Their First Grey Cup: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Their First Grey Cup: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The CFL season is heading towards the playoffs and before we know it the Grey Cup will be upon us.

In the run up to that game in November I thought it might be interesting to do a series detailing the first time each team in the league captured the grand old trophy.

The series has so far looked back on wins for Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Montreal. Now we move onto the Ti-Cats first win in 1953.

The 41st Grey Cup saw 27,313 fans on hand at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. There they saw the 8-6 Tiger-Cats defeat the 8-8 Blue Bombers 12-6.

Some fabulous, if very brief, highlights of the game can be seen here.

Is this really their first Grey Cup win?

I am sure some Tiger-Cats fans would be quick to argue this was not their first Grey Cup win.

That is because the team recognizes all 15 Grey Cups won by Hamilton based teams as part of its history since each franchise is connected to the current Tiger-Cats club.

The Tiger-Cats themselves were formed as a single entity in 1950. Prior to that Hamilton had been represented by the Hamilton Tigers and Hamilton Wildcats. 

Since the 1950 merger, the Tiger-Cats have won eight Grey Cup championships including this their ‘first’ as the Tiger-Cats in 1953.

Prior to this win, the Hamilton Tigers won five Grey Cups, while the Hamilton Flying Wildcats and Hamilton Alerts each won once. 

However, the CFL does not recognize these wins under one franchise, rather as the individual franchises that won them.

This article reflects the official CFL line that this is the first win by the amalgamated Tiger-Cats franchise.

I’ll leave it for tabbies fans and the league to argue over the validity of whether this or the Hamilton Alerts win in 1912 is the real first Grey Cup for this team!

The Run up to the Game

Hamilton were theoretically a young team going into this game. The merger had seen the newly formed Tiger-Cats organization begin play in 1950.

However, there had been football in Hamilton since the arrival of the Hamilton Football Club (later Tigers) way back in 1869.

I am not sure how many Hamilton fans of this era would have thought of this as a new team when they had seen a Hamilton team in existence for so long already.

Hamilton played a best of 3 series against Montreal, also of the IRFU, for the right to progress to the Grey Cup. They won both games played and advanced 2-0.

Meanwhile Winnipeg had beaten Edmonton 2-1 over a 3 game series for the right to progress from the WIFU. This meant they would play Toronto Balmy Beach for the right to appear in the Grey Cup.

Winnipeg duly won that contest 24-4 and the Grey Cup match-up was set.

The Grey Cup Game

As we have seen, this was’t the first time Winnipeg and Hamilton teams squared off in a Grey Cup. However it was the first time teams named the Blue Bombers and Tiger-Cats would fight for the trophy.

There were 6 officials for the first time at a Grey Cup contest for this one. The new referee had special attention on long passes and punts.

Hamilton led 6-0 at the break thanks to a converted touchdown in the first quarter. Other than that the defense of each team was in the ascendancy.

In the third quarter Winnipeg missed a Field Goal before tying it up on a converted touchdown of their own.

With the score now at 6-6, Hamilton responded quickly. Within 3 plays they had restored their lead thanks to a 45-yard pass and run touchdown. Going into the final quarter, the Tiger-Cats led 12-6.

Throughout the game, Winnipeg had put together some promising drives, but come up empty handed. Down by a score late in the game they put together another long drive. This time it covered 98 yards and saw the Bombers on Hamilton’s 2 yard line with time for one last play.

The final Play

There was a controversial finish to the game as debate raged around a potential pass interference call at the goal line.

A Winnipeg receiver was open and in position on the goal line. As he reached to take in the ball, he was hit by a Hamilton defender. Before or after the ball arrived? That was the question!

Either way, the ball was dropped. No call came and the Ti-Cats walked away with the trophy.

Plenty of Winnipeg fans and players thought it was pass interference. Of course their Hamilton counterparts thought it was a fair tackle.

In some ways football changes out of recognition. But when things like this happen you can see how little things change too. Only last year we talked about how Saints fans may wish the NFL followed CFL PI call rulings.

How those Blue Bombers players and fans in 1953 would have liked at least the chance to review this play.

What Came Next

The Tiger-Cats would remain competitive although they were beaten in the IRFU final in 1954 and were therefore unable to defend this title.

A real period of excellence was soon to come as between 1957 and 1967 Hamilton had 9 Divisional first place finishes. Following on from that they contested the Grey Cup on 9 occasions and won it 4 times.

Hamilton have just set a franchise record with 15 wins. Fans will be hoping for a return to glory as they have not won the Grey Cup since 1999.

Banner Image: The Grey Cup in a previous incarnation. Image from nationalpost.com

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