The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are about to get very familiar with their arch-rival Toronto Argonauts, but several of their opponents need no introduction.
A quirk of the CFL schedule will see the QEW rivalry played four times over the next five weeks and when the two teams clash on Saturday in Toronto, it will mark the first time that former Most Outstanding Player Brandon Banks has played his old team in regular season action.
The five-foot-seven, 150-pound pass-catcher known as Speedy B spent the last eight CFL seasons in Hamilton, playing 111 games while climbing the Tabbies franchise record books. He is first in kick return yards (3,773), punt return yards (3,049), missed field goal return yards (779) and missed field goal return touchdowns (5); finished second in total touchdowns (62), combined yards (13,686) and punt return touchdowns (7); and sits inside the top eight in receptions (442), receiving yards (5,678) and receiving touchdowns (44).
“Speedy was a focal point of this organization for a long time, he’s a future Hall of Famer,” head coach Orlondo Steinauer told the Hamilton media this week. “I’ve got a lot of love for Brandon as a person and, of course, what he does on the field speaks for itself. The fact that he’s continuing his career, that’s outstanding and he could still score from anywhere on the field.”
Banks had a stellar 2019 season, leading the CFL in every major receiving category on route to 112 receptions, 1,550 yards, 13 receiving touchdowns, and two missed field goal return touchdowns, eventually taking home the MOP.
However, he was held to just 10 games played in a disappointing follow-up campaign, hauling in 44 catches for 474 yards and two touchdowns as Hamilton got to the Grey Cup for the second season in a row.
That drop in production led to an offseason parting of ways between the 34-year-old receiver and the organization, a decision that was dubbed mutual in the press release but was clearly the Ticats moving on from their aging star. Banks promptly headed up the highway to sign with the Boatmen, catching 15 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns in six games so far this year.
“Speedy’s terrific, man. He’s always a threat,” noted cornerback Jumal Rolle, the player who should see the heaviest dose of Banks over this upcoming stretch. “We know he’s a dangerous player and know what he’s capable of doing, so we just got to know where he’s at every play.”
Banks won’t be the only notable former player that Hamilton will need to account for, however, as all-star defensive end Ja’Gared Davis also turned in his black and gold colours for double blue in free agency.
The 31-year-old pass rusher racked up 19 sacks in 30 games with the Ticats and has two already this season, a dangerous element that a struggling Hamilton offensive line will need to account for.
“JG is going to be JG. He’s going to cause people fits, they’re gonna move him around just the same way we did,” Steinauer acknowledged. “He’s sought after because of his production and we know we’ve got our hands full but at the same time, we have to try to play our game the best we can.”
While the head coach has nothing but positive things to say about his former charges, he warns that Hamilton can’t afford to fixate on players from their past. Both Banks and Davis should have some added motivation to burn their old club, but Toronto as a whole will be far more focused on picking up a crucial East Division victory.
“At the end of the day, they’re going to be gunning for a win,” Steinauer stressed early in the week. “I know the headlines and the sports media part are fun to talk about and those are good storylines, but the game is always going to be played between the whistles for as long as the game takes.”