Seems everywhere I go these days, someone mentions our “It’s no accident” billboard ads. My favourite one just went up. It says: “It’s no accident we’re Ticat fans.”
True confession time.
It is a bit of an accident that I’m such a die-hard fan. Or at least an accident was involved.
The story goes back to my early teens in Burlington and Garney Henley’s first season with the Cats. Garney had moved into a rental house on Lorne Avenue, which happened to be on my route to school. One day my buddy Mike Tilson and I were walking home and decided to knock on Garney’s door. Today, of course, we’d follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook, but back then it was old school—people got to know each other face-to-face. Turns out Garney was home. He answered the door. Invited us in. And introduced us to his wife.
Needless to say, I was a little star struck. At least that’s my excuse for forgetting my manners and leaving my shoes on. We’d already walked through Garney’s kitchen and into his living room when Mike pulled an Eddie Haskell and pointed at my feet—and the brown-black tracks I’d left behind me. “Rob,” he whispered. “You just got mud on Garney Henley’s rug!”
Garney and his wife were incredibly gracious about my “accident.” While Mike and I sipped juice in the kitchen and listened wide-eyed to Garney’s stories, his wife looked after the carpet cleaning (like I said, old school).
Meeting Garney cemented my status as a super fan, but Tiger-Cat tickets were hard to come by when I was growing up in the ‘60s. My dad would occasionally score a pair and the rareness of the opportunity made it all the sweeter. I remember that time between 1957 and 1967 as the glory years: the Tiger-Cats played in a remarkable nine Grey Cup games, winning four of them. The city would host pep rallies in downtown Hamilton in front of the Royal Connaught—traffic was blocked off and thousands would squeeze into the core to get in on the action. It was electric.
I left the area in the late ‘60s to go to university, followed by law school and articling. I made my return to TigerTown in 1976, buying my season’s pass every spring like clockwork. After Bob Young bought the team, my law firm had the opportunity to become a partner.
For me it was a natural fit, blending my life-long love of the Tiger-Cats with my passion for injury prevention. Our involvement was based on pretty simple logic: football players wear helmets and helmets save lives. So for a few games every season, we’d set up our little tent outside Ivor Wynne and talk to game-goers about the importance of putting a lid on it, whether you’re a football player, skateboarder, cyclist, hockey player or motorbike enthusiast. And we’d hand out our nifty paper Ticat helmets…to reinforce the message and get fans to show their team spirit.
This year we’ve stepped up our involvement. In keeping with another important prevention message—“don’t drive buzzed”—we’re sponsors of the Findlay Fan Express, a low-cost, convenient, round-trip shuttle service from Hamilton and Burlington to Alumni Stadium. Fans who ride the Express can have a beer or two at the game worry-free—because a professional’s going to get them home.
We’re promoting the shuttle with a Facebook photo sweepstakes, giving away a 2-pack of game and shuttle tickets to four lucky winners before each of the eight regular season games in Guelph. The contest opens today, so spread the word.
We’re also proud to partner with the Ticats on the Play Hard Drive Smart Designated Driver Challenge, which recognizes a fan at every Guelph game with an autographed Ticat jersey and shuttle tickets—simply because they “took one for the team” and pledged not to drink at the game.
In the end, Hamilton is the Tiger-Cats. Take last winter, when I shared a chair lift in Park City, Utah, with two fellow skiers from Iowa. When I mentioned that I was from Hamilton, Canada one of the guys didn’t miss a beat. “Oh yeah,” he said. “The Tiger-Cats.”
Tiger Cat Nation isn’t limited to fans from our city, either. I’ve met folks from across this country who aren’t connected to Hamilton in any way except their love of the CFL. Having no local team connection, they bleed gold and black—just like me.
Why do I love the Hamilton Tiger-Cats? It’s simple and complex. History and myth. Agony and triumph. A glorious past and a very bright future. And, of course, Garney Henley and some mud on a rug.
This speech was presented by Rob Findlay at the Tiger-Cat Council breakfast meeting, June 11, 2013.
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