The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are off to their first 0-3 start since 2017, a season that saw them replace their head coach midseason, replace their franchise quarterback, not win a game until Labour Day and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
History is not kind to teams that start this poorly — spare me the point about the 2011 B.C. Lions, please and thank you — but Hamilton’s head coach and president of football operations Orlondo Steinauer isn’t pressing the panic button yet.
“We’re built for adversity,” Steinauer said. “Is this the way we wanted to start? Of course not, but this is the hand we’ve been dealt.”
Dealing with adversity, in this instance, a poor start to the season feels like it is almost built into the fabric of the franchise. Since 2000, the Ticats have started the season 0-2 or worse 11 times, including an 0-2 start just last year.
In fact, the team has only started six seasons where they entered their fourth game, which they will play this week when they host the Edmonton Elks at Tim Hortons Field on Friday night, with a winning record.
The problem for this franchise, and it predates most of the players and coaches currently on the team, is that when 0-2 reaches 0-3 things tend to go south. Just once in the last 22 seasons have the Ticats begun a season 0-3 or worse and still managed to make the playoffs.
That year was 2014, when the Ticats started 0-3, at one point Hamilton sat at 2-7 and still managed to not only finish first in the division but make it to the Grey Cup. The Tabbies benefitted from a bad East that year, with Montreal finishing in second despite a 1-7 start to their season. That was also the expansion year for the Ottawa Redblacks, who would go on to finish 2-16.
The franchise’s futility to start seasons strong doesn’t just predate the current regime but infects them too. Just last year, the Ticats under the stewardship of Steinauer started 0-2, sunk to 4-5 by Thanksgiving and needed a torrid finish that saw them win four of their final five games to finish second in the East Division.
The Tabbies rolled off two playoff victories, including a come-from-behind thriller in the East Final over the Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field to once again make it back to the Grey Cup.
But as we have heard from the staff and players before, this Tiger-Cats team is not that Tiger-Cats team and the reasons for the slow start in 2021 are not the same reasons for the even slower start in 2022.
“We know we haven’t played our best football. At times we have, in spurts, but it’s got to be consistent and I think that’s more what we are looking for is consistency,” said Steinauer.
Consistency has definitely been a problem for the Ticats in their first three games this year. Whether it is wasting a pair of solid defensive performances against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Week 1 and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Week 3 or blowing a 21-point halftime lead to the Calgary Stampeders in Week 2, the Ticats simply have to find a way to play, as cliche as it sounds, a full 60 minutes.
So what does the team have to do to get that consistency and punt a ‘W’ in the win column?
“We’ve got to finish and execute.”
For Steinauer, it’s simple.