Gray Cup is a ‘big hug’: fans feel love and excitement as CFL game opener nears start

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Chants of “Oskee Wee Wee” echo through Hamilton, the streets are flooded with CFL jerseys from across the country and rival fans take part in high spirits.

It’s Gray Cup Sunday and the energy of Canada’s biggest football game is rippling through much of the city.

“The excitement, the fans, the crowds. It will be an incredible game, ”said Pam Broadley, who has been cheering on the home side, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, for two decades.

The Ticates take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at 6 p.m. ET.

This is a rematch of the last Gray Cup was awarded in 2019, in Calgary, after last season’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this clash, the Bombers who came out on top. The defending champions are favored to win again. But as Ken Burns, also known as the “Winnipeg Warrior,” puts it, “anything can happen in the CFL. That’s why you love it ”.

Ken Burns, also known as the Winnipeg Warrior, mimics a Gray Cup banner attempt outside Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. (Dan Taekema / CBC)

Standing outside Tim Hortons Field on Saturday, Burns said it feels good to be back. This year marks his 23rd Gray Cup.

“We wouldn’t miss it. It’s been two years. Even [with] COVID, we are going to get out. “

He had a complaint, pointing out that some of the games that usually take place have been scaled down or removed altogether.

Big game a “big hug”

The Box J Boys found a way to celebrate by holding rallies at the Corktown pub late into the night.

Mario Citino has been a member of the Ticats superfans group for 25 years and compared the game that takes place in his hometown over Christmas two weeks early.

Mario Citino shows off his Box J Boys T-shirt. The Ticats fan compared the Gray Cup to a “big hug” where everyone is welcome. (Dan Taekema / CBC)

“The gray cups are a big hug,” he said, adding that everyone knew each other. “I want to win it and this town is going to go crazy. It will never be the same again.”

It’s been 25 years since Hamilton hosted the Gray Cup and almost as many – 22 years – since the team last hosted it. It’s the longest championship drought of any team.

‘Oskee Wee Wee to the end’

Hamilton fans have said they believe it is time the wait was over.

“It’s Oskee Wee Wee all the way,” said Broadley. “We have this, guys. “

CFL enthusiasts flocked to Hamilton all week long and enjoyed social events, awards shows and simple old-fashioned camaraderie.

Ticat fans march past banners at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton ahead of the 108th Gray Cup. (Dan Taekema / CBC)

Many hotels are almost full or full and everywhere you look there are the team colors. “It’s really amazing how much control the CFL has taken over the whole city,” said Trent Howard, who wore a Ticats windbreaker on Saturday.

For Howard, the weekend included some sort of celebrity watching.

He met TSN’s James Duthie at a Starbucks race and said the sports reporter even stopped for a photo.

However, not all of the 30-year-old’s clashes were so friendly. “There are a lot of Roughriders fans out there so I’m sending them the wrong way,” he joked.

Sue Henderson described herself as a “true blue” Bombers fan and traveled to Hamilton for her 20th Gray Cup game.

Sunday marks the 20th Gray Cup game for Sue Henderson, fan of the “really blue” Bombers. (Dan Taekema / CBC)

She said she had a great time and everyone was very welcoming, at least for the most part.

“I just got a horn and a thumbs down,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s okay. It’s okay. It’s Gray Cup weekend.”

Even those who don’t plan to attend the game in person have big plans. Kenneth LaForme said he was juggling invitations to three different watch parties.

“Whatever the best meal, I’ll go,” he said with a laugh.

Coming home for the championship

For Mike Ball, the Gray Cup is a homecoming.

The 41-year-old said he has been a Ticats fan since 1986 and retained his season tickets at Tim Hortons Field even after moving to British Columbia four years ago.

Mike Ball said he kept his season tickets for the Ticates even after leaving Hamilton four years ago. He’s back to claim his Gray Cup seats. (Dan Taekema / CBC)

Nothing was going to stop her from sitting down on Sunday.

“I said… I’m going to come home to see the Hamilton Ticates win the Gray Cup and my dream will come true,” Ball said.

Between this dream and reality, there are only four quarters of football.


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