The Grey Cup is a ‘big hug’: Fans feeling the love, excitement as CFL’s premier game set to kick off

Chants of “Oskee Wee Wee” are echoing through Hamilton, the streets flooded with CFL jerseys from across the country and rival fans are taking part in some good-natured ribbing.

It’s Grey Cup Sunday and the energy surrounding Canada’s version of the Super Bowl can be felt throughout much of the city.

“The excitement, the fans, the crowds. It’s just going to be an amazing game,” said Pam Broadley who’s been cheering for the home team, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, for two decades.

The Ticats take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at 6 p.m. here.

It’s a rematch of the last time the Grey Cup was awarded in 2019, in Calgary, after last season was cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In that clash, the Bombers who came out on top. The defending champions are favoured to win again. But as Ken Burns, who also goes by the ‘Winnipeg Warrior,’ put it, “anything can happen in the CFL. That’s why you love it.”

Ken Burns, also known as the Winnipeg Warrior, mimes reaching for a Grey Cup banner outside Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Standing outside Tim Hortons Field on Saturday, Burns said it felt good to be back. This year marks his 23rd Grey Cup.

“We wouldn’t miss it. It’s been two years. Even [with] COVID, we’re gonna come out.”

He did have one complaint, pointing out some of the parties that usually take place have been downsized or scrapped altogether.

Big game a ‘big hug’

The Box J Boys found a way to celebrate, hosting gatherings at the Corktown Pub that went late into the night.

Mario Citino has been a member of the group of Ticats superfans for 25 years and compared the game taking place in his hometown to Christmas coming two weeks early.

Mario Citino shows off his Box J Boys T-shirt. The Ticats fan compared the Grey Cup to a “big hug” where everyone is welcome. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

“Grey Cups are a big hug,” he said, adding everyone knows each other. “I want to win it and this city will go crazy. It’ll never been the same.”

It’s been 25 years since Hamilton last hosted the Grey Cup and nearly that long — 22 years — since the team last hoisted it. That’s the longest championship drought of any team.

‘Oskee Wee Wee all the way’

Fans in Hamilton said they believe it’s time for the wait to be over.

“It’s Oskee Wee Wee all the way,” said Broadley. “We got this, guys.”

CFL enthusiasts have been flocking into Hamilton all week and enjoying social events, award shows and just plain old camaraderie.

Ticats fans walk past banners at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton ahead of the 108th Grey Cup. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Many hotels are near-capacity or fully booked up and everywhere you look there are team colours. “It’s pretty amazing really how the CFL has taken over the whole city,” said Trent Howard who was out sporting a Ticats windbreaker on Saturday.

For Howard the weekend included a celebrity sighting of sorts.

He ran into TSN’s James Duthie while on a Starbucks run and said the sportscaster even stopped for a photo.

Not all of the 30-year-old’s run-ins were quite so friendly, however. “There’s a lot of Roughriders fans around so I’ve been sending them the wrong way,” he joked.

Sue Henderson described herself as a “true blue” Bombers fan and travelled to Hamilton for her 20th Grey Cup game.

Sunday marks the 20th Grey Cup game for “true blue” Bombers fan Sue Henderson. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

She said she’s been having a great time and everyone has been very welcoming — at least for the most part.

“I just did get a honk and a thumbs down,” she said with a laugh. “But that’s OK. That’s normal. That’s Grey Cup weekend.”

Even those not planning to attend the game in-person have big plans. Kenneth LaForme said he’s juggling invites to three different watch parties.

“Whatever one’s got the best meal I’ll go,” he said with laugh.

Coming home for the championship

For Mike Ball, the Grey Cup is a homecoming.

The 41-year-old said he’s been a Ticats fan since 1986 and held onto his season tickets at Tim Hortons Field even after he moved to B.C. four years ago.

Mike Ball said he held onto his Ticats season tickets even after he moved out of Hamilton four years ago. He’s back to claim his seats for the Grey Cup. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Nothing was going to keep him from those seats on Sunday.

“I said … I’m going to be coming home to watch the Hamilton Ticats win the Grey Cup and my dream will come true,” said Ball.

All that stands between that dream and reality is four quarters of football. 

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