The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are a professional team in the Canadian Football League (CFL). The franchise dates back to the formation of the Hamilton Football Club (the Tigers) in November 1869. The Tigers and another Hamilton football team, the Wildcats, amalgamated as the Tiger-Cats for the 1950 season and played in the Inter-provincial Rugby Football Union (IRFU), which became the Eastern Conference of the CFL in 1960. Since the early 20th century, the Tigers and Tiger-Cats have been associated with a tough, physical brand of football that reflects the blue-collar roots of Hamilton as an industrial city. The team’s iconic cheer, “Oskie Wee Wee, Oskie Waa Waa, Holy Mackinaw, Tigers… Eat ’em Raw!” is well known throughout Canada and dates back to the early 20th century. The Tiger-Cats have won the Grey Cup 13 times, including five times as the Tigers.
Quick Facts about the Hamilton Tiger-Cats
|Date Founded: 1869 (Hamilton Football Club); 1950 (Hamilton Tiger-Cats Football Club)|
|Venue: Tim Hortons Field|
|Team Colours: Black, gold and white|
|Grey Cup Victories: 13 (eight as Tiger-Cats; five as Tigers)|
Early History of Football in Hamilton (to 1950)
The Hamilton Football Club, the ancestor of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, was formed on 3 November 1869. Within six weeks, the club played its first game, against the 13th Battalion, a team of light infantrymen located in the city. The local baseball team let them use their field for their earliest games, but soon the football team moved to the Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association (HAAA) Grounds, which was run by the local cricket team.
By 1873, the team was commonly known as the “Tiger Club” and had adopted black and yellow for its colours. Goalposts at the team’s HAAA Grounds home field were painted in the same colours. In 1883, the Tigers became a founding member of the Ontario Rugby Football Union (ORFU), which remained a viable league until 1972 and could challenge for the Grey Cup until 1955. The amateur Tigers won their first league championship in 1890, beating Queen’s University by a score of 8–6.
In 1907, the Tigers and Toronto Argonauts left the ORFU to form the Interprovincial Rugby Union (IRFU) with the Montreal Winged Wheelers and Ottawa Rough Riders, known colloquially as the “Big Four.” The Tigers won the league and Dominion Championship in 1908, the year before the Grey Cup became the national football championship. In 1910, the Tigers became the first Hamilton team to appear in the Grey Cup, losing to the University of Toronto at the HAAA Grounds in front of 12,000 fans.
Two years later, another Hamilton team — the Alerts — won the city’s first Grey Cup, defeating the Toronto Argonauts at the HAAA Grounds in 1912. The Alerts were one of a number of Hamilton teams that came and went in the first half of the 20th century, while the Tigers maintained a consistent presence in the city.
Prior to the Second World War, the Tigers appeared in seven more Grey Cups, winning in 1913, 1915, 1928, 1929 and 1932 and losing in 1927 and 1935. That year, the Winnipeg ’Pegs (soon renamed the Blue Bombers) beat the Tigers 18–12 at the HAAA Grounds to become the first western team to take home the national championship.
From 1941 to 1944, the IRFU and Tigers suspended operations due to the Second World War. However, the Hamilton Flying Wildcats played in the ORFU during the war and employed Tiger players (although they weren’t allowed to use the team’s black and yellow colour scheme). The team adopted “Flying” as part of its name in honour of its Royal Canadian Air Force players but wasn’t officially a “service team.” The Wildcats won the 1943 Grey Cup but were upset by a Montréal service team in the 1944 Grey Cup.
In 1945, the Tigers returned to play, but after winning only two of 24 games in 1946 and 1947, the team withdrew from the Big Four and went to the ORFU. They were replaced by the Wildcats, who won only one game in two years. The two Hamilton teams were struggling financially and competing for players and fans, so they decided to merge and become the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the 1950 season. The team practised at the HAAA Grounds but played games at Civic Stadium. It was run by a community group of prominent citizens, including C.C. Lawson, Sam Manson and F.M. Gibson.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The 1950s
The Tiger-Cats’ board of directors chose Carl Voyles to be the first coach of the new team. Voyles, who had coached the Brooklyn Dodgers for the All-America Football Conference, was strong on organizational skills and brought core players like Vince Mazza, Ralph Sazio and Vince Scott from the United States. From the start, Voyles established a team identity based on tough football, unwavering fan support and a togetherness based on a team meal after practice every day.
