This truly is a classic game

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

HAMILTON -- It was a couple of hours before the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were to play the Argos, and an employee was pointing to a distant part of Ivor Wynne Stadium.

It was section 9, where the kilted Box J Boys live.

The Box J Boys had spent the night camping out across the street. They are distinguishable mostly by their kilts and to the question you are asking yourself right now, the answer is no.

"They like to throw one of their guys up on their shoulders whenever we score a touchdown," said the team official. "Maybe for one touchdown but I told them, if we score 40 points or something, I'm going out and buying those boys some underwear."

God Bless Hamilton.

God Bless the Labour Day Game.

"It's something you have to experience," said Argos defensive back Orlondo Steinauer, a former Ticat. "You might hear about the battle of Alberta, but here you've got the intensity, then the alcohol, and there are more adults in the stands."

That makes things worse. Only about half the kids in Hamilton drink on Labour Day.

The idea was to get closer to the game, and what better place to do it than the sideline of one of the most hotly contested football games in a stadium where the visiting Argonaut cheerleaders are restricted to the part of the stadium devoted to Argo ticketholders, just to be on the safe side.

Just before kickoff, former Tiger-Cat Dave Marler called on a moment of silence to honour the dead and homeless victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Everyone did as he asked, but if you were standing there, you saw him mouthing to the guy standing beside him, "I don't see them, I don't see them."

He was looking for a Lancaster bomber that was scheduled to break the stony silence with a fly-by. Only there was no Lancaster, and it's very difficult to pretend there is. That said, 10 skydivers found the stadium on their first try and that's four better than last year.

The end of summer is a bittersweet thing, but it comes whether you like it or not and in Hamilton, they have long held a sort of pagan festival cleverly disguised as a football game.

At the Labour Day game there is a guy juggling three knives on a 10-foot-unicycle and people press close to get a better view.

"A word of advice," said sage John Salavantis, the Tiger-Cats' play-by-play-voice. "If you're going to stand down there, stand behind the line of scrimmage. You see both offence and defence and it's a lot safer."

Watch a football game from 10 yards away -- an opportunity unavailable, by the way, at the Rogers Centre -- and you are struck by the level of violence in even the most routine plays. It is a degree of speed and contact that makes the idea of playing the game seem absolutely insane.

There are three types of noise on the field. The contact of pads, the din of the crowd and the blizzard of promotional ads selling food, t-shirts, charity benefits, newspaper circulations, car rentals and banking services.

On a defensive stand -- crowds in Hamilton make more noise when their team is on defence -- it sounds like the inside of a teenager's head.

Football players either are much bigger than you imagined or much smaller.

The Argos' 6-foot-9 Bernard Williams looks like a Grade 5 kid sent back to JK. Arland Bruce III and Andre Talbot, normal sized gents, look like dwarfs.

Bashir Levingston will let a defender have what would otherwise be a prohibitive angle for the tackle. Three steps later, Levingston is gone.

And there is a level of hysteria that sometimes threaten to erupt into anarchy. A fan approached the Argos' Robert Baker while he was being interviewed post-game and Baker pushed him away. An Argo helmet was said to have been thrown into the stands.

On the whole, though, it is good, clean fun -- depending on where you stand on the whole kilt issue.

"The real telling point is when our guys show up 21/2 hours before the game and the gate is already overflowing," Argos coach Michael Clemons said.

And then the Pinball smiles.

"It's, uh, energetic."


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