HAMILTON — So, who are the Hamilton Ticats?
Are they the gutsy warriors who rescued the season from the ash-bin last year and gifted long-suffering fans with their first home playoff game in eight years? Are they the team that strolled through pre-season like they were going on a picnic in Happy Valley?
Or, are they the guys who left their jockstraps in Winnipeg in a 49-29 undressing that saw a supposedly improved offence gain only 56 yards in the first half?
Tiger-Cats fans would like to believe the former but, with a team that’s been sucking exhaust fumes for most of the past decade, many fear the latter.
They won’t have long to wait before the answer is revealed with the Calgary Stampeders in town for the home opener this weekend.
“That’s for the fans (not the players) to wonder about. As a team, we have a sense of who we are and what we can be,” head coach Marcel Bellefeuille said yesterday as the team went through its final full workout before the game. “You have to kind of put a bubble around yourself as a team (and) not to let the downs that happen during a season and the discouraging voices get in your ears.
“There’s an 18-game process every team has to go through to get to the playoffs and every team is going to go through ups and downs; some early and some late. You work through them. It’s no time to panic especially one game into the season.”
The Ticats stepped on to the field this spring with hope of improving on their 9-9 record in what likely will be the CFL’s weaker division. One week into the season, every Eastern team except Winnipeg is on the wrong side of happiness, losing their season openers. And while Winnipeg won, there are those who believe that in facing Hamilton it might have been a bit like beating up on your little brother.
Hamilton quarterback Kevin Glenn never got on track against Winnipeg.
Conversely, Bombers receiver Terrence Edwards shredded the Cats defence for a career-high 191 yards and two TDs. Bellefeuille admits that wasn’t supposed to happen. But, it’s early.
“The message has been simple: Preparation, preparation, preparation and stay the course,” he said.
Others may doubt. The Ticats themselves do not. It’s difficult to blame Ticats fans for being ambivalent. They have too often been built up only to be let down. It’s probable more than a few of the 29,600 seats at Ivor Wynne will remain uninhabited for the home opener.
Club officials expect between 20,000 to 25,000 fans, an indication that if the club can continue to improve on last year the fans will come back. Bellefeuille believes those fans’ expectations will not go unrequited. “It’s a bit different team (than last year) ... a team that has a little more talent, great chemistry,” Bellefeuille said. “It’s just going to take a while to gel.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the quarterback. Kevin Glenn is back for a second year. He rescued the club, and when the season threatened to slip away last year he got them back to .500, and into second place with a .500 record.
Still, he has his detractors. A win this weekend should help that. Another loss, and he will have to climb into that “bubble” to which Bellefeuille referred. The grumbling will only get louder.
“Every year, fans have expectations. They wouldn’t be fans if they didn’t,” Glenn said. “You expect your team to win every year.”
The fans aren’t the only ones who want to believe the glory days of Tommy Joe Coffey, Don Sutherin and Garney Henley can be relived. In the aftermath of that narrow playoff defeat last autumn to the B.C. Lions, the players also have inflated expectations. “As players we felt we accomplished something last year. But we got to a hump and never got over it. This year we want to get over it.”