On 2 September 1950, their premiere as an amalgamated franchise, the new Tiger-Cats beat the defending eastern champion Ottawa Rough Riders in Ottawa by a score of 26–17. Two days later, they played their first home game at Civic Stadium, scoring a point in the first minute and beating the Toronto Argonauts 13–6 before a rowdy crowd of just under 13,000. It was the start of a long tradition: since then, the Tiger-Cats and Argos have played 45 times on Labour Day, with the Ti-Cats winning 31 games.
Although the Tiger-Cats played games at Civic Stadium, they held practices and dressed for games at the Tigers’ traditional home, the HAAA Grounds, and they continued to do so for several years. The Tiger-Cats finished first in the Big Four in their first season with a 7–5 record but were beaten by Toronto in the playoffs for the right to advance to the Grey Cup.
In 1951, African-American football player Bernie Custis came to Hamilton from Syracuse. Custis, who had been spurned in his attempt to play quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, became the first African-American to play regularly as quarterback for a professional football team in North America. In 1953, Hamilton advanced to the Grey Cup for the first time as the Tiger-Cats, defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 12–6 in Toronto.
Voyles retired after the 1955 season, which was the only time that decade that the Tiger-Cats didn’t reach the East Division Final. Assistant coach Jim Trimble took over as head coach until 1962, reaching the Grey Cup five times — always against Winnipeg — but winning only in 1957. Trimble brought in the two greatest linemen in franchise history: John Barrow from Florida in 1957 and Angelo Mosca from Wyoming in 1958. Star quarterback Bernie Faloney arrived in 1957 and stayed at the helm until 1964.
At the end of the decade, the team was sold, despite the fact that the community-ownership group had been financially responsible. In 1956, for instance, the team made a $50,000 profit when many Hamiltonians thought the team would lose money. However, other members of the league insisted that the team go private, so the Tiger-Cats were sold to a 10-man group, many of whom had been on the community-ownership board, in 1959. The new group was headed by Jake Gaudaur, and the purchase price of $170,000 — plus accumulated capital of $250,000 — was put into two trust funds for amateur sport.
The Tiger-Cats ended the 1950s on a high, with 10 straight playoff berths, two wins in four Grey Cup appearances and an 85–45–2 record in their first decade as Hamilton’s unified team.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The 1960s
The most successful decade in Tiger-Cats history opened on a weak note, with the team finishing just 4–10 in the 1960 regular season and missing the playoffs for the first time in 23 years of franchise history. However, the 1960 season also saw the debut of two of the most significant players in Hamilton history: wide receiver/defensive back Garney Henley and lineman Ellison Kelly. In the off-season, general manager Gaudaur secured future Canadian Football Hall of Fame receiver Harold “Prince Hal” Patterson from the Montreal Alouettes in one of the most lopsided trades in football history. With the arrival of quarterback/punter Joe Zuger, who threw a record eight touchdown passes in his first CFL game in 1962 to replace Bernie Faloney, Hamilton had the core of a team that would play in six Grey Cups during the decade, capturing the national championship in 1963, 1965 and 1967.
The Tiger-Cats were remarkably consistent in league play from 1961 to 1967, finishing first in the East Division and reaching the Grey Cup every year but 1966, when they were second and lost the East Division Final to the Ottawa Rough Riders.
In 1961, the first-place Tiger-Cats were upset 25–7 by Toronto in the first game of the two-game total point Eastern Conference Final, but they roared back to win the series, scoring 48 points to Toronto’s two points in the second game. In the Grey Cup final, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Ti-Cats by a score of 21–14 in the first overtime game in Grey Cup history.
The Blue Bombers and Ti-Cats played another legendary Grey Cup in 1962, when heavy fog blanketed the field at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium. CFL commissioner Sydney Halter stopped the game with only nine minutes and 29 seconds of play to go, with Winnipeg leading 28–27. When play resumed the next day, neither team could score and the legend of the Fog Bowl was born.
Jim Trimble left to coach the Montreal Alouettes after the 1962 season, and Ralph Sazio, a former player and an assistant coach, took over the team. In 1963, the Tiger-Cats beat the BC Lions, who had reached the Grey Cup for the first time, 21–10. The game is best remembered for a controversial play on the sidelines, where star Lions running back Willie Fleming was injured by Angelo Mosca and missed the rest of the game. The Lions and Tiger-Cats met again for the national championship in 1964, with BC winning its first Grey Cup by a score of 34–24.
