Hamilton Tiger Cats

Ivor Wynne Stadium

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The End of Ivor Wynne: sad, uplifting and wet - Scott Radley - Hamilton Spectator - 28-10-2012

They say the new place is going to be better. Clean and cosy and filled with the modern amenities fans demand for their game-viewing experience, it’s going to be a $146-million palace.

But that’s talk for another day. On Saturday, nobody really wanted to look forward. With an era ticking inexorably to an end, gazing back was far more comforting.

For some, back to a time when Ron Lancaster was patrolling the sideline and Paul Osbaldiston was kicking playoff-winning field goals. For others, back a little further to when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats played on grass and a game like Saturday’s would’ve been a mud bowl. And for others still, way back to when men who walk with a cane today ran wild and terrorized opponents.

Everyone has a moment from this place. So for most of the heavily saturated 29,722 in the stands for the final game at Ivor Wynne Stadium, the afternoon was like watching a reunion of the cast of their favourite childhood TV show. At a funeral.

It was sad. It was uplifting. It was wet. It was inspiring. It was smile-inducing. It was wet. More than anything, it was a reminder of some great times shared by huge swaths of the local population.

Oh, and did we mention it was wet?

No, the place wasn’t quite full. Blame the miserable conditions if you wish. Blame the team’s record if you want. Either way, the empty seats were a bit of a surprise considering the year-long buildup to this day.

Still, those who showed up got one last, flavourful taste of the old place. And a thoroughly enjoyable refresher course in franchise history.

Early arrivers milling about the concourse snapping photos of their family and friends could’ve bumped into the holy trinity of sacks as Angelo Mosca, Joe Montford and Grover Covington wandered around. Or maybe the Stone Thrower himself, Chuck Ealey. The expressions on the faces of those who saw them fell somewhere between raw excitement and disbelief.

The pre-game introduction of the all-time Ticats’ team was a sensational piece of theatre and a moving trip through the ages of the black and gold. From John Barrow, who started with the team in 1958, to current players Markeith Knowlton and Marwan Hage, it was wonderful watching the guys walk out to their familiar spot on the field, in many cases accompanied by their kids.

That done, the greats then formed a circle at midfield and the current players — who had been watching from a distance — ran out to greet them. It may not have had quite the symbolism of the Montreal Canadiens literally passing the torch when the Forum closed, but the meaning was the same. We built this place, dilapidated as it may now be. The next joint is yours to do the same.

The introduction at halftime of the 1972 Grey Cup team didn’t have quite the same impact, largely because the weather had taken a turn for the horrible. Yet the names still resonated and surely spawned a million memories from the greatest moment in Hamilton sports history.

Through the entire process, it was clear fans weren’t mourning the end of the stadium itself. Everybody knows its time is up. If they weren’t convinced before they arrived, they surely were when they felt the rain dripping on them even under the covered concourse.

They were, however, deeply emotional about the end of the idea of Ivor Wynne.

So many talked about seeing their first game here, selling hotdogs in the place as a kid, or working security. They mentioned memorable games or favourite players that turned them into lifelong fans. Earlier in the week Ticat greats Rob Hitchcock and Mike Morreale went on about playing high school ball here.

“This was our sanctuary,” said Osbaldiston after the game. “This was your sanctuary.”

Even Fern Viola — who was brought out to sing the anthem as he’d done dozens and dozens of times before — admitted he was caught up in the moment.

Not everyone will get it.

You’ve almost certainly had to spend some serious time in this town to truly appreciate the place a gritty, crumbling, spartan, building can hold on the community’s psyche. Fact is, even a bunch of people from around here who aren’t big on sports will likely call all this hoopla over an antiquated building overblown.

But for a city that doesn’t get a ton of attention outside its own borders, the football team is its most-public face. Its home by extension has become our most-famous piece of real estate. To the rest of Canada, this spot is Hamilton.

For a few moments late Saturday afternoon, it looked like a miracle might happen and the dream of hosting one more game at the old stadium might live. But the Argos put an end to that with their win over Saskatchewan.

The fans will be disappointed, of course.

Then again, it’s hard to imagine what the Ticats could’ve done for an encore.