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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats last hoisted the Grey Cup in 1999, when they knocked off the Calgary Stampeders in Vancouver. Only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have suffered a longer drought. (RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats last hoisted the Grey Cup in 1999, when they knocked off the Calgary Stampeders in Vancouver. Only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have suffered a longer drought. (RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Jeff Blair

There’s only one underdog in this Grey Cup fight Add to ...

In the end it all comes back to that bloody big banner, doesn’t it? It all comes back to Kent Austin.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have won the Grey Cup just three times in their history and on the past two occasions Austin was their quarterback (1989) and then head coach (2007).

The road to the Cup goes through Regina this weekend; but the road to the Roughriders winning the Cup usually goes through Austin’s football brain and – sorry, flatlanders – he’s going to be on the Tiger-Cats’ sideline this weekend.

But that’s all I have, to be truthful. That’s the biggest weapon in the arsenal for making the case that Sunday’s Grey Cup winner will be the Eastern Division champions, and whatever psychological edge gained by the debate in Regina over whether the banner of Austin hanging at Mosaic Stadium should be taken down or otherwise defiled is likely more than offset by the stories of the Tiger-Cats players beating a hasty retreat back into the Regina airport after stepping outside upon arrival to look for the bus that was supposed to take them to the hotel. I mean … frostbite?

Some of the Tiger-Cats reported frostbite after their first practice, and some place Angelo Mosca wept. It is true that Sunday’s forecast is for sub-Arctic as opposed to Arctic weather, but watch out when the sun starts to go down.

Tiger-Cats quarterback Henry Burris has played in the West in November and receiver Andy Fantuz, who in the 2007 Grey Cup won the most-valuable-Canadian award as a member of the Roughriders, has laughed in the face of the wintry gods on several occasions.

But, no, let’s not make it sound as if the Tiger-Cats have a chance.

Sssh … They are clearly the underdogs here. Shoot – they played their home games in Guelph, for pete’s sake. Plus, go on, admit it, you fans of the Lions, Eskimos, Stampeders, Alouettes, Bombers and Argonauts: the Roughriders are every CFL fan’s default second-choice team.

Got a ticket to the game but your team’s not in it? Go Riders!

Besides, at some point through the generations either you or somebody in your family was born or lived in Saskatchewan. You love potash. You love grain.

Steel? Steel is soooo yesterday. It is Canadian to like Saskatchewan because Saskatchewan is the economic powerhouse that’s okay to love, preferable certainly to the big-talking, Yankee wannabes next door.

Face it: there is only one underdog in this battle and it is the Steel City, a place of mind-bending civic politics and one-way streets; a place where you settle down after finding you can’t afford a house in Toronto and realizing that once you’re in Burlington – what the heck, might as well keep moving west to the next place.

Best-case scenario is that Hamilton at some point morphs into Pittsburgh, a city that has kept much of the steel in its soul even though it is now a medical and high-tech centre with funky little neighbourhoods; a place that revels in its status as a best-kept secret. Hamilton has the funkiness, but the rest is a work in progress, much like the city’s new football stadium.

Hamilton is Bob Young, the Tiger-Cats owner, a local entrepreneur who lost it all and won it all over the course of his business career but who in the 10 years since buying the team has seen it win fewer regular-season games than any other club.

The Tiger-Cats haven’t won the Cup since 1999 – in an eight-team league, folks – and only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1990) have suffered a longer drought.

Bob Young, the only man to stand between David Braley and ownership of 37.5 per cent of the CFL. Like his team, wholly deserving of your support, and if you’re still on the fence, consider this: how upset would Argonauts fans be if the Ticats won?

Reason enough, no?

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