Arthur: Labour Day rivalry is in transition. Sort of.


The presumably inebriated fan who jumped on the field taunted security at first, and then eluded the heavy-footed pursuers for a moment. As he neared the 40-yard line, though, he turned to see a Toronto Argonaut and a Hamilton Tiger-Cat, converging. They could have flattened him, but left him unbroken. In the press box, announcer Brian Snelgrove intoned, “Tackle by Devin Smith and Terrence Toliver.”

That was the most brotherly moment in a Labour Day humiliation, in which Hamilton did not take it easy. It was 27-1 at halftime, and 42-12 at the end. This has always been a rivalry game, more from Hamilton’s perspective than Toronto’s. Well, they got their money’s worth.

“It’s a huge thing to beat Toronto, for everybody in Hamilton to kind of stick it to the city up the road. I don’t know how many people in Toronto notice or realize that it’s such a big deal down here, but it’s huge,” says Hamilton offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski, who missed this game with a knee injury last season. “With the added element of us being really good, and having first place on the line, there was kind of a playoff feel to it.”

This was the first time since 1989 that this game was for first place in the East, but the gap was evident, and wide. Hamilton threw the ball, ran the ball, intercepted the ball, blocked a punt, and on defence, as Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin put it, “we stopped the run, we knocked balls down, we got them off the field on second down, pressured the quarterback for the most part, collapsed the pocket.”

Other than that, though.

The last four Tiger-Cats wins have come by 30, 30, 29 and 30, with a three-point loss to Montreal crammed in there. Their three losses have come by a combined eight points. Toronto’s just not in the same category, not really.

Labour Day used to mean something largely because both teams came in thinking, “screw those guys.” The sidelines were claustrophobically close, and the fans would rain down all kinds of abuse, and at some point a player would do something that could net you an assault charge in the real world. Tradition.

But for most of the 15 years before 2010 the game wasn’t a standings game, not really: it was a pride game, a rivalry game, a beloved angry ritual. So it became about the rivalry, as much as anything. The Argonauts would truck down the highway from snooty Toronto, and Hamilton would be waiting for them, a howling mob of blue-collar misfits, united in their bonfire of rage.

“People in Toronto ride around in their BMWs, with gel in their hair and designer jeans, and the guys in Hamilton got their steel-toe boots on, and their hard hats, and are ready to go to work,” Hamilton linebacker Otis Floyd once told me. That was the day he looked at my shoes and jeans and said, “You’ve gotta be from Toronto.” They weren’t what I’d call fancy shoes and they were Levi’s jeans, but then, I live in Toronto.

“It was just the atmosphere. The atmosphere’s amazing, and it’s amazing how it’s always in Hamilton,” says Adriano Belli, the ex-Hamilton and Toronto defensive lineman who was known for unnecessary roughness, and kissing peopleon the cheek. “I remember showing up here with Don Matthews on Labour Day, and before we got off the bus Don said to us all ‘I tell ya what, boy, if they had to give Canada an enema, they’d stick the goddamn hose right here in this stadium.’

“I played for both teams. It’s the suits from Toronto and the hard-working steelworkers from Hamilton, going at it. It’s the perfect story.”

Except that’s not really what it is anymore. The rusting shipwreck of Ivor Wynne Stadium is gone, and in its place is the brand-new Tim Hortons Field, with a suite level, a club level, and a caretaker’s lounge. There weren’t even kitchens in Ivor Wynne, and now the food is catered by the same mega-restaurant company that operates Wrigley Field, the STAPLES Center, and more than three dozen others.

Including, as it happens, the home of the Ottawa RedBlacks. When the CFL wants to woo potential business partners, they bring them to Hamilton or fly them to Ottawa. Those are parties. They’re what the Argos hope next year at BMO Field could be.

“Our suites are better than the SkyDome, because they’re built to 2015 specifications,” says Dyakowski. “I think that lunch-bucket thing isn’t quite the story of the game anymore, but there’s still that rivalry. Hamilton is still the smaller city down the road from Toronto, and no matter what happens to the Hamilton economy, whether we all become contemporary artists making sculptures down on James Street North or something, we’re still going to — I mean, you don’t have to be a factory worker to want to stick it to Toronto.”

Well, they did. It’s still a hatred game, but with better catering. In what is all but a Labour Day tradition, nine unnecessary roughness penalties were called, in the airport-tarmac heat. Dyakowski, as ever, was philosophical. “You know,” he said, “sometimes roughness is necessary.”

Easy for him to say. His guys won.