Best Season/Worst Season: Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Welcome to the latest in an occasional series looking at the best and worst seasons for each of the nine CFL teams. We started with the BC Lions. Then followed that up with the Ottawa RedBlacks, Montreal Alouettes & the Calgary Stampeders.
This time we are heading back east to take a look at the biggest single season ups and downs for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
But first some ground rules. Some of the teams have been around long enough to post completely winless seasons. For example, the Toronto Argonauts went 0-6 in 1898. While football was played as far back as 1869 in Hamilton.
But is that really a fair comparison? I would say not, as it was a different era with much different teams, games and leagues. So we will be looking at the ‘modern’ era only. Which will also allow us to compare the best and worst seasons of all of the teams over the same time frame.
You might think the modern era should begin in the post CFL era from 1958 to present day. However, whilst the CFL may have had responsibility for the Grey Cup since 1958, we should note that Wikipedia suggests that “1954 is reckoned as the start of the modern era of Canadian football, in which the Grey Cup has been exclusively contested by professional teams”.
So based on that we will take 1954 as our starting point for our best/worst season comparisons. Which is one year after the Ticats won their first Grey Cup as an amalgamated Franchise.
Best Season – 1972
I know Ticats fans, I know – 2019 was special. That season the Ticats had a Franchise record 15 win season. For Hamilton this was a truly dominant regular season. And despite the knock that the East has long been an easier Division to win the Ti-Cats went 8-2 against the West Division teams during the regular season. Unfortunately they fell at the final hurdle losing in the Grey Cup to the Blue Bombers.
Surely a season where you had a dominant regular season and won the Grey Cup is preferable to setting a regular season franchise record but missing out on the Cup? Which is why 1972 has been chosen here. That season Hamilton went 11-3 before going on to be CFL champs with a 13-10 win over Saskatchewan in the 60th Grey Cup. Just to put a little extra shine on things too they won at home in front of a capacity crowd.
Hamilton had 12 win seasons in 1989 and 1998, but like in 2019 they lost in the Grey Cup game. Which just emphasises how great their three loss championship season in 1972 really was. Hamilton started that year 1-3 before winning 10 games in a row to sit atop the East Division.
Following an 11-3 season the Ticats had a playoff with the 11-3 Ottawa Rough Riders. They won a two legged East Final by an aggregate score of 30-27 before taking the Grey Cup title 13-10 over Saskatchewan. Not only were they successful, but their fans saw them come through in close circumstances.
Hamilton finished the year with the MOP, MOC & Grey Cup MVP & MVC.
Worst Season – 2003
Oh dear. Putting aside those early winless teams, in the history of the modern CFL this might be the worst season ever.
Back in 1997 Hamilton had gone 2-16. The 1997 season had been the lowpoint for a team that between 1990 and 1997, went through four head coaches and had only one season above .500. Yet things had taken a real upward turn after that. A 43-28-1 run between 1998 and 2001 followed. That included 4 playoff appearances, 3 East Finals, 2 Grey Cup appearances and one championship. Things looked good going into the new millenium.
A 7-11 season in 2002 must have felt like a blip. Then the 2003 season happened. A new nadir was ‘achieved’. Since the founding of the CFL from existing leagues no team has had the ‘perfect imperfection‘ of a zero wins season. The 1949 Hamilton Wildcats did go 0-12 but that was as part of the IRFU.
In the CFL itself only one team has mustered a single win all season. And the 2003 Ti-Cats are that team.
Off the field Hamilton were taken over by the league. Aside from their one win there was little for Ti-Cats fans to feel upbeat about. Except when in October the team was sold to native Hamiltonian Bob Young. Who has added a sense of stability. Especially as he is still there today.
An 0-2 preseason was followed by 12 straight defeats. The only moment of joy came in a Week 14 home win against Saskatchewan. And that was a 27-24 squeaker in overtime. The next best week was week 19 when the team had a bye and were done for the season.
What came next?
How did Hamilton respond to their best season and worst season? Let’s take a look at each in turn.
After winning the Grey Cup in 1972 the tabbies fell away going 43-65-2 over the next seven seasons. They would be much more successful in the 1980s as they appeared in five Grey Cup games across the decade, winning once in 1986.
After their one win season in 2003 they responded with a 9-8-1 season and playoff appearance the following season. Unfortunatley for Hamilton that was a false dawn. Between 2005 and 2008 they would suffer a 15-57 run.
More recenlty however they have had much more success. Since 2013 they have appeared in the Grey Cup on four occasions. Each has been a loss, including an agonising overtime defeat in 2021. They now have the longest active title drought in the CFL having last won it all in 1999.
It is something they will be looking to rectify, building on successful recent seasons and looking forward to hosting the Grey Cup game next year.
Banner Image: Angelo Mosca lifts the Cup as Hamilton win the title at home in 1972. Image from thespec.com