Bryan Hall regrets heartbreak in Hamilton but learned valuable lessons from tough losses

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

It’s been five years since Bryan Hall played his final CFL game but he still wishes he could have helped the Hamilton Tiger-Cats end their long Grey Cup drought when he had the chance.

“I apologize to the city all these years later for not being a part of ending that drought. It’s crazy to think about. In 2014, that group of guys were all pretty much all-stars. We had a pretty special team from Delvin Breaux to Zach Collaros to Brandon Banks, all those guys. It was a special team,” said Hall in a recent interview with 3DownNation.

The Ticats were eight-point underdogs to the Calgary Stampeders in the 2014 Grey Cup and trailed by a score of 20-7 heading into the fourth quarter. Justin Medlock made three field goals before Brandon Banks returned a last-minute punt 90 yards for a touchdown. Hamilton was penalized for an illegal block on the play and Calgary won by a final score of 20-16.

It wasn’t the first gut-wrenching loss Hall experienced in his professional career. He was a rookie with the Baltimore Ravens when Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC Championship Game to overtime in 2011. Baltimore responded to the loss by winning Super Bowl XLVII the following year and Hall was hopeful the Ticats would follow the same pattern after suffering heartbreak in 2014.

“It felt so similar to what was going on in Baltimore — you didn’t make it the first year, so the second year you feel like you’re definitely about to go win it. And there’s this team in Ottawa with this old quarterback and second-and-twenty they’re on like the ten-yard line and they throw a 100-yard pass to win the game to go to the Grey Cup,” said Hall.

“That’s literally the worst loss I ever took in any game. We had all the momentum and then Henry Burris and Greg Ellingson decided it wasn’t our time. If you go back to that play I’m literally like this close to hitting the ball out of Henry’s hands but he stepped up and made a play. That’s the thing about football — sometimes it’s your time and sometimes it ain’t.”

Ottawa’s shocking last-minute victory in the 2015 East Final — later dubbed ‘The Miracle on Bank Street’ — was Hall’s final game as a member of the Ticats. He regrets how his tenure in Hamilton ended but is thankful for the lessons he learned in Steeltown.

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

“Old wounds stay fresh if you focus in on them. One thing I’m able to do is just really bounce back. I learned so much from it. I didn’t it realize until you move on and it’s just the beauty of it. We didn’t win it. It wasn’t meant for us to win it, but those losses made me a better person and has put me in a position to be successful in life.”

The 33-year-old finished his playing career with Toronto (2016) and Calgary (2017) before getting into the car business and completing his MBA. He was doing well professionally but his entire perspective on life changed when former CFL teammates Ja’Gared Davis and Delvin Breaux invited him on a trip to South Africa in January 2020.

The two-week trip came together quickly — his airfare cost only $600 and he was able to stay with his friend’s parents — and served as an opportunity for the young men to broaden their horizons. Though the COVID-19 pandemic started shortly after Hall returned to the United States, he was still inspired from the things he saw and experienced overseas.

Hall now does business with SharpShooter Funding, a small business loan company with ties to Calgary-born wrestler Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart. He also works with American-based First Down Funding and plans to expand to Cape Town Capital, which provides loans to small and medium-sized businesses in South Africa. He also owns a trucking company, a digital media company, and plans to launch a gym in April 2022.

“One thing that football teaches you is the lessons of business and the harsh reality of you not being in control of your own situation,” he said. “I wanted to become a business man and an entrepreneur.”

The Arkansas State product currently lives in Baltimore, which he said reminds him a lot of Hamilton as a hard-nosed city full of hard-working people. He still keeps close tabs on the Ticats and hopes to see the team end its long Grey Cup drought in 2022.

“Hamilton is a special place,” he said. “I’m forever grateful for that opportunity the city gave us. Now I’m seeing the drought going on in Hamilton and I’m just ready for those guys. They’ve earned the right to hoist that Grey Cup trophy, even this year. I don’t know what the hell needs to go on to get over that, but it’s a great city and their time is coming.”

Editor’s note: this is the first instalment of a new series from 3DownNation featuring retired CFL players as they reflect on their careers and share what they do now. Join us next week when 3DownNation catches up with former Toronto Argonauts’ running back Chad Kackert.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.