Illustration by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Labour Day, September 7, 2020
‘It’s like they made the whole thing up’
The Tiger-Cats, the Argos and their colourful fans provide a 2020 Labour Day Classic completely unlike any before
Unless Labour Day is part of your geographic and cultural DNA you’d never assume that a single play more than 30 minutes from the end, could determine the final outcome.
Especially when the margin of victory was the minimum one point and the combined score — Hamilton 57, Toronto 56 — was the highest in CFL in history.
But that’s why when we assume on Labour Day, it makes an ass out of u and me, and not just the Toronto Argonauts.
There were the Argos presuming they could finally add another chapter to the one of the shortest sports books ever written: Great Argonaut Labour Days. But the smug smell of football assumptions turns into a performance-enhancing drug when the Ticats and their fans inhale even a whiff of it.
Toronto captains Joe Krol had correctly predicted Vic Copps’ coin toss to get the northern gale at their backs for the long fourth quarter, a win-advisory in itself. Ever since Environment Canada designated the stadium a National Wind Tunnel, games have been divided into two distinct personalities: you can score with the wind but not into it.
Which is where the final minute of the first half takes over the story of the 50th Labour Day Classic.
With the Argos riding first-quarter wind advantage to a stunning 44-12 lead, they confidently lined up for a short field-goal attempt into the wind from the Hamilton 20-yard-line. Even a single point would make it a five-score game, and it’s over.
High in the open grandstand, man of the of the people and former Argos owner John Candy, was whooping it up beside his glum Hamilton-raised SCTV buddies Martin Short, Dave Thomas and Eugene Levy, egging on the surly citizens who love him every day but this one.
“I think you meant ‘Don’t Suck!’” he yelled.
Bad karma, John-Boy.
The snap from Norm Stoneburgh, Royal Copeland’s hold, the Lance Chomyc’s powerful swing, the ball soaring 50 feet into the air like a helium balloon … then abruptly plummeting like a lead one as it caught the head wind.
“ I thought I was back in Guelph,” Ticat lineman Mike Filer said.
“I thought I was back in the ’65 Grey Cup,” the Argos’s Dave Raimey and Ticats’ Ellison Kelly said in unison.
Speedy Banks thought he was in returner’s heaven. He caught the ball like an infield fly, dashed past 12 frozen Argos then zigzagged into the South End zone around members of the Ticats Cheer Team who’d prematurely hit the field.
After Troy Davis pounded in the two-point convert everyone, including the instantly-paranoid Argos, knew things had completely changed. Down only 24? On Labour Day? Got ‘em right where we want ‘em.
As Banks tore into the end zone, Evelyn Dick — a season’s ticket holder since the 1950s — dressed all in black screamed with innocent joy.
“I was absolutely out of my head,” she said. then paused “ … just like my husband.”
She was joined in her private box by Johnny Papalia who, like a lot of folks in the Murderer’s Row suites, was there in hologram form only. Deeply-experienced in gory history, they knew what was coming next for the Argos. Down the hall, though, blissfully unaware Toronto mayors Rob Ford, John Tory and Nathan Phillips gloated it over Hamilton’s Lloyd Jackson, Bob Morrow, and Fred Eisenberg.
“They’re just like the fans,” grumbled Ticat owner Harold Ballard. “You can’t get the $#%&*’s to come to regular games, but discounts on Labour Day? You can’t get rid of them.”
Just five minutes before Banks’ 109-yard return Ballard had spontaneously sold the Ticats to Bob Young, muttering “maybe this tech nerd can save them.”
Young immediately asked the Argos to immediately sell him Pinball Clemons for the second half. Clemons had already scored touchdowns in three different ways — by run, by catch and by grinning — but Ticat front office interns, Shawn Burke and Drew Allemang, gently explained why it was against CFL rules.
“What kind of business model is that?” Young asked.
By the end of the intermission, Young’s right hand man Scott Mitchell had bought back the stadium naming rights from Krispy Kreme and sold them for five times as much to Ron Joyce and Tim Horton, and through commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s CFL 2.0 Japanese connections, had positioned Hamilton as the default site if Tokyo can’t stage the 2021 Olympics.
Banks’ wind-aided home run sent anticipatory adrenalin surging through the entire stadium, including the halftime massed choir and orchestra. When Crowbar, Terra Lightfoot, Junk House, Frankie Venom and Teenage Head, Arkells, Monster Truck, Garnett and Stan Rogers, and Neil Peart struck their first note, conductor Boris Brott’s glasses disintegrated.
And, over the next 30 minutes, so did the Argonauts.
The Argos crumbled under a revived and ferocious Hamilton defence, and did not score a second-half point while touching the ball. Ralph Sazio surrendered six safety touches. “Not my first rodeo,” the Ticats’ head coach growled.
Tobin Rote who had combined with Flutie for five touchdown passes in the opening 30 minutes, soon left the game, missing a part of his left ear later found embedded in Angelo Mosca’s face mask.
Meanwhile Danny McManus and Bernie Faloney, sacked a combined eight times in the first half, threw only one incompletion and an interception in the second, while flinging surgical touchdown passes to Hal Patterson, Earl Winfield and Banks. They controlled the clock against the wind too handing off to Willie Bethea, Lee Knight and Bernie Custis, the only guy in the game with a school named after him.
Banks added a punt-return major to his missed field goal and reception touchdowns and scored again when he recovered a fourth-quarter fumble by Dickie Thornton, whose interception seconds earlier should have locked it up, again, for the Argos.
And late in the fourth quarter, Banks lined up deep in the backfield and as Joe Zuger’s punt hit the stiff breeze, caught it on the fly and ran 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown. It was his fifth different method of scoring, equalling in one game the CFL season record set by Ticat Marcus Thigpen.
The Argos still had one last chance, with the wind, at victory. But Garney Henley stepped in front of Mookie Mitchell to pick off Flutie and it was all done. The Ticats outscored Toronto 45-12 in the second half, enough by just one point.
The visuals painted the entire picture. Every Box J Boy, tailgating since Sunday, rendered totally limp; Henley and Banks buried under an avalanche of fans, Custis and Toronto’s Uly Curtis walked off arm in arm; brilliant Argo linebacker Mike O’Shea’s shoulders slumped in dejection, as he stood exactly where he had whenever he wasn’t on the field — which almost the entire second half — on the sidelines, distanced from his safety-conscious teammates, while a ReStore employee picked up the hundreds of tiny batteries Ticats fans had lobbed at him.
What if, he was probably wondering, that first-half place kick hadn’t hit a wall of wind?
He’ll never know, what if, and neither will we because the 50th Labour Day Classic goes into the books just like another 35 before it. Ho-hum, just another win for the Town Team. (Steve Milton – Hamilton Spectator)