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HISTORY OF HAMILTON TIGER-CATS
HISTORY OF HAMILTON TIGER-CATS
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were formed in 1950 by the merger of the Hamilton Tigers and the Hamilton Wildcats. Of the two teams, the Tigers were the much older and more established name, going back to the late 1800s, while the Wildcats were quite a new team. For much of the period between 1900 and 1950, there were two football teams in Hamilton, the Tigers and one of a string of often short lived teams that culminated in the Wildcats in 1950.
While the Tiger-Cats were only founded in 1950, football in Hamilton goes back much further than that. In fact, Hamilton has one of the oldest traditions of football of any city in the country. The Hamilton Football Club was formed on November 3, 1869, and played their first game on December 18, 1869 against the 13th Battalion (now Royal Hamilton Light Infantry). Some of the early history of football in Canada and Hamilton is a bit vague, but by 1883, there are records of the Hamilton Tigers playing in the ORFU (Ontario Rugby Football Union) playoffs. There was no regular season then, just playoff rounds to determine the league champion. In 1883, the Tigers lost to the Ottawa F.C. 14-9 in the semi-final. The first championship team in Hamilton football history came in 1890 when the Tigers beat Queen's University 8-6 in the ORFU final. The ORFU began playing a regular season in 1898, and the Tigers finished second with a 4-2 record. The Tigers continued in the ORFU until 1907, when the IRFU (Interprovincial, Rugby Football Union) was formed. The IRFU consisted of the Tigers, Toronto Argonauts, Ottawa Rough Riders and the Montreal Winged Wheelers. The IRFU later became known as the Big Four and eventually, the IRFU became the East division of the modern CFL in the 1950s.
The ORFU and the IRFU coexisted until 1960, when the ORFU disbanded. The ORFU, however, had been excluded from the Grey Cup playoffs after 1954, and really had become a development league for the IRFU since the end of World War II. For most of the years between the formation of the IRFU in 1907 and the amalgamation to form the Tiger-Cats in 1950, Hamilton tended to have two football clubs, one in the IRFU and one in the ORFU. The IRFU team was, except for a "hiccup" in the late 1940s, the Hamilton Tigers, while a succession of teams and names played in the ORFU.
The first of these football teams, called the Hamilton Alerts, sprung up in 1911 in the ORFU. The Alerts, lasted only two seasons (1911-1912), but won the Grey Cup in 1912, defeating the Toronto Argonauts. The Alerts gave way to a team under the name Hamilton Rowing Club from 1913-1915, also playing in the ORFU. World War I intervened in the football scene and the IRFU and ORFU suspended play from 1916 to 1918. In the final pre-war season in 1915, the Hamilton Tigers won the Grey Cup. At that time, the winning teams were responsible for engraving the Grey Cup which Earl Grey had donated in 1909. Before heading off to war, the Hamilton Tigers had the trophy engraved not just for their 1915 win, but for their 1908 Dominion Championship. In essence, they awarded themselves the Grey Cup, one year before it even existed. The escapade escaped notice for many years as the Grey Cup was not the highly prized trophy it is today.
Hamilton did have a football team in 1916 as the Hamilton 205th Battalion played in a military league. The Tigers and the Hamilton Rowing Club returned in 1919 when the IRFU and ORFU resumed play. Things were rather unsettled for the second Hamilton team in the ORFU. After not playing for two years, the Hamilton Rowing Club returned from 1922 to 1925. In 1926, the team was called the Hamilton Tigers II. The Club got a slightly more dignified name in the Hamilton Tiger Cubs in 1927. The Tiger Cubs lasted from 1927 to 1936. The cat theme continued with the Hamilton Panthers in the ORFU for one season in 1937. There was no team in 1938 and 1939. In 1940 the name Hamilton Alerts was revived for one season for the Hamilton team in the ORFU.
With World War II in full swing in 1941, the Hamilton Tigers folded, largely because a number of players had gone into the armed services. In a ripple effect, the failure of the Tigers caused the IRFU to be dissolved, and the ERFU (Eastern Rugby Football Union) to be formed. The ERFU consisted of the Toronto Argonauts, Ottawa Rough Riders, Montreal Bulldogs and Toronto Balmy Beach. The latter moving over from the ORFU. In Hamilton, the Hamilton Wildcats were formed to play in the ORFU. The Wildcats were given permission to use players from the Hamilton Tigers, but not the traditional black and yellow colours of the Tigers. The red and white Wildcats played in a three team ORFU with the Toronto Indians and the Kitchener Panthers.
