Mike “Shaggy” Ball was there in Montreal in ’99.
He was there in the crowd when future Hall of Fame QB Danny McManus and company beat the Alouettes in that year's East Division final.
The Ticats won by one point, in the punishing Montreal cold, to earn the team entry into the Grey Cup for a second-straight year.
But to Ball, the self-described “biggest Ticats fans ever,” the Ticats' wild 36-24 win over the Toronto Argonauts in Sunday’s CFL East Division final will make an even better memory.
“This victory tastes sweeter than ’99,” the 33-year-old said. “Because we did it here.”
'There’s nothing sweeter than knocking out the defending champions…and your team’s traditional rival.' —Mike Ball, Hamilton Tiger-Cats fan
"Here” means Toronto, at the Rogers Centre. Ball — a shipper-receiver who works in Mississauga but lives steps from the Ticats’ shape-shifting stadium site — was one of thousands of black-and-gold-clad football fanatics who made the trek to Toronto.
“There’s nothing sweeter than knocking out the defending champions…and your team’s traditional rival,” said Ball. “Nobody gave Hamilton a chance.”
'It's almost unbelievable'
Trailing the Argonauts for most of the first two quarters, Hamilton, led by veteran quarterback Henry Burris, scored 19 points in the second half including a last-play touchdown while streams of Argos fans were already filing towards the gates.
As the clock ran out, Ticat fans seated near the end zone erupted in cheers of “Argos suck” and “Oskee wee wee.” If you're in a mood to chant a slogan this morning either one works.
For Hamilton supporters, the victory takes on extra significance because of its timing. The Tiger-Cats are emerging from a long rebuilding phase. They hired current head coach Kent Austin last off-season and played their 2013 home games at Alumni Stadium in Guelph while the team's new digs, to be called Tim Hortons Field, were under construction.
“It’s almost unbelievable that we’re going to Grey Cup,” said Carol Rose, the president of the Cats Claws fan club, which chartered six buses to shuttle Hamilton fans to and from the game.
In the first part of the year — when the team won only three of its first seven appearances — Rose didn’t think the Ticats would be serious playoff contenders.
But halfway into the season, “it became possible,” she said. “They had a really good team, a good coaching staff. They really turned it around.”
'[My grandson's] known all along that, if you’re from Hamilton, you do not cheer for the Argos,” —Pauline Zivanovic, Hamilton Tiger-Cats fan
Pauline Zivanovic rode one of the Cats Claws buses to Toronto, taking her grandson Josh, 7, to his first CFL playoff game.
“He’s known all along that, if you’re from Hamilton, you do not cheer for the Argos,” she said. “This will be a thrill.”
The victory, Zivanovic said, offers her a prime opportunity to taunt her Argos-boosting co-workers at a grocery store in Burlington.
“It’s sweet,” she said. “All the guys at work that tease me…now they can eat crow.”
Ball will gloat this week too. He said he’s going to order a Ticats-themed cake to bring to the warehouse.
“It’s going to say 'East Division champions,' ” he said.
The cake, Ball added, will have the final score written on top.
Because for him, a win against Toronto to reach the Grey Cup — that’s the icing on the cake.