It’s hard to remember the last time the Hamilton Tiger-Cats did something delightfully unexpected.
Those giant comebacks early in the season probably qualify as does the spectacular play of quarterback Zach Collaros in the first few games back from injury. Any game with more than five rushing attempts, perhaps. But otherwise, the Ticats have become predictable in all the wrong ways.
Saturday night’s 20-18 last-second loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders is the latest example. It was perfectly reasonable to expect that a team missing a significant number of key contributors due to injury and playing with a makeshift secondary and a depleted receiving corps would struggle, even against the CFL’s worst team. And so they did.
What the Ticats needed was for someone, anyone, to do something extraordinary, to rise to the occasion in a way that made a meaningful difference in the outcome of the football game. An unknown receiver posting a giant game, an unheralded defensive back registering two picks, a game plan creative enough to knock the opposition off balance.
Instead, Hamilton ran their usual pass-happy offence, asking Collaros to create a masterpiece with a limited palette of colours and a few broken brushes. Andy Fantuz did a few Fantuzy things but other than that, Hamilton tried to do what they normally do without the guys who normally do it, with limited success.
There was some déjà vu all over again on defence, too. While a few breakdowns in coverage and communication were to be expected given all the changes, the shoddy tackling was nothing new. The core principle of the Orlondo Steinauer defence — don’t give up big plays, a.k.a. “explosions” — was inexplicably ignored, even by the guys who should know better by now.
Speaking of explosions, head coach Kent Austin’s sideline outbursts are nothing new, either. He’s made a concerted effort to be better this season, to control his emotions when things go wrong, but his reaction after the Ticats were called for a truly stupid procedure penalty in the fourth — centre Mike Filer doing what all centres do in getting the ball ready to snap — cost the team yards and sent another mixed message when it comes to discipline.
— Derek Taylor (@DTonSC) September 25, 2016
Making contact with an official in a fit of pique (and it’s clear on the replay that’s what Austin did) is high on the list of football taboos, one that would likely get a player suspended. Given that Austin has already been fined for sideline hijinks — remember the bumping incident with Ticat-turned-Argo Dave Stala last season — it will be interesting to see how the CFL handles this incident.
That the Ticats are 6-7 fighting for their playoffs lives is nothing new, either: they’ve clawed their way to the post-season every year under Austin. They’ll have to go against type to beat the juggernaut that is the Calgary Stampeders next week, that’s for sure.
But at some point in the not-too-distant future, the Ticats will need somebody — preferably more than one — to do something unexpected, something significant enough to change the course of this team and this season. If they don’t, 2016 will be just the next in a long line of Grey Cup disappointments that stretches back into the last century. Something, it’s fair to say, that Ticat fans have come to expect.