Write these Cats off at your own peril

FBO CFL East Semifinal 20151115No one outside the Ticats faithful expected the black and gold to win Sunday.


All seven experts who make picks for CFL.ca picked the Argos to beat the Ticats, so did our very own John Hodge, who said the Argos would win by nine in his weekly picks post.

Everyone wrote the Ticats off, but lo and behold, here we sit and the Ticats are once again headed back to the East Final.

But Hamilton’s thrilling, come-from-behind win over Toronto on Sunday is just the latest evidence that you simply do not want to underestimate these Tiger-Cats.

This team has been dealing with various incarnations of adversity since Kent Austin took over after the 2012 season, and pundits and experts have been writing this team off at one point or another in every season Austin has been in charge of all things football in Hamilton.

First, we had the 2013 season that was played 45 km away in Guelph. All throughout that season, the Ticats lost precious practice time shuttling players from their downtown Hamilton offices to McMaster’s Ron Joyce Stadium for practice. The general belief was that commuting to Guelph and the lost practice time would take its toll on the team. That general belief was wrong, as all the Ticats did was win double digit games in the regular season for the first time since 2001 and play in the Grey Cup for the first time since 1999.

Next, we had the 2014 season, where delays in stadium completion, a concussion to new starting quarterback Zach Collaros early in the season, and the jettisoning of so many veteran players — gone were Henry Burris, Marwan Hage, Dave Stala and Jamall Johnson, to name a few — were cited as reasons for the horrid 1-6 start to the season. Everyone wrote them off, thinking there was no way the Ticats could climb out of that hole and reach the Grey Cup once again. The 2013 season was a one-off, and the Ticats were going to go back to being the team loaded with potential, but short on accomplishments. Well, the Ticats proved the experts wrong again, as from Labour Day on the team ran off eight wins in their final 11 games, captured first in the East for the first time in 16 years and once again played in the Grey Cup.

Finally, 2015 looked like it was the year everything as going to come together. The Ticats rolled off impressive win after impressive win and were 8-3 as summer was about to turn into fall. It looked like everything was going Hamilton’s way until the unthinkable happened on September 19. Consensus 2015 MOP Zach Collaros tore his ACL and was lost for the season. The Ticats stayed afloat for awhile, but three straight losses, including two to eventual division winner Ottawa to end the season, signalled the end of the 2015 season for the Ticats. Sure, the Ticats made the playoffs, but they were a mere speed bump to an eventual Ottawa-Toronto showdown in the East Final.

Hamilton was supposedly outmanned against the Argos. There was no way the inexperienced Jeremiah Masoli could win a quarterbacking duel with future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray. It just would not happen. Ray was to good and Masoli too bad for the Ticats to stand a chance.

Everyone wrote them off again.

Well, as is the theme, the Ticats paid no mind, and after a thrilling 25-22 win over the Argos, the Ticats find themselves back in the East Final for the third time in three seasons under Kent Austin.

Every year people have had a reason to write this team off and every year they find a way to get it done. They have been left for dead and cast aside numerous times during the last three season, but they always seem to find a way to make it to the final Sunday of the season.

That opportunity awaits them again this Sunday. The Redblacks will understandably be heavy favourites, and all the experts will once again write the Ticats off. The Redblacks may capture the East and play in the Grey Cup, ending Hamilton’s two-year reign atop the division, but this isn’t going to be a coronation.

History shows that you write these Ticats off at your own peril, and while Ottawa will head into the game the consensus favourites, no one should be surprised if Kent Austin and co. find a way to get it done one more time.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.