In the 1965 Grey Cup, when Hamilton and Winnipeg met for the seventh time in 13 years, the wind was so strong that, on three occasions, Blue Bombers coach Bud Grant conceded two-point safeties rather than punt into it. Those points made up the margin of Hamilton’s 22–16 victory in the Wind Bowl.
The Tiger-Cats returned to the Grey Cup in 1967 with one of the greatest defences in CFL history. The team didn’t allow a touchdown over its final six games of the season, including two playoff victories and a 24–1 win in the Grey Cup over defending champion Saskatchewan.
The Tiger-Cats finished third and lost in the eastern semifinal in both 1968 and 1969 to conclude the 1960s with a .629 winning percentage — the best of any decade in their CFL history.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The 1970s
In their first 18 seasons as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1950–68), the team had only three different head coaches and just two years in which they had a losing record. But in the 1970s alone, there were seven different head coaches, and the Tiger-Cats lost more games than they won in five of those 10 years.
The decade started off well. The Ti-Cats finished first in the Eastern Conference in 1970 — Joe Restic’s third year as coach — but lost the Eastern Conference Final to Montreal. That year, Civic Stadium was renamed Ivor Wynne Stadium in honour of the city’s long-time athletic director.
In 1972, the Tiger-Cats led the Eastern Conference with an 11–3 record. It was the first time they had won 11 games, and their winning percentage of .786 is still the best in franchise history. In the 1972 Grey Cup game, held at Ivor Wynne Stadium, the Tiger-Cats defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 13–10 behind rookie quarterback Chuck Ealey, who became the first African-American quarterback to win a CFL championship. Ian Sunter, a 19-year-old rookie who grew up in nearby Burlington, Ontario, kicked the winning field goal on the final play. It was also the last game for future Canadian Football Hall of Famers Ellison Kelly and Angelo Mosca.
After the Tiger-Cats missed the playoffs in 1973, the team was purchased by local businessman Michael DeGroote. However, the Ti-Cats struggled over the next few years. Head coach Jerry Williams resigned after the team won only five of its 16 games in 1975 and was replaced by George Dickson. After the team lost all four of its exhibition games and its first two regular-season games in 1976, general manager Bob Shaw fired Dickson and took over as head coach himself until the end of the 1977 season, when the team missed the playoffs again.
Before the 1978 season, the Tiger-Cats were sold again to Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. of Toronto for $1.3 million. Harold Ballard was president of the Tiger-Cats for the next 11 years.
On the field, the team won only five games in 1978 and six in 1979 and exited the playoffs in the first round for both seasons. In 1978, Tom Dimitroff Sr. was fired as head coach after only five games and John Payne was appointed head coach.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The 1980s
The Tiger-Cats returned to success on the field again in the 1980s, making the playoffs every season in a weak and unstable East Division (in every season — except 1988 — at least two of the four eastern teams had losing records). The Tiger-Cats reached the Grey Cup final five times — just one fewer than in the club-record 1960s — and won in 1986.
Under coach John Payne, the Tiger-Cats reached the 1980 Grey Cup final, but they were routed 48–10 by the Edmonton Eskimos, who won their third of a record five consecutive Grey Cups. Partway through the 1983 season, Payne was replaced by Al Bruno, who began his eight-year coaching stretch — the longest in Tiger-Cat history. With franchise mainstays like defensive end Grover Covington, linebacker Ben Zambiasi and receivers Rocky DiPietro and Tony Champion, the Tiger-Cats reached the East Division Final in five of the next seven years. Although the team had losing records in 1984 and 1985, the Tiger-Cats reached the Grey Cup in both years.
In 1986, the Tiger-Cats made a third straight Grey Cup. Behind quarterback Mike Kerrigan — the offensive MVP of the game — the Hamilton team dominated the favoured Edmonton Eskimos 39–15 to win their seventh Grey Cup since the CFL’s “modern era” began in 1950.
But despite success on the field, the team suffered declining attendance and financial losses through most of the 1980s. Average attendance fell from 23,541 per game in 1980 to 14,755 in 1988. Owner Harold Ballard quarreled regularly with city officials over rental fees and upgrades he wanted for the aging Ivor Wynne Stadium. During the 1988 season, Ballard claimed to have lost $3.3 million while operating the team. In January 1989, he announced his intention to fold the team within three years. Less than a month later, Hamilton-based businessman David Braley bought the team and wiped out its debt.
