The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are three days out from an East Final matchup with the Toronto Argonauts and suddenly they don’t know what quarterback they’ll be facing.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s team-sanctioned appearance at a Toronto Raptors game on Thursday night in an attempt to drive ticket sales for the playoff matchup went counter to the CFL’s stringent COVID protocols and his status for Sunday is now in question.
The league has provided him a path towards starting, reducing their mandatory quarantine period from four to two games, but the quarterback still must register three negative COVID tests.
That now places the Ticats in the unique situation of having to prepare for both Bethel-Thompson and more mobile backup Antonio Pipkin for their most important game of the year.
“We did address it with the football team, to be honest with you. Just that the protocols and things are in place for a reason and that we need to make sure we’re adhering to those things, but that’s about as far as we went with it,” Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer said Friday, shortly before the league officially ruled on the situation.
“The only thing that it would do for us, obviously, is they would probably change some things up at the quarterback spot, meaning not necessarily their whole game plan, but some of it. I think that there’s different skill sets there, but we’ll be prepared either way. I don’t really have any comments on anything, other than we’ll be prepared to play both quarterbacks.”
That was a sentiment echoed by several of Hamilton’s defensive stalwarts, who kept all their comments above board despite the controversy swirling around their chief rivals.
“We’re focused on us. We’re just worried about us. We don’t know what they’ve got going on up there,” defensive tackle Ted Laurent insisted. “Were [Pipkin] to be put out there, he’ll get the same treatment.”
“Just got to go cram in. The great thing about it is you had a game in Edmonton and he got a lot of reps, so you get to see what they like to do or what they think they can do with him,” added linebacker Simoni Lawrence, rarely one to avoid a quotable moment. “Pipkins’s probably been praying for an opportunity like this, so I’m sure he’ll be prepared and ready to go.”
One might have expected Hamilton to be considerably more up in arms over the prospect of the CFL bending its rules to accommodate their opponent’s quarterback, as well as four other key Argo players who were reportedly at the game, especially after their own run in with the protocol this year.
Back in Week 4, defensive end Ja’Gared Davis was suspended a game for unintentionally violating the very same COVID rules that the Argos appeared to circumvent for publicity, and star receiver Brandon Banks says he was denied a request to attend a Raptors game earlier this year, but those in front of the media Friday weren’t taking the bait.
“It’s been a different year for everybody in the CFL,” Steinauer deflected. “We’ve been dinged, but we weren’t the only ones across the league.”
According to Lawrence, players have largely accepted the imposition that protocols have placed on their lives and moved past the type of resentment that might make the Bethel-Thompson situation a hot button.
“Honestly, it’s one of those things where you just know what you signed up for. It’s frustrating at times, but when we come up to Canada, the goal is to win the Grey Cup. We just try to keep our focus on the bigger picture,” the linebacker explained.
“I feel like here in Hamilton, we do a great job understanding what we need to do, and we’re reminded every day of what we need to do as a player. I like to sit home and watch film and TV anyway.”
Whether they face Bethel-Thompson or Pipkin, the Ticats will have taken care of their own business and will know just what to expect come Sunday.
“No matter what happens, regardless they’re going to kick the ball off,” Steinauer said. “I know that the Toronto Argonauts, no matter who they line up with, are going to be trying to beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and it’ll be no different.”