Farewell to a landmark
Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) -
It's now become an "I was there" moment.
The last regular-season game at venerable Ivor Wynne Stadium between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was played in weather that some compared to the season the Tiger-Cats have had.
It was dark, rainy, windy and cold.
Yet, in many ways, what took place also can describe what both this team's and city's history is all about.
In a defensive performance that had many fans harkening back to better days, the Tiger-Cats beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 28-18, thus eliminating the Bombers from the playoff picture.
The Tiger-Cats defense held Winnipeg to just 287 yards, racking up four sacks, including one that eventually forced Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce out of the game (again), and grabbing two interceptions.
The 5-11 Tiger-Cats went into the game knowing they had to win to stay alive, and with the crowd at a fever pitch throughout, their team delivered a performance that left everyone smiling.
The whole day had a surreal tone to it.
The tailgaters were set up and ready to go at 6 a.m. The fans arrived earlier than normal, most of them snapping pictures of family members in their seats, in the concourse levels, or, like most, getting lots of shots of the stadium and the field.
All agreed, memories and emotion were the order of the day.
And to make sure everyone understood what football tradition means to this city, the Tiger-Cats unveiled their all-time team, and with the exception of one all the former players on that team were there for the announcement.
Earl Winfield, who played college football at the University of North Carolina, was named to the team at both receiver and kick returner. He admitted it was a bittersweet day.
"It's one of the greatest stadiums in the CFL," he said. "It's kind of sad to see the old stadium go, but the new one will be a nice change."
Winfield realized very early in his stint in Hamilton that playing at Ivor Wynne, in front of the Hamilton fans, was something special. And he credits those passionate fans and his teammates for any success he had.
"It's not so much about the football, but the people you met along the way," Winfield said. "It's an honor, it's humbling. I'm blessed. I'm thankful. It allowed me to meet a lot of people who played a big role in my life."
Watching the performance of the defense with smiles on their faces were the two former Tiger-Cats who were selected at defensive end, Grover Covington and Joe Montford.
Covington, a native of Monroe, N.C., attended Johnson C. Smith University, then had an 11-year career in Hamilton, highlighted by his CFL career-leading 157 sacks.
He became a prime example of how a U.S.-born player could come up to Canada, become a big part of a community, and stay here after his playing days. He now resides in Vancouver.
"Going out into the community and having a chance to meet different people and feel their passion they had for our team, you could tell they truly loved the Tiger-Cats. And as a player, I know when they put down their hard-earned money to support us, it helped me make a living."
Montford, who was born in Buford, N.C., and attended South Carolina State University, came to the CFL as a linebacker, was converted to a rush end, and the impact was immense.
He spent eight years with the Tiger-Cats during two stints in Hamilton, earning four CFL and East Division All-Star nods. His 95 career sacks are the second-most in team history and include his record-setting 1999 season, when he racked up a team-record 26.
The 42-year-old still looks like he can play. He, too, got the message what playing in Hamilton, and at Ivor Wynne, meant.
"Coach Sudsy (Don Sutherin, who initiated the move from linebacker to rush end) always told us it's good to be able to play out here in front of the fans. Until you understand the sacrifices they made, to come out here and be a part of this, you'll never appreciate what football means to this city."
After the game ended, a video tribute was shown, and former kicker Paul Osbaldiston, who also was named to the team, and is currently a special teams assistant coach, spoke to the crowd on behalf of all the former players.
A final fireworks display capped off the afternoon.
Ivor Wynne will be torn down at the end of the current season and a new stadium will be built in its place, to be ready by July 2014.
For some, it's good riddance.
For others, it's melancholy.
For all us, it closed a chapter in Hamilton's, and the CFL's, history.
TIGER-CATS' ALL-TIME TEAM
The Tigers-Cats' all-time team was chosen by fans, who cast over 250,000 votes online from June 26 to Oct. 5. Nominees were determined by a selection committee comprised of alumni, media, fans and other CFL personalities.
Players who suited up for at least two seasons with the Ticats from 1950-2012 were eligible for nomination.
The team features 14 Canadian Football Hall of Famers and 15 members of the Ticats Wall of Honor:
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Paul Bennett (1984-87), Less Browne (1984-88), Garney Henley (1960-75), Rob Hitchcock (1995-2006) and Don Sutherin (1958, 1960-66)
LINEBACKERS: Markeith Knowlton (2008-12), Bob Krouse (1963-75) and Ben Zambiasi (1978-87)
DEFENSIVE TACKLES: John Barrow (1957-70) and Angelo Mosca (1958-59, 1962-72)
DEFENSIVE ENDS: Grover Covington (1981-91) and Joe Montford (1986-2001, 2003-04)
CENTER: Marwan Hage (2004-12)
GUARD: Bill Danychuk (1965-75) and Ellison Kelly (1960-70)
TACKLE: John Barrow (1957-70) and Dave Hack (1996, 1998-2005)
RECEIVERS: Rocky DiPietro (1978-91), Darren Flutie (1998-02), Garney Henley (1960-75) and Earl Winfield (1987-97)
RUNNING BACKS: Willie Bethea (1963-1970) and Troy Davis (2001-05)
QUARTERBACK: Danny McManus (1998-2005)
KICKER: Paul Osbaldiston (1986-2003)
PUNTER: Paul Osbaldiston (1986-2003)
KICK RETURNER: Earl Winfield (1987-97)
HEAD COACH: Ralph Sazio (1963-67)
FLUTIE A NO-SHOW
To the surprise of most, Flutie was the only player on the all-time team who didn't appear at the final game.
A limo that was sent to the Buffalo Airport to pick up Flutie on Saturday morning came back to Hamilton without its passenger.
Flutie gave no indication he wouldn't attend, nor any reason why he didn't catch the flight from Boston to Buffalo.
NEW STADIUM NAME?
A source tells Inside the CFL that Tim Hortons, the legendary coffee and doughnut chain which was started in Hamilton, has expressed some interest in possibly securing naming rights for the new stadium that will be built when the current Ivor Wynne Stadium is torn down.
While interest is one thing, the price may be a stumbling block.
It's rumored naming rights could be worth as much as $10 million.
Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.
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