The ERFU lasted only one season and that left only the ORFU for the duration of the war (1942-44). The ORFU consisted of some of its traditional teams such as Toronto Balmy Beach and some military teams such as the Toronto RCAF Hurricanes. The Hurricanes with a number of former IRFU / ORFU players won the Grey Cup in 1942, and the Wildcats won the Grey Cup in 1943. Officially, the team name for the 1943 champions was the Hamilton Flying Wildcats, as they were stocked by RCAF personal. The Flying Wildcats were led by Coach Brian Timmis and one of the greatest players in Canadian football history, Joe (King) Krol. In 1944, the Navy got bragging rights over the Air Force as the Montreal based Donnaconna St. Hyacinthe Navy team beat the Flying Wildcats in the Grey Cup.
Things started to return to normal in 1945 when the IRFU and the Hamilton Tigers resumed play while the Wildcats (sans the Flying) continued on n the ORFU. In a strange twist, the Tigers and the Wildcats switched leagues in 1948 with the Tigers moving to the ORFU and the Wildcats to the IRFU. The switch was largely prompted by a dispute between the Tigers and the IRFU over the salary of Frank Filchock. In 1947, the Tigers signed Filchock, a star Quarterback, who had been suspended by the NFL over some (unproven) gambling issues. Filchock's high (for the times) $7000 salary caused problems for the Tigers who wanted the other IRFU teams to help pay for it. The Tigers felt that the other IRFU teams were benefiting from the increased attendance that Filchock inspired, but the Tigers were prevented from benefiting because of their small stadium size. The other IRFU teams didn't agree, and refused to help pay Filchock's salary which prompted the Tigers to leave the IRFU and move to the ORFU which did agree to such a salary sharing proposal to help try and revive their flagging fortunes. Naturally, the Wildcats moved from the ORFU to the IRFU to replace them.
That switch lasted two years (1948-49), and things were not going well. The Wildcats were not doing well in the IRFU, and the Tigers had lost Filchock to the Montreal Alouettes of the IRFU. The Tigers wanted back into the IRFU, the Wildcats didn't want to leave and the IRFU solution was to merge the two clubs and create the Tiger-Cats. With the Alouettes having been formed in 1946 and with the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Rough Riders already in place, the modern CFL was complete.
If there is one word that characterized the early Tiger-Cat teams, it was "tough". Hamilton was the "Steel Town" and that was the way the city liked its football team to be. The early 1950s were good to Hamilton as the team finished first or second in every year from 1950 to 1953, winning their first Grey Cup in 1953. Big and tough Jim Trimble arrived on the scene in 1957 and took the Tiger-Cats to their second Grey Cup. For five of six years between 1957 and 1962, it was Hamilton and Winnipeg in the Grey Cup final. Unfortunately for Hamilton, Winnipeg won the last four of those meetings, after losing the initial one in 1957. During those years, the Tiger-Cats were led on offense by Bernie Faloney.
After the 1960 season, Hamilton attempted to trade Faloney to Montreal for Etcheverry, but the deal fell through when Etcheverry and later the courts declared his contract broken and he was off to the NFL. With Faloney still at the helm, the Tiger-Cats broke their losing streak in the Grey Cup with a win over BC in 1963. While Faloney led the offense, the defence was led by a pair of prototypical Tiger-Cat tough guys in John Barrow and Angelo Mosca. It was a hit, that some say was late, by Angelo Mosca on BC star running back Willie Fleming, that put him out of the 1963 game, which is often credited as being the turning point in that game. There was some revenge, however, for the Lions in 1964 when they defeated the Tiger-Cats to win their first Grey Cup. The Tiger-Cats won two more Grey Cups in the 1960s, with wins in 1965 and 1967. The winning combination was a tough defence and a touch of offense brought by outstanding players like Garney Henley and Tommy Joe Coffey.
The 1970s brought Tony Gabriel, likely the best Tight End the CFL has ever seen, and another Grey Cup win in 1972.
After a Grey Cup win in 1986, there was a bit of a drought in Hamilton until the arrival of the Danny McManus and Darren Flutie pitch and catch offense that won the 1999 Grey Cup. Since that victory, the fates have not been kind to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but you can count on the Hamilton toughness to pull them through and return the team to glory
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: 15x Grey Cup Champions
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: 15x Grey Cup Champions
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