HAMILTON -- There aren't many present-day Tiger-Cats who can share memories of the good times with Marwan Hage.
Just two, in fact, and both -- safety Sandy Beveridge and long snapper Matt Robichaud -- are injured and won't play tomorrow night at the Rogers Centre against the Argonauts.
Not since 2004, when they lost in the East semi-final to Toronto, have the Ticats played meaningful CFL games this late into October.
Hage, the Hamilton centre, can't be blamed for wondering if it was going to happen again. Hage, Beveridge and Robichaud are the lone Ticats who remain from that 2004 club.
"Usually by now we've already booked a date to leave (for off-season homes) and you've made plans for after the season," Hage said yesterday after the Ticats practised in a light rain at Ivor Wynne Stadium. "Coming to work when every practice counts, every meeting counts, every rep you do still counts, it's exciting for a change."
Though anything can happen in the West Division, where the four teams are separated by three points, the drama in the East is down to the Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Montreal Alouettes have clinched the division crown and the Argos are paying the mortgage on their place in the basement.
There's a chance that one of the Ticats or Bombers, who both own a 6-9 record, will not make the playoffs. But the team that gets to second in the East will play host to a semi-final on Nov. 15.
The Ticats' three remaining games, on paper, represent an easier road to hoe than those which face the Bombers.
Hamilton is in Toronto, entertains Saskatchewan at home and ends in Winnipeg.
The Bombers, meanwhile, have to endure a home-and-away set with the Alouettes, who have lost just twice in 13 games, before welcoming the Ticats.
But tomorrow's game doesn't represent necessarily guaranteed-win night for Hamilton.
Of the Argos' three wins, two have been against their rivals from Steeltown.
At a glance, the Ticats' four consecutive losses might be a sign that they aren't ready to make the next step to respectability. But Hage doesn't see it that way. Their past three setbacks have been by a total of 14 points.
And confidence is not an issue. The Ticats were a loose bunch yesterday and it's hard to imagine they would have piled up 579 yards last week against a top-notch Montreal defence had they been down on themselves.
"We've slipped a bit, but at least this year we have had the opportunity to learn from wins and losses," Hage said. "It has been good to go out and win some games and not get pounded on. We're still a young team."