The Last Word

Ken Fidlin

, Last Updated: 12:50 AM ET

HAMILTON -- A win would be nice. But the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are bringing so much baggage to this annual Labour Day Classic grudge match that the bar has to be set a tad lower.

Before they even think about beating the Argonauts tonight they have to figure out a way not to beat themselves.

Interim coach Ron Lancaster has made a few changes in personnel and he has simplified the offence, but essentially this is not a dramatically altered team from the one that has failed so miserably, especially on home turf, on its way to just two victories in 11 starts.

Any improvement in performance will have to come from within the same lineup that has played so listlessly in four of the past five games.

"That's the part that bothers me more than anything," Lancaster said yesterday. "We have not had the spark, the fire. What are we missing, that they're not coming out ready to play as far as that passion to play football? Does that come from within for certain guys?

"We've got to somehow make sure that when the game starts, if something goes wrong, we fight back from it ... take it in stride, get a little upset and get back and try to get momentum. The game is about momentum. Either you have it or you're fighting to get it and when you get it, you're fighting to keep it.

"We haven't done that. It seems like when something goes wrong, we start to sag. We never are able to get it back."

Win the game? Why not start small. How about scoring a field goal, then work up to a -- dare we say it? -- touchdown.

"We haven't been in the end zone in Ivor Wynne Stadium in four games," Lancaster laments. "We go there in practice just so we can see that there is still an end zone. Four games. This is a joke. And it's sad. We have not crossed the goal line and it's very frustrating.

"I know the fans are upset but how do you think we feel? We practice here every day and it's like there's a sign there that says Do Not Enter.

The big picture storyline heading into the game revolves around Toronto quarterback Damon Allen's bid to surpass Warren Moon as the professional football passing yardage leader. Allen needs to complete passes for 165 yards to do it.

But as far as Lancaster is concerned, it's a fait accompli. If not tonight, then soon and it won't be something that he or his team should concern themselves with.

"Who cares?" Lancaster said. "To be very honest, he needs 165 yards. He's got seven games left. I would imagine that somewhere in those seven games, he's going to squeak out 165 yards. He's going to set a record and we don't care.

"In fact, if he doesn't set the record against us I would be surprised. I mean, 165 yards ... you expect to get that many yards in a football game. I just hope he doesn't get it all in the first quarter. Let's make him earn it."

The Ticats last scored a touchdown or field goal at Ivor Wynne on July 14. In the intervening six weeks, they've played four games at home and been outscored 100-10.

After last week's 51-8 loss at home, offensive co-ordinator Joe Paopao was dismissed and the playbook was reduced to a handful of plays because Lancaster felt his players didn't seem to know what they were supposed to be doing.

"We're down to five, six, seven plays that we can run against any front Toronto throws up against us," he said, "and know what we're doing."

However much Lancaster wants his team to relax and have some fun today, there is enormous pressure on the organization to put up a strong fight against the hated Argos.

The city's football fans have made an economic and emotional commitment to this team the past three years. Even through this dark season, Ivor Wynne has been nearly full all year.

But while Hamilton retains its faith in owner Bob Young's vision, there is a real danger that the team could lose some of that support if it doesn't get back some of its self-respect, and soon.

Compete first, then win.

ken.fidlin@tor.sunpub.com


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