HAMILTON — Just call him Marwan the Mentor, one of many monikers that could easily apply to this Tiger-Cats veteran.
The man with the big heart and whose commitment to the community is matched only by his passion for the pigskin, Marwan Hage has found himself this past week serving as a tutor to some of his greenhorn Ticats.
Hage, given his experience when faced with the unusual set of circumstances that surround the annual Labour Day matchup against the Argonauts, can talk until he is double blue in the face about the perils that will soon await.
He can talk about the magnitude of the day, the hype and hoopla that gives it the feel of a Grey Cup, the intensity that engulfs the stadium, but until one actually experiences the mayhem, all he can provide is assurances that Labour Day versus the Argos is different.
“You get to share history to make sure the guys know what has happened on Labour Day,” Hamilton’s starting centre said on Sunday following the team’s spirited walkthrough at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
A seven-year veteran, Hage has seen virtually all that can be seen, experienced emotions that ranged from disgust to delirious. He still can’t put his finger on it, but he knows, regardless of records and matchups, Labour Day brings with it an entirely different set of challenges.
“It’s Labour Day and everybody steps up. I told them in all the years I’ve been here, expect a fight, don’t step down. When a guy gets in your face, don’t back down, get in his face but always play within the game.
“Above everything else, don’t lose your focus.”
Hage turns 29 next Tuesday, but the look on his face when he discusses the Argos and Labour Day is of a player who will soon turn 19.
“There’s just something about it,” he added. “Maybe it’s the whole Toronto-Hamilton thing, like two brothers going at it.
“For me, it’s like a heavyweight title fight.”
Tempers will flare, punches will get thrown and an ejection looms on any given series, whether it’s the Argos or Ticats taking possession of the football.
“Just look at our last game with the Argos, a 60-minute game where both teams just pounded each other,” Hage said of a 16-12 Ticats win at the Rogers Centre two weeks ago.
“It’s just magnified on Labour Day. The key is to stay under control and maintain an even keel.”
The Ticats (4-4) have won three straight and can pull even with the Argos (5-3) with a win. Almost as important is the tiebreaker Hamilton will enjoy with a win.
Not that Hage needs any reminders of Monday’s significance, but the horde of media that gathered on Sunday was all one needed to know to grasp that this is not just another kickoff.
“Everyone’s aware of what’s at stake,” Hage continued. “The Argos are coming here looking for a fight and will be fighting.
“The focus, though, must be on the game and not what’s around the game.”
Football-wise, Hamilton’s offensive line has stabilized from some early-season turbulence, much-needed stability that has resulted in a solid ground game and protection for quarterback Kevin Glenn.
There is no speed rush to contend with coming off the edge, but Hage offers high praise for Toronto’s down linemen.
“That unit is physical, tall, big and fast,’’ he said. “They play disciplined football and they’re a great defence.”
Despite generating more yards, controlling the clock and presenting a better balanced package, the Ticats scored but one TD against the Argos defence, a score set up following a fumbled kickoff return.
During his time in the Hammer, Hage has gone toe-to-toe with Mike O’Shea and even had to contend with Orlondo Steinauer when he moved up to the line of scrimmage from the secondary.
Each are assistants on Jim Barker’s staff, each having a presence on how the Argos like to play on defensive side of the ball.
“You can see Osh’s influence and Steiner’s influence,” Hage said. “It’s good see. Those two guys were well-respected because they played hard.”