Peter Dyakowski remembers the bad old days fondly, which isn’t the same as missing them.
Now in his 10th season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the veteran offensive lineman played his first several Labour Day Classics in the old Ivor Wynne Stadium, that dilapidated, wonderful, odorous giver of butt splinters that was knocked to the ground in 2012. Still, the new barn in built in the same spot as the old one, its spirit is never more prevalent than on Labour Day.
“I’d heard Labour Day was a big deal but I had to see it. The old Ivor Wynne was packed full, everyone had been drinking since eight in the morning, ” Dyakowski said. “This stadium gets packed but it’s not quite as rough and tumble. That’s probably a good thing.
“But it’s still the same site, the same hallowed ground.”
That said, the Labour Day game has more meaning to some Ticat players than others. There aren’t many longtime vets like Dyakowski but there are certainly a few guys who have been around long enough to understand what the game means to the city and the fan base. And then there are others who are just learning.
“Guys have been talking about it since training camp – Labour Day, Labour Day, Labour Day, ” said rookie defensive back Chris Davis. “I’m curious to see what the fuss is about, but I’m also just worried about doing my job, you know.”
According to Davis, the messaging from the coaching staff hasn’t been on the importance of this one game but on what Labour Day represents: the opening salvo of the stretch drive that will determine playoff spots, seeding and – ultimately – the path to the Grey Cup.
In that sense, the Tiger-Cats have plenty at stake beyond civic pride.
At 4-5, they are stuck in the messy muddle that is the East Division but have a chance to win the season series against the Argonauts should they be victorious on Labour Day or in the backside of the home-and-home next Sunday.
The Austin-era teams have used Labour Day as a launching point before. They were 4-5 coming into the game in 2013 – played against the B.C. Lions – then went 6-3 the rest of the way as they made it to the Grey Cup. The following year they were 2-6, beat Toronto and rallied to a 9-9 record before advancing to the championship a second time.
The Ticats have lost two of three since the return of quarterback Zach Collaros, but receiver Luke Tasker says he gets the sense that the team is rounding into form.
“It feels like we’re getting to a place where we have our identity fully developed now, ” Tasker said. “Guys always sense that things are a little different starting on Labour Day.”
There was a time, back in Dyakowski’s early days, when Labour Day was all there was to cheer for: They won six games in his first two seasons combined. Again, memories that have a certain value, even if they aren’t drenched in pure happiness.
“My first couple of years in Hamilton, when we weren’t the powerhouse that we are now, we could win this game and all would be forgiven, ” Dyakowski said. “We’ve got bigger aspirations now and, in that sense, this is just another step.
“But the fact that it’s Labour Day, that’s what makes it special.”