Venturing into Enemy Territory

Every fan of a CFL team needs to go on a road trip with their team at least once in their lifetime.  It may not be feasible to go and see your team in every CFL city but hopefully you can go to the one closest to you.  It truly is an unforgettable experience.

For starters, just getting to Hamilton is an adventure in one way streets, streets that suddenly end, and road closures.  So much fun.  It’s almost like they don’t want opposing fans to find the stadium.

There is no real, designated parking lot near the stadium, instead you get to drive up and down all the streets around Ivor Wynne and (in my case) settle on a street in a not too bad in daylight but sketchy as all get out neighbourhood and walk for 15 minutes to the stadium.  At least it was free.

The game day experience is truly awesome though.  Granted I didn’t wear my Argo blues until I was safely in the stadium and sitting with other Argo fans.  As a female walking on my own, it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

95% of Hamilton fans are great people out for fun at a game.  The other 5% are drunken jerks who are not really football fans so much as they are drinking fans.  These are the ones who have already put back 4 or 5 beers before they get to the stadium, consume another 4  during the game (what happened to not being served if you were intoxicated?) and then resume drinking when they are either ejected from the stadium or after the game.  I like to actually watch a football game and remember that I was there, so I don’t get the whole “how much can I drink before, during and after the game” philosophy.

About 5 minutes into the game, the heavens opened up a bit.  It rained fairly steadily for about 15 minutes.  That’s the beauty of outdoor football people!  I brought a rain poncho for myself and at the last-minute had stuck in a package of the disposable ponchos – which came in handy.  The amusing thing was that all the Ti-cat fans around us ran for the exits to get out of the rain while the Toronto fans stuck it out.  Shouldn’t it have been the other way around since the Argo fans are used to the comfort of the Rogers Centre Skydome?  I love football outside – although I would think twice about bringing my piccolo out to play in the band when it would get rained on.

Halftime included an awesome tribute to  Bernie Custis, a true football pioneer. Custis was the first African-American quarterback to play in the CFL.  After an outstanding collegiate career with the Syracuse Orangemen, Custis was told that he could not play the position he had excelled at.  The Cleveland Browns, one of the more progressive teams in the NFL, told Custis that if he wanted to play, he would have to convert to be a running back.  Custis declined, and instead headed north to Canada.  As he said last night, in Canada he had the freedom that he had lacked in the US.  Freedom to play the position he excelled at regardless of the colour of his skin.  Custis earned the starting position in his first year in the CFL and went on to play 8 more seasons with the Tiger Cats.  As the first African-American quarterback in professional football, Custis blazed a path that many have followed.  Without Custis there would be no Damon Allen, no Henry Burris, no Warren Moon.  If Bernie Custis had simply accepted the position change to running back, who knows when the next opportunity for an African-American quarterback would have arrived.    A truly remarkable man with a great story.  There is a documentary film coming out in the new year and I can’t wait to watch the story of this hall-of-fame quarterback!

The PA announcer at Ivor Wynne does a great job of getting the fans into the game.  Toronto could learn a lot from the Ti-cats in this regard.  Even the amusing scoreboard animation when there was a video review got the fans geared up and making noise.  I was glad I brought earplugs, and not just because I was sitting between two Argo fans with very loud noisemakers.  There weren’t a lot of Argo fans in the stands at Ivor Wynne – but the ones who made the trip down the QEW made sure the team knew they were there!

The atmosphere in Ivor Wynne Stadium is a lot more electric than at the Rogers Centre.  The fans may be chanting “Argos Suck”  or some other equally inventive cheer but they’re loud and they’re proud.  Toronto fans could take a lesson from their Hamilton counterparts – on Thursday, be loud and brash (but please skip being drunk and obnoxious) and come cheer on your Argonaut football team.   I know it’s being called the “bottom bowl” and that both teams are 1-6.  Even more reason to come out and support the Double Blue – it’s easy to be a fan when the team is winning.  It’s much harder to stick by them when they’re frustrating to watch and losing games you think they should win.

All in all it was a great experience.  Yes there were a few drunken idiots who hassled me as i tried to get to my car.  Better alcohol control in the stadium would improve things immensely in that regard.  That said, I will still go back to Hamilton the next time the Argos play there and cheer loudly and proudly for the Double Blue.

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