From her tidy bungalow in east Hamilton, Irene Teufel is orchestrating a “massive invasion.”
She's a member of the Cats Claws, a fan club devoted to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and the club has organized to send six buses full of Tiger Cats fans to Toronto on Sunday for the CFL East Division final.
It’s the first time since 1986 that Teufel’s beloved Tabbies will joust in a division final with just-down-the-highway foes the Toronto Argonauts.
And the fact that Hamilton is facing off against the dreaded Double Blue is spurring excitement among supporters on both sides.
“The seats in behind the ‘Cats bench' will be all black and gold,” said Teufel, the fan club’s treasurer, who — along with her husband Walter — has been a season-ticket-holder for 52 years.
“It will be a massive invasion.”
Even before Hamilton advanced to the division final, Teufel said, she had received a flurry of calls from people asking if the Cats Claws were planning a possible trip to Sunday’s game at the Rogers Centre.
Once the Ticats beat Montreal in last weekend’s East Division semifinal, “right away, our phone didn’t stop ringing,” she added. “We filled up five buses in one day.”
The Hamilton-Toronto playoff clash is a great way to cap off a season in which Ticats fans had to trek to Guelph for home games while team’s new stadium was under construction, Teufel said.
“The fans just love to play Toronto whether it be here or in Toronto,” she said. “A lot of our fans weren’t able to go to Guelph for one reason to another, so we’re really looking for forward to being together as a group and cheering on the team.”
'It is one of the best rivalries in professional sports, I think, in North America.' —Mark Cohon, commissioner, Canadian Football League
The playoff battle between the two storied southern Ontario franchises is great for the league, said CFL commissioner Mark Cohon on Friday.
“It is one of the best rivalries in professional sports, I think, in North America,” he told guest host Piya Chattopadhyay on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning. “The people coming down the QEW and on the GO Train, they’re going to fill that stadium.
“I think it’s going to be loud and a tough-fought match.”
The game has also received major publicity in a bizarre context. On Thursday, embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford, an avid football fan, mentioned the match in the midst of a lewd rant in which he dismissed allegations that he had sexually harassed a former staffer.
"I want to call Mayor Britannia in Hamilton and tell him that we're going to have to spank their little Tiger-Cats," Ford said, fumbling the name of Hamilton's mayor and baffling the swarm reporters surrounding him.
Later that day, Hamilton mayor Bob Bratina said he would not participate in any friendly wager on the game with Ford, who has recently admitted to having smoked crack cocaine and driving under the influence of alcohol.
“There will be no participation between the offices of the Mayors of Hamilton and Toronto with regard to Sunday's football play-off game,” Bratina said in a statement to CBC Hamilton.
Both the Tiger-Cats and the Argonauts are making special preparations for the duel, set for 1 p.m on Sunday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
The Argonauts have announced they will be selling tickets for seats in the stadium’s upper bowl, which are normally closed during CFL contests.
“We’re expecting a big crowd,” said Argos spokesman Eric Holmes.
He said the Rogers Centre's lower bowl accommodates approximately 33,000 people, and that strong tickets sales could put Sunday’s attendance numbers at north of 40,000 fans.
Scott McNaughton, the Ticats’ director of communication, says he’s working to make sure there is a strong contingent of Hamilton supporters at Sunday’s game, the last hurdle his team needs to overcome to win a berth into the Grey Cup.
“Hopefully, we'll get enough fans there to make it a neutral site, a 50-50 split” between Ticats supporters and Argos faithful, he said.
As part of the festivities, Ticats fans will have the opportunity to revel at one of three team-organized parties in Toronto in advance of the big game.
Starting at 11 a.m., the team will be hosting free events at three downtown Toronto restaurants. The bashes will include complimentary pre-game snacks as well as giveaways and draws for prizes.
At 12:30 p.m., fans will spill onto John Street and stroll to the stadium ahead of the 1 p.m. kickoff, said McNaughton.
“It’ll be a sea of black and gold as Tiger Town heads to the Rogers Centre together.”
For more information about the pre-game parties, go to Ticats.ca.