Hamilton

'Holy cow, we did it': The 2021 Grey Cup is coming to Hamilton

For the first time in almost a quarter-century, the biggest game in Canadian football will be held in Hamilton.

The CFL's biggest game hasn't been held in the city since the 1996 Snow Bowl

Tiger-Cats fans celebrate the announcement Hamilton will host the 2021 Grey Cup. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

First came a groan of disappointment, then a massive cheer of celebration.

For the first time in a quarter-century, the biggest game in Canadian football will be held in Hamilton.

But the big game won't happen here until 2021 — not 2020 when many fans hoped it would. That game was awarded to Regina moments before Hamilton's Grey Cup was announced.

Still, after years of waiting, team owner Bob Young said the big win felt like a wedding.

"This one feels a little bit like a celebration," he said. "Holy cow, we did it."

The last time the Grey Cup was played in Hamilton, the stadium was still called Ivor Wynne and the field was blanketed in snow. That 1996 clash between the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos went down in CFL history as the legendary Snow Bowl.

Ticats superfan Michael Sheehan 12 years old when he watched that frosty matchup from the 50-yard-line.

After more than two decades of waiting, he said he's willing to hold on a little longer to watch another Grey Cup in his hometown. Only this time, he hopes it's a little warmer.

Superfan Michael Sheehan was at the last Grey Cup held in Hamilton back in 1996. That game went down in history as the Snow Bowl. He's hoping 2021 will be a bit warmer. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

"We deserve it. It's been a long time. We have some amazing fans. This city is phenomenal. The organization's great," he said. "I'll just relive being 12 all over again."

Some fans weren't as happy about having to hold out for an extra year.

"It's a heartbreaker," said 17-year season ticket holder Dave Armstrong, who was draped in the team's colours of black and gold.

"They should have got [2020]," he explained. "It doesn't change my beliefs or anything, but it's just a huge heartbreaker."

Ticats season ticket holder Dave Armstrong described having to wait an extra year to watch the Grey Cup in his hometown as a "heartbreaker." (Dan Taekema/CBC)

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced Hamilton as the host for the 109th Grey Cup during a live on TSN Thursday night and when he read out the city's name, Tiger-Cat fans reacted with a roar of approval.

The long absence can in part be attributed to a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought against the city by the Tiger-Cats, because the new stadium, Tim Hortons Field, opened months later than expected. A settlement was reached earlier this year and, with that behind them, the team wasted no time in tossing in a bid.

Young said the team wanted to host the Grey Cup "as soon as possible," so he shares the disappointment of any fans who wanted it sooner. But, he added, he's "thrilled" to settle for 2021.

"It gives us an extra year to plan things," he explained, but stayed tight-lipped about what exactly will be in store, noting most of the staff in the Ticat front office are bigger than he is and he doesn't want to risk their ire by giving away any of their secrets before they're ready.

"The trick of modern sports is it isn't actually about the number of people you put in your stadium it's about the quality of the event you put on around the stadium," he added.

Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young compared hosting a Grey Cup to a wedding celebration. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Young described the announcement as just the first step in the marathon that will transform the event from a three-hour football game into a week-long festival.

He pointed out there are still plenty of challenges standing between the Ticats and the Grey Cup kickoff, including finding space for the thousands of temporary seats needed for enthusiastic attendees.

With that said, Young promised a unique game that will give fans something to cheer about.

"We're less concerned about maximizing every square inch of the stadium in seats and much more interested in maximizing the fan experience."

LRT construction could be a challenge 

LRT construction poses another potential challenge. It's slated to be underway by 2021. If it goes ahead, the city faces the prospect of hosting the game amid a massive construction project that could impact the downtown, where hotels and restaurants are, as well as traffic and transit across the lower city.

Young said the team will be working with Metrolinx and council to iron out any issues.

For his part, Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he can't see how light rail will be a problem because the track will be about a block from the stadium.

"I'm hopeful we're building LRT at that time, but ... it's going to be minimal impact if any."

Mayor says game will bring up to $35M to the city

Eisenberger said the Grey Cup will be a chance to show off what the city has to offer and will bring an estimated economic impact between $30 and $35 million.

"People are going to come here, they're going to rent hotel rooms, they're going to go to restaurants, go to bars, they're going to party and they're going to buy some things as mementos on the way out," he said. "That's where the benefits are."

Before the bid was announced as a winner, the city voted to keep its contributions to the project secret, to make sure the local bid could be competitive.

Frank Crowder and his dog, 'Pigskin Pup,' were on hand for the announcement. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Following the announcement, Eisenberger said he expects that information will become public "in the next week or so," but declined to go into detail or offer a ballpark dollar figure.

"I'd rather not do that right now," he said. "Actual dollars are not large. The in-kind is where most of the contributions are, but they have a value and you can guess on the numbers." 

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