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By John Williams

Don't get me wrong - I love the NFL. In particular, the Buffalo Bills.

I've been a Bills' fan since their heyday of the early 1990s. I firmly believe those days are returning with the play of QB Josh Allen.

But my love for football can be traced back to the fall of 1970 when I became a CFL fan. Yes, that much maligned league that has existed like a third cousin in the shadow of the NFL for over 60 years.

It was November 21st and my dad and I had obtained tickets for the second game of the CFL Eastern final.

We were part of a bus excursion organized by the Guelph Lions Club (my father was past president) to see the game. Neither one of us knew what was at stake, neither one of us were football fans. The showdown of the two-game, total point series was between the Hamilton Tiger Cats and Montreal Alouettes.

It was to be staged at the former Civic Stadium in Hamilton, the final game at the old barn.

Several hours before we left, I visited my childhood friend Tim Robinson, to get the lowdown as Hamilton trailed by 10 points after the first game. At the time, I knew nothing of the football rules, I had barely heard of the Hamilton Tiger Cats. I really didn't know who they were.

We parted Guelph at 12:30 pm. I was all of 14 at the time, the only teenager among a boisterous group of men.

The game kicked off at 2. Much to my surprise I had gained the football basics by midway through the first quarter. Three chances (downs) to get 10 yards in order to get the first down. Three units: offence, defence and special teams.

The weather was cool but sunny. The packed-house was well-behaved. Hamilton lost a squeaker to end their season as Montreal would win the Grey Cup the following week.

I arrived home after a thoroughly enjoyable experience. More pertinently a full-fledged CFL supporter.

Two months later, I became an NFL fan when I witnessed the final minute of Super Bowl V. But that's a story for another day.

The following autumn of 1971, I made my high school's junior football team. It would be part of a five-year experience, the memories which would last me a lifetime. But again, that's a story for another time.

Later that fall, I enjoyed another Lions Club excursion to a CFL game, this time in Toronto. The Tiger Cats had to defeat the Argos to make the playoffs. And they did. By now I had become not only a CFL fan but a staunch Hamilton Tiger Cat supporter as well.

It would be the beginning of a 50-year, love affair between the Cats and myself. And what a love affair it's been. The Cats won the Grey Cup at home in 1972.

They wouldn't win again until 1986 but the wait was well worth it. It wouldn't be until 1999 before they triumphed in the big game again.

Okay, they haven't won since, and there's been many lean years in the New Millennium.

But they did post a 15-3 record in 2019 before falling in the annual showdown. That's why I was so excited about 2020. I couldn't wait for the season to begin.

Unfortunately Covid-19 changed all that as the CFL season for this year was cancelled. Being the eternal optimist that I am however, I firmly believe in the resilience of the three-down game. The CFL will flourish in 2021 and so will the Hamilton Tiger Cats.


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