It’s time for Ticats fans to forgive Chris Williams

“Chad Owens, Hamilton Tiger-Cat” was something that took some time to get used to — yours truly even penned a piece about it — and cheering for the man who embodied everything Ticats fan stood against wasn’t easy, at least not at first.

But Owens played and played well. Remember his touchdown catch in the first game of the 2016 season against the Argos? Remember when he caught what was essentially the winning score on Labour Day? Hamilton fans didn’t look at Owens and remember his past, they saw his present and embraced him despite their hesitations or any lingering negative feelings.

I thought of the Owens situation when news broke Sunday night that Chris Williams was heading back to the Ticats after a blockbuster trade with the Montreal Alouettes.

To say Williams’ departure from Hamilton was acrimonious would be an understatement, at least from the rabid Ticats fanbase. Fans were angry, very angry, and the five years between Williams leaving and returning don’t seem to have dampened that anger any. Social media lit up with some harsh words about Williams that I dare not reprint on what is a (mostly) family friendly website. Fans can have long memories, especially when they feel they have been wronged, and there are more than a few Ticats fans who believe Williams wronged them and the team they hold near and dear to their hearts.

But Williams left five years ago, and I think the time has long since passed where Ticats fans need to let bygones be bygones.

Williams didn’t ditch the Ticats because he hated the team or the city or the fans. He was trying to parlay his immense success in the CFL into what every player who plays in the CFL wants: an NFL shot, with the paycheque that comes with it.

Williams was on his CFL rookie deal, making around $52,000 per year, during his two seasons in Hamilton, and while making that paltry sum he was far exceeding any rational expectations anyone could have had for him. In just two seasons he was a two-time award winner, taking home top rookie honours in 2011 and top special teams honours in 2012, and put up some massive numbers on both special teams and at receiver. His 2012 campaign was one of the best individual seasons by a Ticats player in the last decade — 83 catches, 1,298 yards, 11 TDs, and a league-record six return touchdowns — and he was understandably looking to for a chance to earn a lot more money down south.

And that ticked off Ticats fans like you wouldn’t believe.

While attitudes towards player holdouts have softened the last few years — see the reaction to the James Wilder and Victor Butler situations this past off-season — there is still a segment of Hamilton fans that are unwilling to forgive Chris Williams for his grievous sin of wanting to make more money.

“He left us,” they’ll scream, like the kid from Jurassic Park.

But sometimes you have to do (seemingly) ignoble things for noble reasons. You can’t fault Chris Williams for wanting to maximize his earning potential, and holding his actions against him because he was disloyal in a business that is inherently disloyal is unfair. Just look at Williams’ last few months. He signed a two-year deal with the B.C. Lions in the winter of 2017 and was promptly shipped to Montreal this past off-season because he didn’t live up to his lofty paycheque. Is that unfair? Is that not disloyal? I’m not here to argue about what is right or fair, but the public attitude towards players wanting out and teams letting guys go swings far too heavily to the team’s side. Players who want more money are greedy; teams that cut a player to save money are smart.

And speaking of the team, let’s not forget that at least part of the blame for the fiasco back in 2013 falls at the feet of Ticats management. While an arbitrator ruled in the Ticats’ favour, they did say the team violated the CBA by not offering Williams the minimum deal (one year plus an option). Had that happened, and Williams tries out for the NFL after playing out his two-year contract, no one says boo. That’s just business as usual. Additionally, if the NFL option window had existed — it was phased out in 2010 and eliminated altogether in 2012 — Williams would have been free that off-season to try out for the NFL anyway as he was in his option year with the Ticats on his three-year deal.

Still convinced Williams is a bad guy? You need to remember that the Ticats and Williams came to an agreement in October of that year to allow Williams to try to land an NFL job, while the Ticats retained his rights through the 2014 season. Essentially they enacted an option-year window for Williams, something the league has just recently reinstated. This came about after all sides came together and ironed everything out. There were no hard feelings on either side, and Williams was always going to be welcomed back with open arms by the organization if his NFL dream died before the end of the 2014 season.

When Williams came back it wasn’t until 2015 and he went to Ottawa, where he showed he was still the same all-world player he was when he was with the Ticats. Then he hurt his knee, spent one forgettable year in B.C. and was traded to Montreal this past off-season. Now he is back in the place where he had his some of his greatest success, a place where he was a multi-time award winner and all-star. A place where fans have long memories but need to be willing to forgive.

When Chris Williams left Hamilton he never bashed the city, the fans or the organization. He sent out one tweet about “beefin’ with my squad” and that was it. He never went out of his way to say anything negative about Hamilton or the Tiger-Cats or his experience here. He handled himself in a professional manner and I think we would all do well to remember that when he dons the black and gold for his second go-around with the club.

It took a little getting used to but we were able to accept the idea of Chad Owens as a Tiger-Cat and with Chris Williams coming home we need to let hard feelings go and welcome him back with open arms.

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