How last year’s devastating Grey Cup loss is ultimately remembered depends on what happens next.
Should Kent Austin’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats squad return to the championship game for a third straight season and finally win it, the previous two losses will be seen a precursor to the franchise’s first title since 1999, harsh but necessary lessons that ultimately led to glory. Ask a Riders fan: the 13th man penalty that cost them the 2009 Grey Cup haunted them only until a victory four years later — on home soil, no less — washed the pain away in a torrent of Pilsener-fuelled celebration.
And if the Ticats can’t get it done? Then the image of return man Brandon Banks pounding on the B.C. Place turf after his potentially game-winning touchdown was wiped out in the final moments of last year’s Grey Cup threatens to become the defining moment for this particular generation of Ticats.
“I think about it every day, I’m not going to lie,” Banks said of his miraculous and ultimately futile return. “The only way to wipe it away is to win a Grey Cup.”
The season-opener Friday night in Calgary offers Hamilton its first small measure of redemption. While Austin went out of his way to downplay the revenge aspect this week — it’s a new season, different team — there’s little question the players see the game as a chance to earn at least a little payback.
“I think as a team we want it for ourselves just to say we did it,” said veteran receiver Bakari Grant. “But it’s the first step in a long road and I think we all understand that.”
The Ticats will start the season with four straight away games, the second time in as many seasons they’ve been forced to begin with an extended stretch on the road (last year it was stadium construction, this year it’s the Pan Am Games.) The Ticats opened 0-3 in 2014 on their way to a 1-6 start and are determined to avoid digging a similar, win-to-get-in hole.
“We want to go out and make a statement early,” Banks said.
For the defending champs, this season offers the chance to push themselves into dynasty territory: back-to-back Grey Cup wins would give them three of the last seven titles and establish them, once and for all, as the CFL’s elite franchise of the moment.
Like the Montreal Alouettes before them, Calgary has shed the mantle of a good team that couldn’t win it all and will now look to cement their legacy.
But if that’s the macro then the micro offers some motivation as well, says former Ticat receiver turned Stampeder, Marquay McDaniel.
“It’s a good game to start the season because it’s them and they have been talking a lot,” he said.
The Ticats have kept the core of last year’s team together for the most part. On defence there’s been shuffling but just one new face — defensive back Johnny Sears — while on offence injuries have cost them leading receiver Luke Tasker and top running back C.J. Gable.
Still, defensive tackle Bryan Hall says this team has come up together.
“There’s a lot of lows and highs being together and there’s a lot of familiar faces on this journey we’re going on,” he said. “We have to keep building on what we’ve established.”
With back-to-back appearances in the championship game and an experienced team in place, the expectations couldn’t be clearer or higher. While every team pays lip-service to the idea that the ultimate goal is a championship, this Ticats team already believes it’s true. And needs to make it happen.
“There is no other solution. When you’ve been there twice and fall short …,” Banks said. “We know what it takes to get there, we just need find a way to bring the Grey Cup home.”