Montford homeward bound

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

Joe Montford is still an icon in Hamilton.

Although the feared defensive lineman is now wearing an Edmonton Eskimos jersey, he is still idolized in Steeltown, his old home.

"He would probably be in the top five of sports figures in the city," said Tiger-Cat defensive co-ordinator Kavis Reed, who coached Montford last year.

"I don't think he would ever have to pull out his wallet for anything (in Hamilton)."

During eight seasons in Hamilton, Montford became one of the greatest Tiger-Cats in history.

A five-time all-star, he was the CFL's outstanding defensive player three times and helped lead the club to a Grey Cup championship in 1999. It will be years before he is moved from second spot on the team's all-time sack list.

So, it's not hard to see why he became a fan favourite on the field - and Hamilton's fiercely loyal fans will get a chance to welcome Montford back this week.

For the first time since being traded by Hamilton to Edmonton in April, he returns to Ivor Wynne Stadium on Friday night.

"I would anticipate a very, very warm reception. Joe didn't ask for a trade. Joe didn't demand a trade," continued Reed.

SOME BOOS

Montford did get some boos when he briefly left Hamilton to join the Toronto Argos in 2002. This time, he isn't quite sure what type of reception he will receive, but he isn't dreading heading east.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Given his remarkable bond with the city, it's not hard to understand.

"I'm going to enjoy getting a chance to see some of the fans and some of the ladies that actually cooked for us during the season. Hopefully I get a chance to see them, give them some hugs and kisses," said Montford.

The ladies belong to the Cats Claw, a group consisting of mostly elderly fans that almost adopt Tiger-Cat players.

"They just had a knack for bringing in stuff and food (to the practice field) and looking out for players when a lot of times you don't have your mother or your wife there to bring in meals," said Montford, who joined the Tiger-Cats at the age of 25.

"I know when I had my daughter they knitted sweaters and all kinds of things. It was just amazing to see ... how much of their money and their time and energy they brought to the players.

"I always respect them and loved them for that. That was the fun part of being in Hamilton, it was such a family atmosphere."

And that bond still exists."When Hamilton came up here (in July), one of the ladies actually baked my favourite cookies and sent them up here in a care package," said Montford.

When Montford arrived in Hamilton in 1996, he came in with a different attitude than most players.

"There were athletes that pretty much got their cheque and went home," he remembered. "I took it upon myself that every fan that came up to me - I signed autographs; every person that wanted to be part of me, I allowed that."

Added John Salavantis, a Hamilton broadcaster and the highly regarded walking history book of the Tiger-Cats:

"Every (charity) that came to Joe with a request he said 'Yes' to. And repeatedly went back to those endeavours that dealt with children and especially sick children." Montford wanted to play a positive role with children in his adopted home.

NEXT CHAPTER

"One in five kids live in poverty in Canada, but three in five in Hamilton," said Montford.

"We actually gave out book bags (one year) so kids can actually look forward to taking these utensils out of their book bags and going into school and being able to compete and know that at least they got a pencil, something to write with."

The next chapter of Montford's CFL career will be written Friday night when he returns to his old stomping grounds.


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