Bodog Grey Cup betting favourite Ticats won’t ‘end watch’ en route to CFL title goal

Single-game wagering may be all the rage these days, but if you are the type of person that enjoys a slightly longer play when it comes to the CFL, chances are you’re extra familiar with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Sportsbooks don’t much care for losing money, so the fact Bodog Canada has the odds for Hamilton to win a Grey Cup at home set at +275, the lowest of any CFL team, is telling.

Not long ago, the role of preseason betting favourites, with an over/under regular season win total of 9.5, would have seemed an unlikely one for the Tabbies. After all, their 21-year Grey Cup drought is the longest active dry spell in the league. But the Ticats proved to be a nearly unstoppable force in 2019, right up until the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did just that with an upset win to take home Lord Grey’s coveted chalice.

You might expect the Ticats to shy away from the ‘favourites’ label heading into 2021, especially after such a painful defeat, but the reality is a little more complex. Those in the locker room don’t much care what title the media or gambling experts have foisted upon them, they’ve set the same expectations for themselves.

“If you were in our room in 2019, we expected to win the Grey Cup that same way. If you were privileged to ever come in and you saw our signage around [the facility], you’d know that this isn’t just something that was sprung on us, but that it’s the goal of everybody,” second-year head coach Orlondo Steinauer said in the lead up to training camp.

“You go across North America and everybody says they’re focusing on the process. That’s what it’s about for us. We know the end goal, that’s a given. That’s what is beautiful about football, we all have the same goal. What’s going to separate you from the competition? Those are the things we focus on.”

In 2019, the Ticats exemplified that type of confidence. They cruised to a 15-3 record despite the loss of starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, riding backup Dane Evans to a championship berth. The offence was explosive, led by Most Outstanding Player Brandon Banks, and the defence hellacious, but it wasn’t enough when it counted.

Many of the big names that helped achieve that success are still in house, but others, like shutdown corner Delvin Breaux, are now gone. Senior director of player personnel and co-manager of football operations Shawn Burke warns that it will be a different team this time around and the Ticats will have to take it one day at a time.

“I would say 2019 was 2019 and 2021 is going to be a brand new Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Internally, we have our own expectations at all times and those stay internal, but the big thing is the process and that starts Saturday,” he emphasized.

“It’s first day of training camp, second day of training camp and so on, then when we get into the year, it’s day one, day two, day three. If you do the things every day correctly, then everything else will fall into place.”

That was a sentiment echoed by defensive leader and All-Star linebacker Simoni Lawrence.

“You just have to live in your reality every day. The expectations are always going to be the expectations, and of course that’s our expectation too,” said the reigning East Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player. “We just have to play and be ourselves and do what we need to do.”

Steinauer remains focused internally as well, though he doesn’t begrudge the never-ending tide of questions about how his team will handle the pressure. It comes with the territory.

“The outside stuff, that’s part of what we sign up for. That’s the entertainment business and media. We accept all that, but we don’t get looped into or caught up in how many we’ve won or how many we’ve lost or the competition. What really matters is what happens between our walls and when we go out to practice,” Steinauer insisted.

“The question is fair because that’ll be surrounding us, but I would guess that you’re going to get a lot of the same answers across the board. We don’t end watch, but we do know the end goal.”

That end goal, of course, will be a stage at Tim Hortons Field on December 12 and some confetti-tainted champagne sipped from a rather big mug.

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