They could only defy expectations so many times.
Coming into the Grey Cup on Sunday regarded as underdogs, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats fell to the Saskatchewan Roughriders 45-23 in front of a crowd of more than 40,000 people at Regina's Mosaic Stadium.
The Ticats' decisive loss caps off a season in which Hamilton played its home games in Guelph, Ont., while the team's yet-to-be-completed new stadium was under construction.
Helmed by new coach former Roughrider QB Kent Austin, the squad stumbled out of the gate this season, losing four out its first seven games.
But the Tiger-Cats turned the tide in August, winning nine of their last 13 games.
Facing wild weather, the upstart Hamilton team eked out the Montreal Alouettes by one point in Guelph to take the East Division semi-final. On Nov. 17, the Ticats, who were down 24-10 at the half, beat the Toronto Argonauts in the Big Smoke to win a berth in the Grey Cup.
Tiger-Cats fans at Stonewalls, a pub in on York Boulevard in Hamilton, appeared disappointed, but not dejected by Sunday's result.
"Nobody was expecting to see us get here all year," said Ticats fan Al Losardo. "We had our Grey Cup last week when we beat Toronto"
Renata Boyko, another Stonewalls patron said, "Too bad we didn't win, but there's always next year."
Riders' Sheets tallies two TDs
Saskatchewan MVP Kory Sheets ran for a record 197 yards and two TDs to power the Roughriders' Grey Cup triumph.
Sheets delighted the raucous partisan Riders sellout gathering of 44,710 by smashing the previous mark of 169 yards, set in '56 by Edmonton's Johnny Bright. Sheets was especially impressive in the first half, running for 128 yards and a TD in leading Saskatchewan to a commanding 31-6 halftime advantage.
Saskatchewan slotback Chris Getzlaf was the game's top Canadian.
Quarterback Henry Burris, who rallied Hamilton from a 24-10 deficit to beat Toronto 36-24 in the East final, pulled Hamilton to within 31-16 early on his 18-yard TD run in the third and a drive that Luca Congi capped with 33-yard field goal early in the fourth. But Sheets cemented the win with a five-yard touchdown with just over five minutes remaining.
Weather was a consideration but not because of the frigid temperatures that gripped the city last week. At kickoff, it was 1 C and had only dropped to -2 C at the end of the game. On Saturday, the Grey Cup parade was held in frigid -35 C conditions.
The biggest obstacle was the brisk northwest breeze that gusted between 30 and 50 kilometres an hour throughout. Saskatchewan was more opportunistic, outscoring Hamilton 37-10 with the wind.
A Rider Nation sea of green serenaded Burris — a former Saskatchewan starter — throughout and had plenty to cheer about as the home team earned its fourth Grey Cup but first since '07 after disappointing losses to Montreal in 2009 and '10. Darian Durant started both losses to the Als but threw three TD passes to anchor his first CFL championship as Saskatchewan's No. 1 quarterback.
The game had star appeal as actor Tom Hanks attended with comedian Martin Short, a Hamilton native. Early in the third, Hanks was shown replacing a Ticats toque with a Riders hat, drawing a loud roar from the crowd.
Pop group Hedley performed at halftime.
It was a disappointing end for Hamilton, which came in having won 11-of-15. Burris, slotback Andy Fantuz and head coach Kent Austin were all former Riders returning here looking to earn Hamilton its first Grey Cup win since '99.
Austin suffered his first playoff loss after five straight wins as a CFL head coach. Austin had led Saskatchewan to Grey Cup wins in '89 as the club's starter, then in '07 as head coach before leaving to become an assistant with his alma mater, Ole Miss.
Saskatchewan also became the third straight team to win the Grey Cup at home and earned its first-ever CFL championship at Mosaic Stadium.
Geroy Simon, with his first two Grey Cup TDs, Jock Sanders and Weston Dressler also scored for Saskatchewan. Chris Milo had the converts and a field goal.
C.J. Gable had Hamilton's touchdown. Congi had two field goals and two converts.