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Inside the CFL: Saturday in the Park

By Ted Michaels, CFL Columnist

Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - It's been touring Canada for 10 weeks and made 138 stops at communities, schools, hospitals and community centers.

On Saturday, the Grey Cup 100 Train Tour arrived in Hamilton, the home of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. It's a city where its hometown team, the Tiger- Cats, have created so many Grey Cup memories.

During a stop at Bayfront Park, many fans had a chance to look at, and step inside, the specially retrofitted VIA Rail train.

The train is wrapped in Grey Cup images and includes a high tech car that showcases the trophy and gave fans the opportunity to have their photo taken with the Cup.

It also gave them a chance to experience the stories surrounding the holy grail of Canadian football, through videos and touch screens that link them to great plays, team photos, programs, ticket stubs from past Grey Cup games and 21 Grey Cup rings that have been worn by Grey Cup champions.

A museum car features everything from a bust of former Governor General Earl Grey, who donated the Cup that bears his name back in 1909, to cleats worn in the 1962 Fog Bowl. And the team car captures the stories of today's CFL teams. People can tour a replica locker room, learn about their favorite players, see highlights of their team in action and hear pre-game speeches from coaches.

In addition to fans, several current Tiger-Cats had a chance to look the train, and for some U.S.-born players, they got an up-close look at the trophy that means so much to Canadians.

Up until the stop in Hamilton, the train had traveled 2,547 miles. And the Grey Cup itself has traveled more than twice that distance, visiting places it has never been before, including Newfoundland and Nunavut, the largest, northernmost and newest territory in Canada, bordering the Northwest Territories.

By the time the tour arrives in Toronto for the 100th Grey Cup Festival, it will have made more than 150 stops.

For CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon, it was a bittersweet day.

"I'm a little sad," he said. "I'm excited that everyone in Hamilton is getting a chance to see it, but this is almost the last stop on the tour. It's been an amazing experience, seeing the cup go across Canada. The stories of Canadians that really love this trophy, that's what's been really heart- warming."

Cohon said several stories stood out.

"The gentleman in Sarnia (Ontario), his father was on the 1931 Sarnia Imperials that won the Grey Cup," Cohon said. "He got onto the train, found a picture of his dad that he'd never seen before, and broke down crying. Then there's the story of the former Blue Bomber who passed away from cancer at a young age; his wife and his young son came on the train to see his dad's name on the cup. That's what this tour is all about."

Cohon also reiterated the Grey Cup is a part of Canadian culture and has a magic spell on Canadians everywhere. And that's something people shouldn't forget.

"People kiss it, they revere it, they hug it," he said. "And on Grey Cup Sunday, we're holding a new initiative called the SunLife Grey Cup fan march, where fans will carry the cup from Varsity Stadium to Rogers Center. Every 20 yards, they'll pass it to a new fan who will pass it on to another and so on. The Grey Cup belongs to all Canadians, and that's what we're representing this whole year."

RONA, Canada's largest Canadian distributor and retailer of hardware, home renovation and gardening products, contributed the building supplies that made the exhibits possible. In addition, the RONA Home Field Advantage program - which will invest $240,000 to refurbish playing fields and other recreational assets in CFL communities - will ensure the tour leaves behind a positive legacy.

In Hamilton, RONA will be investing $30,000 to upgrade Woodlands Park for local amateur football clubs and community groups to enjoy.

For hardcore and casual CFL fans alike, the train was a must-see.

Those who didn't may end up regretting it.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?

11/13 10:43:36 ET

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