Saturday won’t be the first time a Hamilton Tiger-Cats home game will be played without a Pigskin Pete on site to hyper-enthusiastically prod the fans into screaming the traditional, though hilariously nonsensical, Oskee Wee Wee cheer.
Records are unclear about how many games Vince Wirtz missed throughout his 40 years as the team’s human mascot beginning in the 1920s, or how often his son, Bill, was absent over the nine years he did it after his dad’s retirement. Paul Weiler apparently missed just one during his 31 years in the form of his alter ego.
And while there was a one-year gap between his retirement and Dan Black’s ascension, there hasn’t been a PPFG since.
That would be a Pigskin Pete-Free Game.
The point is, yes, it’ll be the first in long while.
When Black announced his sudden resignation from the position on Tuesday – citing a need to spend more time with his family and then asking for privacy – the future of the most-familiar character in the Canadian Football League was thrown into question.
Having a Pete working the crowd has been one of the great traditions of this franchise. Both during games and at community events throughout the city. You could argue, whoever wears the black bowler becomes among the most-recognizable faces of Hamilton to those across the country.
Too strong? Consider this. When Weiler passed away in 2014, his wife told the story of the time the two of them were vacationing on the outskirts of Cartagena, Colombia. While drifting down a river at dusk wearing nothing in any shade of black or gold, the silence of the tropical evening was broken by a voice yelling from a passing canoe.
It happened in Spain at a bullfight, too. And repeatedly on cruise ships. As well as just about everywhere else he went. Hearing this, the impact of the gig becomes obvious. More than a player, more than a coach, more than the mayor, more than almost everyone, Pigskin Pete is Hamilton.
Yet, as mentioned, there will be nobody playing the role at Saturday’s game. There may be celebrity guest Oskee Wee Wee-ites, that’s still being figured out. But as for a permanent replacement, not yet. That’s down the road. Black’s resignation was a surprise to everyone so nobody’s ready to go nor is a strategy to find a replacement in place right now.
“We don’t have a plan at the moment, ” Ticats director of communications Aaron Gogishvili says. “Because we didn’t know we needed one until (Tuesday).”
There will be one in time. The Ticats say a search will eventually be launched for a new Pigskin. Who or what that’ll look like is up in the air, even to the team. The new person could come from a contest like was done to find anthem singers. Could also result from a tryout of some other kind.
And – brace yourself here – the ultimate winner doesn’t necessarily have to follow the previously established outline of what Pigskin Pete has always been.
“We’re open to a male, female, a younger person, ” says Gogishvili. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be what it’s been for the past 50 years.”
A hundred years actually, but who’s counting?
Because of all the unknowns, he can’t answer whether a female Pigskin would lead to a name change. Pigskin Pam? Pigskin Penny? Pigskin Prudence? In keeping with the team’s nearly two-decades-long Grey Cup drought, Pigskin Patience, perhaps?
These have been changing times for the franchise’s entire cheer apparatus. This season has seen the familiar dance team become a co-ed performance team that some feel has been considerably less visible on the field. Back in June, Ticats’ executive vice-president of business operations Matt Afinec explained the change.
“The Performance Team still has an on-field dancing and performing function but, unlike in the past, they’re spending more time with fan interaction, ” Afinec said. “They’ll go up and greet kids at Stripes Jungle, they got to the social area at the Stipley patio. It’s more of a roving experience.”
Gogishvili says folks have already begun reaching out to the team by email and social media asking how they apply. Filling this role surely won’t be difficult, just as it wasn’t hard to find someone to take over as stadium PA announcer when Jason Farr won a seat on council and had to recuse himself from that position a few years back. It’s a plum spot.
Finding someone as energetic and enthusiastic and passionate and dedicated as the previous four porcine performers, though? That’s where it gets a little more challenging.
“We know it’s important, ” Gogishvili says of the job. “And we know it’s part of our tradition here.”