The year in pictures: A behind-the-scenes look at the 2016 Ticats beat

Every year on the Ticat beat, I take a ton of pics on my phone. Some of them end up on Twitter, others in the paper but taken together, they form a narrative of each season from my perspective. Here’s the 2016 version.

Jan. 19: The first significant news of the season was the signing of head coach and director of football operations Kent Austin to a four-year contract extension. At the time, the move was widely praised by Ticat fans (and me.)

Jan. 28: The signing of defensive end John Chick after his release from Saskatchewan was the first big player move and it certainly paid dividends, given his 14 sacks this season. We also learned that Chick and his wife have eight kids and a close connection to the Austin family.

Feb. 12: There was some consternation when the Ticats signed former Toronto Argonaut Chad Owens in free agency and the media availability was a little strange: the sight of Owens pulling on a Ticat jersey was weird for everybody, particularly him.

Feb. 25: The Ticats do a ton of work in the Hamilton community and I try and reflect that in my coverage, largely without success – there are simply too many events to cover. But I attended the launch of the BeFit program, which aims to teach kids about the importance of healthy eating and exercise.

May 6: The sudden departure of offensive coordinator Tommy Condell and subsequent hiring of former Mac head coach Stefan Ptaszek was a shock on both counts. Condell had been with Austin for six seasons dating back to their time at Cornell and was an integral part of the Ticats on many levels – I’ve come to believe his exit was a significant factor in the team’s uneven performance this season.

May 22: Over the course of the off-season, I grew a beard – I stopped shaving the day after the 2015 Grey Cup – and by the time training camp rolled around, it had become downright Santa-esque. I enjoyed having it (I’d grow another during the season) but I promised my wife I’d shave it off when the 2016 CFL campaign began and so it was removed before the opener against the Argos. Just another thing the Double Blue have to answer for.

May 29: The opening of training camp is always a big, the day it feels like the new season is really starting. It usually devolves into Groundhog Day, a series of long on-field workouts without much news. This year, however…

May 30: The absence of star return man Brandon Banks, quickly became the story of training camp. This ad, which made the rounds on social media, made it seem like Banks was missing camp to attend a pool party. That wasn’t true but the real story was even more complicated.

June 17: I park in the same lot where the Box J Boys hold their tailgate before each game and I always make sure to go over and take a photo and chat a with a few of the guys. Each and every time, they offer me something to eat and a beer, which I (reluctantly) decline because I’m (supposedly) working.

June 23: The first game at BMO Field was terrific: the Argos did an excellent job with the pomp and circumstance, the crowd was solid and the Ticats played what was probably their most complete contest of the year in a 42-20 win. It was, in many ways, the high point for both teams in different ways.

June 23: On a positive note: the Argos had the best press box food in the CFL this season, without exception. This BBQ chicken, mac and cheese combo was sensational.

July 1: The home opener. I try and take a photo of the big flag from my spot in the press box before every game and it remains one of my favourite sights in the CFL. The Ticats lost 28-3 to the B.C. Lions, the first real sign that something wasn’t right this season.

July 15: After eight seasons, there are certain things I try and do when visiting each CFL city: climbing to the top of Mount Royal in Montreal is definitely one of them (so is eating St. Viateur bagels.)

July 23: The trip to Edmonton featured a miraculous Ticat comeback, fuelled by a record-breaking performance by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who completed 23 straight passes. After the game, linebacker Simoni Lawrence grabbed my tape recorder to interview Masoli – they train together in California during the off-season – so I snapped a pic.

July 28: I spent the bye week with my family at a cottage near Shawville and went on an epic bike ride along the Cyclopark PPJ. When you only get one week off in the summer, you have to make it count.

Aug. 3: The game in Winnipeg was one of the weirdest I’ve ever attended. Lightning delayed the start by more than two-and-a-half hours and the officials held the coin toss in a hallway beneath the stands. The Ticats also lost 37-11.

Aug. 8: The story that accompanied this photo about Adrian Tracy’s relationship with a set of young twins – one of whom is battling cancer – was one of my favourites of the season.

Aug. 13: Before the game in B.C., a group of Syrian refugees carried the Canadian flag onto the field for the singing of O’ Canada. I’m proud of this country in the same understated way I think most of us are but this moment made me really appreciate what we have, who we are and what we stand for.

Aug. 18: The Saskatchewan Roughriders have apparently been putting up billboard ads in opposing CFL cities for a number of years now but I’d never seen one in Hamilton. In an unrelated note, the Ticats beat the Riders 53-7.

Aug. 28: A shot of Brandon Banks’ helmet and gloves before the Ticats 30-24 loss in Calgary.

Sept. 5: Labour Christmas. The only game on the schedule where the energy approaches a playoff game.

Sept. 16: I had season tickets this season and while my friends and family usually went, I had a last-minute cancellation before the Montreal game and so gave my seats away to a kid and his mom who lived on Balsam Avenue next to the stadium. He’d never been.

Sept. 21: Every season, random stuff happens, like when George Chuvalo shows up to hang with Angelo Mosca. They told some stories.

Sept. 23: Long-time readers of the Scratching Post are familiar with my gastrointestinal love-hate relationship with Western Pizza in Saskatchewan. The Riders bring it in at every walk-through and I resolve not to gorge myself… before destroying 11 slices and paying for it the rest of the trip.

Oct. 1: Each season, the Ticats hold an on-field autograph session after a game and the line for Brandon Banks was unfathomably long.

Oct. 5: We’ve had an excellent year at 3DownNation, due in large part to the contributions from Justin Dunk. As gesture of thanks, I let him kick my ass at golf.

Oct. 21: While in Ottawa, I went for a hike with my brother in the Gatineaus, then sampled a bit of everything from the menu at SmoQue Shack. It was not a calorie neutral exchange.

Oct. 27: the weather was crappy before the home game against Edmonton so the Ticats held their walkthrough indoors. Mike Filer and Ryan Bomben provided security from prying eyes.

Oct. 31: the Ticats have made a visit to the McMaster Children’s Hospital on Halloween the last few years and this Mario and Luigi combo by Simoni Lawrence and Zach Collaros was simply outstanding.

Nov. 10: This is how you know it’s playoff time: the media contingent covering the Ticats grows exponentially. Hamilton would lose 24-21 to the Eskimos in the East Semi-Final, a game marred by a replay controversy.

Nov. 15: The end-of-season media availability always features a lot of shots like this: players and coaches trying to put a brave face on their crushing disappointment.

Nov. 24: While the Ticat season ended with the loss to Edmonton, I covered the Grey Cup in Toronto. While the game itself was fantastic, many of the storylines leading up to it were about the slow tickets ticket sales and poorly-attended events. This ticket offer from Hamilton Pizza Pizza restaurant’s – which the commissioner would call an “unauthorized promotion” – featured two pizzas, 10 wings, pop and dipping sauce… as well as two Grey Cup tickets. That’s a great deal even without seats to the CFL championship game.

Nov. 26: The Grey Cup wasn’t all bad. Wandering the streets of Toronto the day before the big game, I stumbled across the Box J Boys in full fun mode. I saw them coming and starting taking video… and they invited me to join them for a beer. I was still technically working but it was Grey Cup and they were the Box J Boys so… it seemed an appropriate way to end an unusual season. With a drink.

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