Ticats must stay the course

Ticats players run through drills during a practice session Tuesday in Waterloo, Ont., that...

Ticats players run through drills during a practice session Tuesday in Waterloo, Ont., that attracted 1,500 onlookers. Hamilton sits at a dismal 3-5 on the season. (Handout)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:28 PM ET

WATERLOO, ONT. - In nine years toiling in the trenches for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Marwan Hage has learned a thing or two.

And one thing this 6-foot-2, 290-pound centre has figured out is that to panic is to invite failure.

To over react is to undo whatever good you have done and jeopardize whatever good awaits.

So when Hage is approached following a practice at Waterloo’s Warrior Field that attracted some 1,500 onlookers and asked if he’s at all concerned that the Ticats are underachieving at 3-5, he’s ready with some veteran wisdom.

“Years in the CFL have taught me the word patience,” Hage said. “I’m not preaching patience for anybody, but I do know what we are capable of and that’s what I have been telling the guys. With patience and the ability to keep progressing week in and week out and going through the growing pains like everyone else, it will pay off on the end.”

Hage wasn’t in the lineup last week in a loss to Montreal because of injury. His absence contributed to one of the worst games the Hamilton offensive line has had all season.

But Hage won’t allow himself or anyone else on the team to over react to a bad game. For him, and this is what he tries to instill in the younger Ticats, it has to be about the process and if the process is underway and moving in the right direction, then the wins will come.

“The young guys don’t see the big picture,” Hage said. “They are trying to make a name or establish themselves. But you need patience and wisdom. The vets, we understand. We’ve been around. We understand it’s a long road and we have to keep playing because we believe we are doing the right things. We are practising the right way, we have the right plays, we have the right fundamental stuff. We’re doing the right things. It’s just a matter of doing it over and over again and getting consistent.”

There have been times in his career when Hage wasn’t so sure the Ticats had all that, but in this group in this season, he is 100% confident.

“I’ve been on better teams on paper,” Hage says without regret. “I remember in ’06 we had four or five Hall of Famers on the team. So I don’t look at paper. I look when we come out of camp what kind of team we have. On paper, everybody before camp is winning the Grey Cup. It’s coming out and doing the right thing and seeing what we have. Do our guys work together? Are they compatible? Do we have good veteran leadership? Do our rookies fit in?

“I think we do and I think we have the right formula.”

Hage admits he was not always so analytical in his approach to the game.

He fondly recalls veterans like Dave Hack and Danny McManus urging him to calm down and not understanding how that could help him on a football field where violence is omnipresent.

“When I was young, I was very feisty, my emotions were up and down and so was my play. I’d want to beat on someone and then my snaps would be going over the quarterback’s head. Guys like Hack and Morreale and Danny McManus - those were my vets — would be on me telling me ‘Rookie, calm down, calm down.’

“I never understood why they were telling me to calm down because I was just trying to fight somebody,” Hage said. “But then I understood that by calming down I could get to the point where my bad game and my best game were similar and you’re not peaking emotionally. That’s what we have to get the young guys to understand. You have a bad play, forget about it. Stow it aside.”

Lately the Ticats have had more than their share of bad moments on the football field. They should have won in Montreal but came up short for a variety of reasons, none more obvious than a missed opportunity to challenge a huge Montreal gain that never should have stood.

They lost in Winnipeg primarily because of ball security issues. All told, they have lost three in a row.

But at times throughout the season, the Ticats have shown plenty of promise. Henry Burris has looked at times like he was unbeatable. Ditto for Andy Fantuz. Even the Ticats defence, the unit that has taken the brunt of the blame for the losing record, has had moments like the first three quarters of the Montreal game where an offensive mind as sharp as Anthony Calvillo was life and death to get even a first down against them.

Hage has seen those moments and many more like them and it’s the reason he remains so sure that this team is better than it’s record and will show it in the coming weeks.

“I strongly believe what we are teaching and the way we’re operating is the right formula,” he said. “If it wasn’t I would straight-out tell you we were going the wrong way. But I’m very confident this team is going to turn some heads. We’ve already done that, but now it’s going to come with wins.”

Hage and he rest of the Ticats will get a chance to prove that with back-to-back games against another under-performing team in the Toronto Argonauts starting Monday with the annual Labour Day clash at Ivor Wynne.

LABOUR OF LOVE PLANNED THIS TIME

Argos fans aren’t going to know how to take this one.

Really, when was the last time the Ticats went out of their way to make the Argos faithful more comfortable?

But that will be the case this Monday when, in an effort to be more accommodating and make the Argos fans headed down the QEW for the annual Labour Day clash more comfortable, the Tiger-Cats organization is hosting a BBQ for the Double Blue faithful.

The barbecue will take place behind Brian Timmis Field, which is just south of Ivor Wynne. On top of that, the ’Cats are putting on extra security for the game and ensuring there is “zero tolerance towards inappropriate behaviour towards Argos fans.”

A cynic might suggest it’s just the Ticats’ way of fattening up the prey for slaughter, getting the Double Blue to let their guard down, but according to team president Scott Mitchell, nothing could be further from the truth.

For Mitchell, it’s simply a matter of ensuring the last ever Labour Day Game at Ivor Wynne Stadium goes smoothly.

“It’s a better atmosphere when you have Argos fans in the stadium,” he said. “A lot have come to Ivor Wynne through the years and we want to make sure they have a great family experience for that final game and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it’s a great experience.”

The area behind the Argos bench, where most Argos fans wind up sitting, is already well stocked with Toronto fans but Mitchell said there are about 400 tickets remaining in that area.

The game, as it is every year, is expected to be a sellout.


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