Cats frequently in 2022, meeting four times in five weeks halfway through the regular season. It was something Davis could only characterize as "long," he said with a laugh.
"For us to see them back-to-back-to-back-to-back, it's one of those things where you almost get tired of it. It's also you know your opponent so well to where you kinda already know what to expect."
Davis and the Argonauts won three of the four meetings to capture the season series. One of those wins was the annual Labour Day Classic – a game players and fans alike circle on their calendars well in advance.
"It was a fun one, honestly," said Davis of the Labour Day Classic experience as a member of the Argonauts.
"I had been on Hamilton's side for so long and then to jump ship so to speak to the other side to where I'm the arch-enemy...I have so many great friends I've been cool with since I left Hamilton. And so seeing them in the stands and seeing them cheer and boo me all at the same time, it was a great feeling. It was a great atmosphere to play in for sure."
Davis and the Argos' defence held the combination of third-string quarterback Jamie Newman and fourth option Jalen Morton to eight points to win their first Labour Day Classic in 10 seasons.
Those weeks spent travelling back and forth by bus from Toronto to Hamilton were not only a homecoming for Davis but also for Tiger-Cats fan favourite wide receiver Brandon Banks.
The veteran pass catcher had spent eight seasons with the Tiger-Cats (2013-21) before also joining the Argonauts where he, alongside Davis, would capture that seemingly elusive Grey Cup.
"It meant a lot, honestly," said Davis on his 109th Grey Cup win with Banks over the Bombers in Regina – the first league title for the Boatmen since 2017. "I always told him [Banks] my goal was to get one when I first got to Hamilton."
Having now spent time in both locker rooms, Davis finds himself able to compare and contrast the coaching styles of Argonauts head coach Ryan Dinwiddie to the style of Tiger-Cats' Orlondo Steinauer.
"They're really not too different, to be honest," said Davis. "The message they try to get across is the same. How people might perceive it might be different. For me, I knew where it was coming from. They both were former player-coaches [Dinwiddie a quarterback with the Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders and Steinauer a defensive back with the Ottawa Rough Riders, Tiger-Cats and Argonauts]. You understand that atmosphere...They get to their message different, how they might get it to come across is all the same in my book."
"For me, I was just thankful to just be able to be a part of both of those teams, honestly. I learned so much from my time in Hamilton (that) I was able to take to Toronto to help that team win a Grey Cup."
While Davis notes the similarities inside the locker room, the differences were outside it.
"It was big," Davis said on the cultural differences between Toronto and Hamilton. "One is a blue-collar city like Hamilton. You understand just how much history is there. Just how much devotion and some of the best die-hard fans we've ever seen being in Hamilton."
After the rain of confetti had been cleaned up and the euphoria of winning a league title had dwindled, Davis found himself a free agent once again. Having played in an astonishing six-consecutive Grey Cup games, Davis looks to keep that streak alive and admits that Hamilton hosting the 110th Grey Cup on Nov. 19 at Tim Hortons Field didn't factor into his decision to return.
"Honestly, it didn't even cross my mind," said Davis. "I didn't realize it until after the fact like, 'Oh, Hamilton – they'll be hosting the Grey Cup,' and I'm like, 'Oh, really? Okay, well, that's even more reason for me.'"
"I had always felt like I had unfinished business anyway in Hamilton and I feel like they deserve a Grey Cup more than anybody. Not only the team but the fans do as well and being able to help them win one would be icing on the cake."
Entering his seventh CFL season, the prolific pass-rusher and run-stopper had plenty of suitors as he notes he was in talks with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Edmonton Elks and the BC Lions. But, ultimately, it was the people that made him want to return to the Tiger-Cats.
"It's a family, to be truthful with you," Davis said of the Tiger-Cats. "They always made me feel like I was a part of a family over there. So I felt like it was only right to go to where I felt like I was home."
Davis is not the only notable addition to the 2023 Tiger-Cats as general manager Drew Allemang bolstered the offence with former BC Lions running back James Butler and the defence with former Blue Bombers defensive lineman Casey Sayles and Stampeders linebacker Jameer Thurman.
"They made a lot of big moves, honestly, to where it's going to put the team in a great position to put our best foot forward to win a Grey Cup," said Davis of the incoming class.
But arguably the biggest addition to the Black and Gold was Davis' former teammate and long-time Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, whose rights were acquired by the Tiger-Cats during the off-season.
Mitchell and Davis played three seasons together in Cowtown (2016-18), highlighted by a Grey Cup title in 2018 against the Ottawa Redblacks.
With the two set for a reunion, Davis is excited about what the fellow veteran Mitchell will bring to the locker room.
"Bo is going to bring a sense of calmness and a sense of support...Just give a different type of reassurance that we can go and get the job done. When you bring that type of stability to a program it speaks volumes and it goes a long way."
"That's one of the biggest (factors) besides his play on the field – I mean Bo's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Everybody knows that. But what he brings is intangible. He brings the leadership and gets guys to buy in – that's something you can't get anywhere else."
Entering the 2023 campaign with another ring around the tree and another one around his finger, Davis says the thing he's looking forward to bringing back to his stall inside Tim Hortons Field is also those intangibles.
"Great leadership; as much knowledge as I can pass on just to help get the guys ready for the big moment," said Davis on what he’s looking to add to the Ticats in 2023. "That's the same thing I felt I brought to Toronto. The play is the play, but for me, I look at it like you're only as good as your worst link...If I'm the worst link on our team, then we're in a great spot."
"That's the mindset I'll be preaching, forcing everybody to play at a higher level than what they're used to and hold them to a higher standard."