Inside the CFL: One man's memories of Ivor Wynne StadiumMay 17, 2012 - 2:16 PM Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - It's been a fixture in east-end Hamilton since 1930.
Many have described it as a combination of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
Visiting teams hate it, with the reasons ranging from the proximity of the sidelines to the field (just under 10 yards), the small, cramped visitor's dressing room, to the way the weather can play such a big part in a game: unbearably humid in the summer, to damp and cold in the fall, when the winds come off Lake Ontario.
After this season, it will be no more.
Ivor Wynne Stadium, which sits in the area bounded by Cannon Street and Balsam, Beechwood and Melrose avenues, will be torn down at the end of this CFL season.
The 28,000-seat stadium, situated in a residential area, surrounded by homes, will be replaced by a brand new, slightly smaller one.
Target date for completion is the start of the 2014 season.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will play at least five of their regular-season home game in 2013 at McMaster University's Ron Joyce Stadium. The bulk of those games will be played before Labour Day, with the rest of the home games probably going to TD Waterhouse Stadium in London, or possibly Rogers Center in Toronto.
What makes Ivor Wynne so unique is the sense of community that it brings.
Former Tiger-Cats kicker Paul Osbaldiston put it best when plans were announced about how the final season at the old ballpark would be celebrated.
"I can relate to the fans in this city and why they enjoy coming here because it is a sanctuary," he said.
"It quickly became obvious to me that a lot of people come here, and I came here for the same reason, that no matter what was going in with your family at the time or how bad work was, whenever you came to the stadium, it was a place you would go and it would completely change your day, completely change your week and sometimes, your year.
"You're just so excited about the atmosphere, excitement, electricity in the air."
And that electricity comes from many things.
Outside the stadium on game day, people living in the area, offer parking spots on their front lawns, for as little as $10.
The smell from the barbeques across the street from the stadium is enough to drive you crazy.
Once the game starts, the crowd is whipped into a frenzy, and because the stands are so close to the field, a sell-out crowd can sound like 40,000 people.
The locals can be quite belligerent when it comes to spewing vitriol at the opposition (although visiting players tell me they never hear what the fans are yelling at them).
Right ... and I'm going to marry J-Lo.
Living about a mile-and-a-half from Ivor Wynne, I pass the stadium almost every day, almost taking it for granted.
As someone who's covered the Tiger-Cats, and the CFL, since 1982, I've had the opportunity to witness countless games.
The memories are starting to come back.
Here's one man's, top five Ivor Wynne moments:
MOST IMPRESSIVE INDIVIDUAL MOMENT.
Monday, Sept. 5, 1988 - The Labour Day Classic was the Earl Winfield show. The Tiger-Cats receiver became the first player in CFL history to score a touchdown three different ways. The touchdowns came on a 101-yard punt return, a 100-yard Kickoff return and a 58-yard pass reception in the Tiger-Cats' 56-28 shellacking of the arch-rival Toronto Argonauts. Winfield had 400 total yards in the game.
MOST SURREAL MOMENT
Saturday, July 10, 1993 - For the first time ever, a U.S.-based team was a member of the CFL. The Sacramento Gold Miners were coming to town from California. The expansion Gold Miners were remnants of the old World League of American Football. In the week leading up to the game, the U.S.-born players on the Tiger-Cats became fed up with all the talk about the Gold Miners being better simply because they had all Americans on their team. As more than one Tiger-Cat player told me, "They don't walk on water."
Once the crowd of 20,307 got past the site of the U.S. flag entering the stadium, and hearing the Star-Spangled Banner played before the game, they found out the Miners, indeed, didn't walk on water, they were treading water. The Tiger-Cats beat the Gold Miners, 30-13.
MOST EMOTIONAL MOMENT.
Sunday, Nov. 6, 1994 - After a season of financial insecurity, the CFL imposed a strict set of four conditions in October 1994 that the Tiger-Cats had to meet by Dec. 23 or the franchise would have been revoked.
The biggest condition was that they had to hit the target of 12,500 season tickets.
After the Tiger-Cats lost their final regular-season home game to Saskatchewan, 16-14, the scene at Ivor Wynne quickly became one of sorrow. Many fans sat in the stands, staring blankly at the field, wondering if they just witnessed the final game in Hamilton Tiger-Cats history. Some left in tears, some were downright angry at the league.
However, as Hamiltonians do, they rallied.
One week before the deadline, the Tiger-Cats announced at center field of Ivor Wynne that 13,287 season tickets were sold and the 125-year old tradition of football in Hamilton was preserved. The "DRIVE FOR '95" was a resounding success, so much so that Hamilton was awarded the 1996 Grey Cup Game on Aug. 9, 1994.
MOST PROUDEST MOMENT.
Sunday, Nov. 24, 1996 - The snow started in mid-afternoon. And by kickoff, at 6 p.m., the Ivor Wynne turf was covered in several inches of snow.
Throw in the temperature of -10C/14F, the 15 mph north-east winds off the lake, and many wondered what type of Grey Cup game was going to be played.
We didn't have to wonder long.
In a game that is now called "The Snow Bowl," the Edmonton Eskimos and the Toronto Argonauts played a classic.
Big plays all over the field, including a fan favorite, the catch by "Downtown" Eddie Brown.
In the end, the Doug Flutie-led Argos beat the Eskimos, 43-37.
The big winner ... the game of Canadian football.
MOST ELECTRIC MOMENT.
Sunday, Nov. 15, 1998 - The Tiger-Cats were hosting the Eastern Division Final. The Montreal Alouettes were the opponents.
Hamilton, coming off a 2-16 record in 1997, finished the 1998 season with a 12-5-1 mark.
The Tabbies were led by quarterback Danny McManus, receiver Darren Flutie, rush end Joe Montford and safety Rob Hitchcock.
The Alouettes scored a late TD to take a 20-19 lead, and most thought a berth in the Grey Cup was gone.
But McManus moved the offense downfield, and with no time left on the clock, Paul Osbaldiston kicked a 54-yard field goal, tying the CFL playoff record for the longest field goal, to give Hamilton a 22-20 win.
Perhaps the most vivid memory was seeing Hitchcock, a Hamilton native, running around the field, helmet off, screaming at the top of his lungs.
Goodbye, Ivor Wynne.
I'm going to miss you.
TIGER-CATS UNVEIL FINAL SEASON PLANS.
- The Tiger-Cats are introducing an initiative to determine the greatest players to ever suit up for the black and gold. In June, fans will have the chance to vote for their favorite players as part of the All-Time Tiger-Cats team. A selection committee comprised of alumni, media and fans have narrowed the field down to about 120 individuals. The season-long initiative will present fans with the opportunity to select the 28 members of the all-time team and win great prizes. The All-Time Tiger-Cats will be presented at a special ceremony at the regular-season finale on Oct. 27.
- The final regular-season game will be an emotional event. In addition to the presentation of the All-Time Tiger-Cats team, the stadium finale will feature a post-game closing ceremony that will send the stadium off fittingly. All fans in attendance will receive a commemorative keepsake to hold their ticket to the final game.
Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.
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