While the 2012 season won’t go down as Hamilton’s worst, it might go down as Hamilton’s most disappointing. The year started off with such promise, that to see the team melt down en route to a 6-12, last-place finish can only be described as disheartening.
The year started off with a bang, when in January the team traded for future Hall of Fame quarterback Henry Burris and hired noted offensive guru George Cortez as head coach. The team then went all-in during free agency and landed the biggest fish, receiver Andy Fantuz. The Ticats, for all intense and purposes, “won” the off-season with their splashy acquisitions. Unfortunately, those winter victories didn’t turn into many summer and fall ones.
The Ticats stumbled out of the gate, dropping their first two games of the season. The first, a blowout loss at home to Saskatchewan; the second, a heartbreaking three-point loss in BC to the Lions. But the Ticats finished the month strong by winning their next three by handily beating both the Argos and Alouettes at home, before a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Saskatchewan for the team’s first win in Regina since 2000. The Ticats sat at 3-2 after the first month of the season and people were proclaiming them the best team in the league. Then the bye week hit and everything fell apart.
The Ticats won three games in their first five and then managed to win just three games the rest of the season. They dropped five in a row in August and early September with losses to Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto twice, both on Labour Day and in the rematch the following Saturday. That stretch of losses was ultimately what doomed the Cats in 2012.
The Ticats then spent the rest of the season mostly pairing wins with losses and barely treading water. They laid a beatdown on Edmonton, but followed that with a loss to Winnipeg. They crushed Montreal, but then lost three in a row (to Edmonton, BC and Calgary) in their final most important stretch of the season. They managed to get a win in their final home game of the year against Winnipeg, but that win just served to keep them alive for one more week, when their playoff hopes were officially ended with a loss in Toronto to the Argos.
After the season ended, the Ticats surprised everyone by firing head coach George Cortez after just one season. They wasted no time in replacing Cortez, naming former Saskatchewan head coach Kent Austin as the team’s new head coach and general manager less than a week after Cortez’s firing.
While the season for the team was disappointing, and led to the coach losing his job, not all was bad in Tiger Town, as there were some excellent individual performances from Tiger-Cat players in 2012. Chris Williams proved his rookie season was no fluke by setting a single-season team record for total touchdowns with 17, breaking the CFL record for return touchdowns with six and being named the league’s top special teams player. Henry Burris led the league in both passing yards and touchdowns, and set Tiger-Cat single-season records in both categories. Kicker Luca Congi put together a stellar season, Dee Webb was one of the lone bright spots on a porous Tiger-Cat defense and offensive tackle Brian Simmons quietly had one of the best seasons an offensive lineman has ever had.
But the lasting memory from 2012 won’t be a player’s performance or game results; it will be best remembered as the final season at Ivor Wynne Stadium. The home of the Tiger-Cats is being torn down to make way for a new stadium on the same grounds, expected to be ready for the start of the 2014 season. The Ticats didn’t play their best football in 2012 to send the old barn out in style, but fans had a chance to revel in the history of what was one of the most iconic stadia in Canada.
The 2012 season may have been a failure on the field, but the beauty of sports is that the end of one season just means the beginning of the next. The Ticats failed to reach expectations in 2012, but that abysmal season will be just a footnote if 2013 turns out to be a better one.
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