It was either exactly what they needed or a perfect illustration of everything that’s wrong.
Several Hamilton Tiger-Cats players were involved in a large-scale brawl at the team’s practice on Tuesday in Calgary which started when quarterback Zach Collaros got into an altercation with a defensive player that led to some pushing and shoving.
Then on the next play, all hell broke loose.
Guard Ryan Bomben and defensive tackle Davon Coleman engaged in a serious scrap and players from both sides quickly joined in. It took coaches and players a few minutes to calm things down and no one was injured.
The Ticats are currently 0-5 and coming off a humiliating 60-1 loss to the Calgary Stampeders so it’s hardly a surprise that tempers are running high. Skirmishes between teammates aren’t uncommon but it rarely escalates to the level seen on Tuesday.
Head coach Kent Austin said he’s seen plenty of practice fights both as a player and a coach but acknowledged that the team’s poor showing last week and their spot at the bottom of the standing likely played a role.
“It happens. Listen, we’re 0-5 coming off a really, really bad loss. Emotions are going to be high,” said Austin, who seemed mostly bemused by the whole thing. “I’ve been kind of waiting for it up to this point.”
With tensions already running high, Coleman said things got physical when he went hard after Bomben roughly mid-way through the two-hour session at a local high school facility. The Ticats have remained in Calgary this week and will head to Edmonton to play the undefeated Eskimos on Friday night.
“I bull rushed him, he didn’t like it. I don’t think either one of us were wrong for what we did,” Coleman said. “We’re tough guys. It’s football and we run off emotions. Nobody got hurt and it didn’t go past the football field. We still hugged, shook hands.”
Bomben, who was also likely sticking up for Collaros after the previous play, was equally willing to let bull rushes be bygones.
“It definitely shows that people care so it’s not a bad thing in the long term,” said Bomben, who won a Grey Cup with Montreal Alouettes before coming to the Ticats in 2015. “Good teams fight all the time.”
Still, the fight will be seen in many circles as the latest in a series of setbacks for the Ticats, a further sign that the team is in trouble. Without a win on the season, there’s been plenty of speculation that Austin’s job is jeopardy.
But Austin said the incident is unlikely to be a distraction for a team already dealing with plenty of challenges.
“If it had continued, if it had gone into other periods, if the same two guys that initiated it were at each other’s throats constantly and that wasn’t managed by the players, then maybe there’d be a bigger issue,” Austin said. “But that wasn’t the case.”
Instead, veteran players, led by Bomben, fellow offensive lineman Mike Filer and veteran defensive back Emanuel Davis, gathered the team together after practice and Filer delivered a short, expletive-laden speech about togetherness that left his teammates laughing as they headed off the field.
“You want guys fired up. We’re 0-5 right now, we’re going into [Edmonton] so we want our emotions running high, we want to take that to the field Friday night,” Filer said. “If you guys want to look at it as a frustration level, you can take that where you want to go but I wouldn’t say the reason that happened is because we’re 0-5.
“We all love each other. It’s not a big deal at all.”