The Tiger-Cats ended the decade by reaching the first Grey Cup final, played at Toronto’s SkyDome. In what some consider to be the greatest Grey Cup ever played, Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker Dave Ridgway kicked the winning field goal with just two seconds left, giving the Roughriders their first Grey Cup win over a Hamilton team in six attempts.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The 1990s
The 1990s were a turbulent time for both the CFL and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Between 1993 and 1995, teams in six different U.S. cities joined the CFL. Every team but the Baltimore Stallions had folded by the start of the 1996 season, and the Stallions moved to Montréal to become the new Alouettes (the Montréal team had folded in 1987). The Ottawa Rough Riders withdrew from the CFL after the 1996 season, and several other Canadian teams, including Hamilton, had to appeal to fans to save their teams.
In late 1991, David Braley put the Hamilton team up for sale, claiming losses of $5 million in three years. In August 1992, the Tiger-Cats were transferred to a not-for-profit community-based consortium, with 11 investors headed by Hamilton lawyer Roger Yachetti and former Tiger-Cat John Michaluk.
In 1993, Toronto businessman David McDonald raised $3 million in operating capital for the consortium, but financial troubles persisted. In 1994, the CFL imposed a December 31 deadline for the team to sell 12,500 season tickets and $1 million in corporate sponsorships or the franchise would be revoked. The goals were met just before Christmas. McDonald and fellow Toronto businessman George Grant bought the team outright in April 1995.
In 1996, the city hosted the Grey Cup between the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos but lost a reported million dollars. It was the last Cup played in Hamilton and the only one that didn’t feature a Hamilton team.
For much of the decade, the Tiger-Cats struggled on the field as well. In 1990, the team missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and, from 1990 to 1997, went through four head coaches and had only one season above .500. After finishing 1997 with a 2–16 record — the worst in franchise history to that point — the Tiger-Cats brought in Ron Lancaster as head coach and general manager.
Lancaster signed two of his former players from Edmonton: quarterback Danny McManus and receiver Darren Flutie. They combined with defensive end Joe Montford and the core of a strong 1997 defence to help Hamilton finish first in 1998, with the only 12-win season in franchise history. The Ti-Cats lost the Grey Cup to the Calgary Stampeders on a last-second field goal but returned to the Cup in 1999, beating Calgary 32–31. They haven’t won a Grey Cup since then.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: 2000–Present
Although the Tiger-Cats won the 1999 Grey Cup, the early 2000s weren’t kind to them. After posting winning records in 2000 and 2001, the team missed the playoffs in 2002 and attendance continued to plummet. With bills unpaid and the team winless in eight games, the league took over the franchise from owners David McDonald and George Grant. The Tiger-Cats finished the 2003 season at 1–17 — the worst record in CFL history.
At the end of the 2003 season, Hamilton native Bob Young brought the team out of bankruptcy, referring to himself as the team’s “caretaker,” and began to rebuild the organization. Under new head coach Greg Marshall from McMaster University, the 2004 team made the playoffs but bowed out in the first round.
Hamilton didn’t make the playoffs again until 2009 — the same year the city was identified as a prime candidate for stadium renovations or a new stadium to host soccer and track and field for the 2015 Pan Am Games. Two years of bitter arguments between the Tiger-Cats and the City of Hamilton over stadium sites caused Toronto to set a firm deadline for agreement or the stadium would be located elsewhere in Ontario. On the day before the deadline, a compromise was reached: The new or rebuilt stadium would be on the site of Ivor Wynne Stadium.
The Tiger-Cats made the playoffs every year from 2009 to 2011, but did not advance past the East Division finals. In 2012, they finished last but defeated Winnipeg 28–18 in their final game at Ivor Wynne Stadium, which was to be torn down to make room for the new stadium.
After the 2012 season, Ti-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell recruited Kent Austin, a former CFL star quarterback, as head coach and general manager. While Tim Hortons Field, the stadium for the Pan Am Games, was being built, the Ti-Cats played their home games at the University of Guelph, practised at McMaster University and dressed for practice at the team’s head office in downtown Hamilton. Despite not having a “home” under Austin’s steady hand, the Tiger-Cats reached the 2013 Grey Cup in Regina, where they were beaten handily 45–23 by the hometown Roughriders.
Due to construction delays at the new stadium, the Tiger-Cats played their first home games of 2014 at McMaster University. The Tiger-Cats made their debut at Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day, beating the Argonauts 13–12. They reached the Grey Cup once again but were edged out by the Calgary Stampeders 20–16 — a potential Grey Cup-winning punt return by Brandon Banks in the final minute was nullified by an illegal block.
