“Really Dad, the Ticats?”
That was the reaction of Chad Owens Jr., 12-year-old son of former Toronto Argonaut turned Hamilton Tiger Cat Chad Owens when his father delivered the news he was moving from one end of the heated QEW rivalry to the other. With a closet full of Double Blue gear, little Chad had been taught the Black and Gold were the mortal enemy.
What he doesn’t quite yet understand is that his father is making this decision in large part for him and the rest of the family: Hamilton is one the place that allows him to stay home.
“They get to continue to watch Daddy play football,” Owens said. “And do what he loves.”
Owens was introduced as the newest member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday, pulling on a white, black and gold jersey for the first time after signing as a free agent this week. After five seasons as an Argonaut – in many ways he was the face of the franchise – Owens looked slightly uncomfortable in his new colours, like he’d been asked to wear a dead man’s overcoat.
His departure from the Argonauts has not been an easy one, a decision made by general manager Jim Barker for purely football reasons: an expensive, aging player – he’ll soon be 34 – with a questionable injury history and declining production. Owens was honest about how much that hurt.
“There’s rock bottom and there’s under the rock and that’s where I found myself when I found out my time in Toronto was done,” Owens said. “That whole roller-coaster was tough to deal with but when this opportunity arose, (it was) like a resurrection, instant energy, instant excitement.”
As Owens spoke to the media inside the Ticats dressing room, wife Rena stood nearby taking it all in. She’s been with Chad almost 21 years, living the same nomadic life: starting in their native Hawaii where he was a college star to Florida for an NFL shot, to Denver in the Arena League, then Montreal, and finally to Toronto.
As the family grew – the Owens’ have three children now – the constant moving became even more difficult. So after spending most their off-seasons back home in Hawaii, the family made the decision last winter to live in Mississauga full time. They bought a house and told the kids they could stay in the same school, with the same friends for the first time ever: Chad Junior has plans to play rep baseball this summer.
But that sense of stability was thrown back into chaos with the realization that his time with the Argonauts was over. Owens had multiple suitors – there were reportedly at least two other offers – but the Ticats were the only one close enough to keep the family together.
“We talked about the various scenarios and if he had to leave to play somewhere else, I would be alone with the kids,” Rena said. “I could do it but it would be tough.”
Instead, the Owens will be welcomed into the Ticat family, an organization that goes out of its way to include wives and kids into the every day existence of football. Offensive coordinator Tommy Condell’s four boys – Hurricane Condell as they are collectively known – are a constant presence in the locker room. Head coach Kent Austin sometimes throws the football with his son after practice. There is a dedicated family room at Tim Hortons Field for people to gather before and after games.
“The environment we like to create here is one that’s attractive to individuals with children… we’re an organization that’s open to having them around,” Austin said. “We want to make sure they are experiencing what their father’s are experiencing.”
As Owens wrapped up his media responsibilities, patiently doing every interview and shaking every hand, Rena shifted from foot-to-foot, the universal sign that time was getting short: she and Chad had to drive back to Mississauga to pick up the kids. He started to say his goodbyes.
Rena picked up the bag she’d been given by a Ticats’ staffer, stuffed to the brim with t-shirts, hats and other black and gold swag for the kids – things to replace the blue stuff they’d been wearing. She took one last look around the dressing room.
“My son will love it here,” she said. “We all will.”