The numbers, to listen to the Hamilton Ticats, can be deceiving.
By any number of accounts, this should be a team on the cusp of panic mode.
The ledger through 12 games has not been kind. There are just four wins. They have a quarterback who is having a career year everywhere except where it counts - the win column.
The only consistent thing about this team has been its inconsistency - thereby making any predictions of reaching the playoffs, let alone winning in them, a sucker’s game.
They have lost six of seven. Two of those losses have been to the even more moribund and aptly named, Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It has the worst defence in the league. Three of the next four games come against the top teams in the CFL (Montreal, B.C. and Calgary).
Add it up and that gun they’ve been using to shoot themselves in the foot deserves, perhaps, to be aimed slightly higher.
You pick the target. Be delicate.
Ultimately and damage inflicted can’t be any crueller than the pain this team has inflicted upon itself with bad penalties, bad defence, bad coaching decisions and a really bad habit of being charitable with fourth quarter leads.
But, are they worried?
Not if the post-practice comments Monday are any indication. Players and coaches talked about opportunity, and they talked about playing loose, and they talked about having fun. Oh, yeah, and playing it one game at a time. Actually, not a bad time to bring out that old cliche, because if there ever was a team that could find a way to lose two at a time it might be the Tiger-Cats.
But, Monday, from quarterback Henry Burris to head coach George Cortez, this was a team prepared to spit into the face of harsh reality - one that gives them only about a 36.8% chance of making the playoffs if the numbers from sportsclubstats.com, are to be believed. “I’m not going to sit around on my hands and say, oh we should’ve done this or we should’ve done that,” said Cortez. “It’s past. I told the players it’s past. Forget about it. We’re moving on.”
Problem is, every time they’ve tried to move on this year, it’s often been over the nearest cliff. Despite this, the normally crusty Cortez has rarely exhibited a more ebullient mood, extolling the media with tales of his days as a high school teacher back in Texas. Normally he lives just this side of taciturn.
But this day, he spoke rapturously of how this was a joyous game, a joyous time of year, and jokingly chided a reporter for dressing like Nanuck of the North when the calendar has not yet been flipped to October.
It seemed as if he didn’t want to just tell his players to have fun, but wanted to show them how to do it. “Most of us started playing because we liked it and had fun. Sometimes you lose sight of that when you get paid to do it. You have to remember why you started doing this. You should always have fun. That’s what I was alluding to ... the players. There’s not a day I don’t come out here and have fun. I enjoy what I do, and they should to.”
Not for a team that has become less than the sum of its parts. Andy Fantuz was supposed to round out the passing game alongside Chris Williams but has been AWOL too often. Well there was that catch-and-fumble near midfield against Winnipeg but hey, why go there again. No fun there.
Suffice to say, this is not how it was supposed to turn out for Hamilton’s prime free agent acquisition. “We’re trying to be loose. We have that final stretch and we still control our destiny,” said Fantuz. “It’s disappointing to lose but we can’t dwell on it.”
Every carbuncle and pustule was exposed again in a 34-12 loss Friday in Winnipeg. Burris missed on more passes than he hit. Williams was a non-factor. Fantuz had the key fumble. So Monday there was one small concession to the ugly fact this team has been the definition of disaster: They held the always popular team meeting. Just the offence.
“It needed to happen,” said Burris.
“I’m glad we had that sit down, man to man session, to see what each one of us can do to help us win. I’m pretty sure it will make us better because this is a huge game for us against Montreal,” said Burris.
Actually, he needs to be more than “pretty sure.”
There is no wiggle room any more. The fans know it. The players know it. “If we want to get in the playoffs we need to start winning,” said Burris. “I look forward to seeing the way this team is going to bounce back. It was a loose practice, guys were having fun.”
There it is: that word again!
Hamilton’s six remaining games include three at home against Montreal, B.C. and Winnipeg plus games in Edmonton, Calgary and the season-finale in Toronto. They need to go 5-1 just to get back to .500 and a familiar level of mediocrity.
“There is still time,” said Fantuz, “for this team to do great things.”
COUBOURNE DOING HIS THING
Avon Cobourne has been arguably Hamilton’s most effective offensive weapon the past few weeks.
But then, he had a pretty good season last year, too and that didn’t keep him in the lineup, or even a Hamilton uniform. So, all bets are off.
Chevon Walker was back taking many of the reps in practice Monday and appears recovered from his hip injury.
“I haven’t heard anything. It will work out the way it is supposed to,” said Cobourne, who filled in for Walker with 100-yard games against Toronto and Edmonton, then had 77 more in last week’s loss to Winnipeg. “I expect to (play). (I) don’t know what will happen.”
Cobourne joined the Ticats last year with high expectations after starring in Montreal. He rushed for 961 yards and eight touchdowns while adding 50 catches for 459 yards through the air but was released when the team signed Martell Mallett. When Mallett ruptured his Achilles, Cobourne was resigned but ended up playing behind Walker.
He’s remained pragmatic but admits this isn’t how he envisioned his tenure in Steeltown.
“I came (back) not knowing how it would turn out. When I got here I thought it’d be a lot better than it was,” he said. “But I’ve found peace. Whatever happens it’s not my call. I learned over the years, don’t worry about the things you can’t control.”
Head coach George Cortez said Monday he has “a plan”, hinting it might include using both Cobourne and Walker.