The Tiger-Cats didn’t lose at Tim Hortons Field until their 11th game there, in August 2015. They lost the East Division Final to the Ottawa Redblacks in 2015 and lost the 2016 East Division Semifinal to the Edmonton Eskimos, who had “crossed over” from the western conference.
As of 2015, the team has had sound financials: In 2015, CEO Scott Mitchell said that the Tiger-Cats would make a profit for the first time since the mid-1970s.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup
|1910||University of Toronto 16||Hamilton Tigers 7||Hamilton|
|1913||Hamilton Tigers 44||Toronto Parkdale 2||Hamilton|
|1915||Hamilton Tigers 13||Toronto Rowing Association 7||Toronto|
|1927||Toronto Balmy Beach 9||Hamilton Tigers 6||Toronto|
|1928||Hamilton Tigers 30||Regina Roughriders 0||Hamilton|
|1929||Hamilton Tigers 14||Regina Roughriders 3||Hamilton|
|1932||Hamilton Tigers 25||Regina Roughriders 6||Hamilton|
|1935||Winnipeg ’Pegs 18||Hamilton Tigers 12||Hamilton|
|1953||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 12||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 6||Toronto|
|1957||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 32||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 7||Toronto|
|1958||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28||Vancouver|
|1959||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 21||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 7||Toronto|
|1961||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 21||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 14||Toronto|
|1962||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 27||Toronto|
|1963||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 21||B.C. Lions 10||Vancouver|
|1964||B.C. Lions 34||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24||Toronto|
|1965||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 22||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 16||Toronto|
|1967||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24||Saskatchewan Roughriders 1||Ottawa|
|1972||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 13||Saskatchewan Roughriders 10||Hamilton|
|1980||Edmonton Eskimos 48||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 10||Toronto|
|1984||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 47||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 14||Edmonton|
|1985||B.C. Lions 37||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24||Montréal|
|1986||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 39||Edmonton Eskimos 15||Vancouver|
|1989||Saskatchewan Roughriders 43||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 40||Toronto|
|1998||Calgary Stampeders 26||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24||Winnipeg|
|1999||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 32||Calgary Stampeders 21||Vancouver|
|2013||Saskatchewan Roughriders 45||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 23||Regina|
|2014||Calgary Stampeders 20||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 16||Vancouver|
Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame
|Leonard “Len” Back||Builder||1971|
|Paul Bennett||Defensive Back||2002|
|Tom Casey||Running Back/Defensive Back||1964|
|Tommy Joe Coffey||Receiver/Kicker||1977|
|Grover Covington||Defensive End||2000|
|Ross Craig||Running Back||1964|
|Bernie Custis||Quarterback/Builder/Running Back||1998|
|Rocky DiPietro||Slotback/Wide Receiver||1997|
|Terry Evanshen||Wide Receiver||1984|
|Alfred “Cap” Fear||Wide Receiver||1967|
|Darren Flutie||Wide Receiver||2007|
|Tony Gabriel||Tight End||1985|
|Miles Gorrell||Offensive Tackle||2013|
|Tommy Grant||Wide Receiver/Running Back||1995|
|Garney Henley||Defensive back/receiver||1979|
|Robert Isbister||Flying Wing||1965|
|Joe “King” Krol||Quarterback/Running Back/Kicker||1963|
|Eric Lapointe||Running Back||2012|
|Frank “Pep” Leadlay||Running Back/Kicker||1963|
|Joe Montford||Defensive End||2011|
|Angelo Mosca||Defensive Tackle||1987|
|Peter Neumann||Defensive End||1979|
|Harold “Prince Hal” Patterson||Wide Receiver||1971|
|Ralph Sazio||Tackle, Coach/General Manager/President||1988|
|Vince Scott||Middle Guard/Defensive Guard||1982|
|David Sprague||Running Back||1963|
|Don Sutherin||Defensive Back/Kicker||1992|
|Terry Vaughn||Wide Receiver||2011|
|Huck Welch||Running Back/Kicker||1964|
|Earl Winfield||Wide Receiver||2013|
Graham Kelly, The Grey Cup (2003)
Frank Cosentino, A Passing Game: A History of the CFL (1997)
Larry Sicinski, The Hamilton Tiger-Cats Almanac (1999)
Angelo Mosca, Steve Milton, Tell Me to My Face (2011)