There’s lots of blame to go around, and some of it might not even land right on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats: hello CFL on-field and review officiating; hello, you three-points-not-six Saskatchewan Roughriders.
But despite bad luck, bad calls and bad injuries, in a team game it’s team blame and in this case ‘team’ extends well into the front office.
The ultimate Friday the 13th doubleheader—when late pass interference penalties which guaranteed that one eastern team would lose and the other would win turned out hideously opposite to what the Ticats required—was just a karmic, if entertaining, punctuation mark on the entire season.
Symbolism run rampant. Too much reliance on hope and “process”, too little doing what it takes when it took it.
Despite hard evidence of a vastly improved line, quarterback play, secondary and running game, the Ticats were essentially looking for a miracle over the final two months of their CFL schedule. Notwithstanding lots of magic bits since August ended, they’ll spend the next three weeks understanding that divine intervention is a lot less reliable than self-intervention.
The Ottawa Redblacks will host a playoff game while the Tiger-Cats are visiting their hometowns because the Redblacks took charge of their own fate more often, and at the right times, this season.
It was they who, knowing the Ticats had completely squandered an excellent effort in losing narrowly to Calgary, collectively decided they weren’t going to leave their future to a final game against Hamilton and beat the Riders.
If was just one Friday night, but it represented a season: the Redblacks had a sense of occasion, and the Tiger-Cats did not.
Hamilton was at home, which is where you want to be—correction, should want to be—if the game is close. But in June Jones’ inspiring term here so far, all three losses have been close, and at home. And this Home, Unsweet Home theme isn’t limited to Jones-ing, it goes back 13 months now.
Why couldn’t this team win at home except on Labour Day, which almost shouldn’t count? Why, on a piece of real estate that has seen some of the greatest moments in local sports history, did they find so many innovative ways to lose here?
Those are among the questions we all have, but there are many more, too numerous for the space here.
It’s become obvious with Jones’ arrival and a turnaround that was remarkable in its starkness that the team needed to hear a much different voice and approach than Kent Austin’s.
Austin had clearly figured that one out. But why did it take until the eighth straight loss to execute a change? The same results-based evidence was there after week seven….and six, and five. The season was clearly slipping away.
And why was there such serial nose-thumbing toward the running game? Yes, the Ticats made the Grey Cup without big run obligations in Austin’s first two years, but defences do adjust and this year some kind of consistent running attack was required because there were problems with the edges of the offensive line that made passing hazardous for the scoreboard and Zach Collaros’s health.
It’s not always about success at running, but a commitment to it that the other team can see, feel and hear. Under Jones, it has been there, and we have seen the results, all positive. It all just feels so obvious now.
On that point, why did it take so long, and so many auditions, to end up with offensive tackles who made the difference for the quarterback and for the three interior linemen?
And why did Jeremiah Masoli not get a significant look earlier? Even as part of a definable package each game?
Even though the serial losing stopped with the coaching change, the questions won’t. All three recent losses were affected by timing issues: late-game time-count violations; lack of understanding of CFL timeout rules and the like. Where was the timing help for Jones, who had a lot on his adjustment plate?
And in the midst of this came the Art Briles mess which cost the team many of the community votes it had not already lost because of the horrible record. It was so deaf, dumb and blind, it should have been accompanied by tunes from the rock opera Tommy.
With Austin now upstairs this organization suddenly feels a little top heavy with GM Eric Tillman and the rest of football ops already there too. More hands can make lighter work but can also get in the way of clarity.
The Ticats still have three games to play, and maybe one of the biggest questions—what do they do about Collaros?—can be answered within them.
But there are many, many, more still searching for answers.
Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.
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