Somehow it had never dawned on him that McMaster University was in Hamilton. He knew of the school, of course. He’d watched Canadian college football over the past few years, so he’d seen the Marauders play. He’d just never put a place with it.
At least until the week leading up to last year’s Vanier Cup.
With his Montreal Carabins preparing to face Mac in the championship game, someone mentioned the geography to Matthieu Girard. He’d been drafted in the sixth round by the Tiger-Cats the previous year. Now he’d be playing the team from his future hometown.
And when he reached skyward in the final minute of the game and got his massive hand in the way of the field goal attempt that stole the title for his Carabins, he knew his story going forward might have just become a little more complicated.
“In the locker-room, the players told me (about Hamilton),” he laughs.
Sounds like a really unique situation. But here, not so much.
Over the past few years, the black and gold has built up its Canadian depth — and much of its special teams’ talent — by adding player after player with one thing in common. Guys who have been pains in the butt to McMaster in the big game.
Two years before picking Girard, the Tiger-Cats grabbed Frederic Plesius and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon. Anyone who’d followed the Marauders’ two visits to the Vanier Cup knew of the pair from Laval. Probably a little too well.
Plesius was the immensely-talented linebacker who’d turbocharged the Rouge et Or’s comeback that forced overtime in the first title game when he picked off Kyle Quinlan at the start of the second half. Then he made five tackles and two sacks in the rematch.
Gascon-Nadon was the face-painted, trash-talking wild man who led his team out to midfield before kickoff almost leading to a pre-game fight before the first matchup. Then was named defensive player of the game in the second contest.
This year, Hamilton added to its stable of Mac migraine-inducers by using its first pick on Byron Archambault. Girard’s roommate and best friend on the Carabins had been the Quebec conference’s defensive player of the year and helped the school win its first Vanier Cup.
On draft day, it must have crossed his mind that he’d helped cost this city a national championship and now he’d be coming here to help win it one, right?
“A bit,” he smiles. “You kind of think about it because it just happened in November.”
Sports is interesting this way. You pour your soul into battling for one team. Then you’re expected to drop all allegiances and go fight for another team. Making friends of your enemies and enemies of your friends.
This has to be complicated. The game is emotional. Sometimes feelings linger.
On the morning of this year’s CFL combine — right after Archambault ripped off 41 bench presses of 225 pounds — former McMaster quarterback Marshall Ferguson launched a tweet that essentially said the U of Montreal linebacker didn’t hit very hard.
As if Murphy’s law was running the draft, Archambault promptly landed here and Ferguson was signed by TSN radio to be the team’s new sideline reporter. Yes, it was a bit awkward but they say they’ve sorted it out.
There are 10 former Marauders on CFL opening day rosters but only one in Hamilton. That makes safety Mike Daly the outnumbered torchbearer for Mac in the dressing room. He seems like the perfect guy to ask. Does he now get along with the guys he fought against so hard in college?
“You don’t,” Daly says. “You just don’t ever talk to them for the whole season. If Freddy or Arnaud tries to talk to you, you just walk away.”
He holds the straight face as long as he can before bursting into a laugh.
“We talk about it quite a bit,” he says. “It’s kind of funny.”