The Ottawa Renegades head into Ivor Wynne Stadium tonight, when they take to the field they should look around. What they will see is where they could be, if they only pay attention. Granted they have a job to do on the field, a desperation bid to try and climb back into the playoff race, but while the players play the game, the suits should be walking around and find out what is making things work in Hamilton.
The Tiger Cats will most likely claim a playoff spot tonight in front of yet another huge if not sold out crowd, and they will be full value for that success. Hamilton last year was a basket case, a near empty stadium, bouncing paycheques and a woeful on field production pretty well closed the chapter on football in the Steel City.
But the off season has been a rebirth of football and community attachment in Hamilton. Bob Young picked up the team from the league as the 2003 season was coming to an end; he quickly increased the sales staff, spruced up a much neglected stadium and provided the football people with the tools to get the job done. He brought on board a local legend from University football, giving him a chance to recreate his success at McMaster over at the home of the Cats.
Greg Marshall has worn his heart on his sleeve this season, suffering the incredible highs of that amazing start, to the lowest of the lows when the team stumbled through the middle of the season. But now as we close in on the playoffs the Cats seem to be back on track. They are playing some hard nosed, exciting football, which as the attendance increase has shown has caught the fancy of the previously long gone football fan.
The entire package has been one giant success story. The team plays with a purpose if not a passion now, never giving in making hits from the opening kick off until the final whistle. There are no going through the motions on the Cats, they may not win all the games but they’ve been in there banging in every one of them. More importantly while increased from the darkest days of Ticat football last year the salary structure in Hamilton is not one that causes accountants to stay up late at night.
Off the field the situation is equally positive, they have doubled their attendance from last year, attracting an average of 27000 people a game. The Cats are the talk of Hamilton, the fans wear the colours and football is the game once again, just like it used to be.
Ottawa on the other hands is beset with internal squabbling, owners planning on selling out and a GM apparently on his way west. A promising team a year ago, they’ve stumbled backwards in what was supposed to be their breakthrough year. Injuries and serious illness have zapped this team of any energy. Attendance while not terrible has not been what they had hoped for, a Renegade crowd normally averages around 22,000 second lowest to the Alouettes, who only have 20,000 seats all of which are sold out week after week.
While there is no talk of moving the franchise, there will be an ownership shift in the off season. The best scenario would be for some local people in the capital to climb on board with the remaining Toronto people and develop a bit of stability in the three year old franchise.
An even better scenario would be for the Renegades officials to ask Bob Young for some advice, ask for his blue print, find a photo copy machine and start dropping in quarters. The Tiger Cat experience is the feel good story of the CFL this year, for the Ottawa ownership group using it as a yardstick for success would be a wise decision.
They should look around Ivor Wynne tonight, 29,000 folks are telling them, that if you do things right there is a reward for all the hard work!