Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Tigertown Tradition

Recently I posted a blog about Winnipeg and the Blue Bomber's rich championship history in order to present a different perspective to the franchise while they are mired in the current longest CFL championship drought (27 years). So now I think that perhaps a quick review of the glorious football history of another city with a struggling team (the currently 0-8 Hamilton Tiger-Cats) and slim hope of ending their own championship drought (18 years) anytime soon, might be appropriate. But this time we are going way back to the origins of the sport in Canada.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats via their ancestor the Hamilton Tigers team, have the oldest pedigree of any franchise in Canadian Football History. The team was formed in 1869 and spent the first few seasons in local play before beginning inter-city play in 1873 with the first match against the Toronto Argonauts (who have the second oldest pedigree).  After a decade of some level of affiliation with nascent early national sport associations (meaning for Quebec & Ontario) and minimal or non-existent record keeping the Tigers became a founding member of the original Ontario Rugby Football Union (O.R.F.U.) in 1883.

Printed Illustration mounted on cardboard celebrating the two earliest Canadian Rugby Football teams, the Argonauts and the Tigers in a late 19th Century match up. Issued around 1890 probably. 

Keep in mind that the evolution of what is today called Canadian Football was a long and convoluted process as original English Rugby codes were repeatedly modified by local unions to suit their own purposes. What looks like Rugby from the last century to the current observer can in fact be directly linked to the modern game by the participating franchises that existed then and still exist today.

At left a beautiful pinback commemorating a very early Hamilton football dynasty along with a program from the final year of the 4 championship run. During this period the O.R.F.U. used the Burnside rules which were notably more similar to the modern game than those used by other unions of the era.

The Hamilton Tigers competed in the O.R.F.U. for 24 seasons from 1883 to 1906, a time period over which competing national sport organizations and a variety of other unions made the process of determining who was using what rules and who was eligible to play for which championship a chaotic affair during most seasons. The Tigers came out on the losing end of the O.R.F.U. championship in 1887, 1888, 1891, 1892 & 1894 while capturing the championship in 1890, 1897 & four years consecutively in 1903 to 1906.

1906 Postcard featuring a packed house of fans equipped with a giant megaphone tube, no doubt in order to yell Argos Suck. Captioned "Rooters for the Tigers at the Tiger - Argonaut Football Match. Hamilton, Ont."

The team also lost the Dominion Championship in 1897 and won it in 1906. The Dominion Championship under the auspices of the Canadian Rugby Union began in 1892, which is the proper real starting point for the collation of Canadian national championships per city/franchise, as the Grey Cup in 1909 was simply the beginning of their being a specific trophy awarded to the Dominion Champions.

Mounted photograph of the 1908 Champions. Several other early postcards and photos of Tiger championship teams were listed in Collecting Canadian Football Volume 2.

In 1907 the Hamilton Tigers switched leagues by becoming a founding member of the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (I.R.F.U. or Big Four encompassing teams from Montreal, Toronto & Ottawa as well). The Tigers won their second dominion championship in 1908, lost their first Grey Cup in 1910 and then subsequently won their first Grey Cup (3rd Dom. Champ.) in 1913 and won again in 1915 (4th D.C.). In the meantime a different Hamilton club that played in the old O.R.F.U., the Alerts had won two O.R.F.U. titles and technically won the city's first Grey Cup in 1912.

Grey Cup program from 1910 at left and a Song, Parody & Yell pamphlet intended to spur Varsity to victory in the same game, apparently it worked. 

The Alerts only lasted two years in the O.R.F.U. and were replaced by the Hamilton Rowing Club in 1913 who managed to participate in eight seasons up until 1925 and won one O.R.F.U. title. In 1926 the Tigers were strong enough to place their "B" team into the O.R.F.U. who subsequently changed their name to the Hamilton Tiger Cubs playing in the O.R.F.U. from 1927 - 1937 (the last season as the Panthers).

At left Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association Tiger cloth patch worn by Tiger teams in the O.R.F.U. including the original Tigers and the Hamilton Tiger Cubs. At right the Championship cap awarded to members of the Hamilton Alerts.  

Meanwhile after World War I ended the Tigers continued the next 21 seasons (1919 - 1939) in the I.R.F.U. winning their 5th, 6th & 7th Dominion Championships and their 3rd, 4th & 5th Grey Cups in 1928, 1929 & 1932 while coming out on the losing end in 1935.

At left program for the Hamilton Rowing Club contesting the 1925 O.R.F.U. championship and at right program for the 1932 Grey Cup where the Tigers defeated the Regina Roughriders.

During World War II the Tigers suspended operations after 1940 and a newly commissioned Hamilton Alerts team that played in the O.R.F.U. for a single season in 1940 also disbands. Both teams send some players to the team organized in Hamilton supported by the Armed Forces, the Hamilton Flying Wildcats who continue play in the O.R.F.U. The Wildcats win three O.R.F.U. championships as well as the 1943 Grey Cup.

After the War the Tigers resume operations in 1945 but in 1948 they jump back to the O.R.F.U. because of an ineligible player scandal caused by the signing of two ex New York Giants suspended by the NFL for gambling irregularities and the Wildcats subsequently jump to the I.R.F.U.  The Tigers dominate the O.R.F.U. going 19-2 over two seasons and winning both O.R.F.U. championships while the Wildcats struggle in the I.R.F.U. going 1-22-1 over the two seasons.

O.R.F.U. championship program from 1943 featuring the Wildcats and a program from the final season of the Hamilton Tigers, their 75th.

Finally in 1950 with the merger of the Wildcats and the Tigers the modern Tiger-Cats were born, and went on to considerable championship success in the following 50 years. Incredibly by 1949 the Tigers had already participated in 75 organized seasons before some western teams were even formed! Just over that initial span Hamilton teams won 14 O.R.F.U. championships, 9 Dominion championships (including 7 Grey Cups) and helped form and sustain the two most storied football unions in the history of the sport in Canada. And none of that even touches on the numerous Intermediate and Junior Canadian Rugby Union titles won by teams representing the Steel City as well.

So while the current team's trials and tribulations are painful to watch, fans of other teams shouldn't feel too superior to the 'Cats, because in reality most of the other franchises accomplishments are no where near as storied or numerous as what Hamilton has achieved.