Ever see the episode of The Andy Griffith Show called Stranger In Town?
The plot centered around a character named Ed Sawyer, who arrived in Mayberry on a bus from “up north,” walked into Floyd’s barbershop, and acted as though he was friends with everyone there.
He also knew details about the town and the townsfolk, which creeped everyone out since they had no idea who he was.
Turns out Ed pored over copies of the Mayberry Gazette newspaper, which he borrowed from an Army buddy who hailed from the North Carolina town. Reading about the friendly little city caused Ed to fall in love with it and he saw Mayberry as “his” hometown – even if he’d never before been there.
As was always the case in The Andy Griffith Show there was a happy ending, with the citizens ultimately embracing Ed (even though he was never seen or heard from again in the series).
Regardless, I tell that story to tell this one: I’m basically Ed Sawyer when it comes to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
Raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and currently living in Greenville, South Carolina, I’ve never been to Tim Hortons Field, never had a coffee and doughnut from Tim Hortons restaurant, never done the Oskee Wee Wee cheer with fellow fans, never visited the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Shoot, I’ve never been to Hamilton – or Canada, even though I very much want to visit.
But when the Tiger-Cats suit up from June through November, I might as well be a native because I cheer for the team like I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital and educated at McMaster University (Go Marauders!).
If you’ve ever read me before you know that I started rooting for the Tiger-Cats back in the 1970s when CFL “games of the week” were rebroadcast on a local station.
My highly scientific reason for picking Hamilton as “my” team was because I liked their logo and black and gold color scheme.
Now in the interest of complete transparency I must confess that I cheated on the Ticats in 1995 when the Birmingham Barracudas were born.
I felt I had a moral obligation to pledge allegiance to a CFL team in the city I grew up in, although Hamilton remained my preferred international club.
And after the Tiger-Cats (almost) hired disgraced coach Art Briles as an assistant in the summer of 2017, they briefly lost me as a fan. To their credit officials almost immediately reversed their decision, admitting they made a “serious mistake” and correcting it.
Hey – family gets mad at family, then you get over it.
I got over it.
So aside from Birmingham’s cup of coffee during the “American experiment” and the Briles blunder, I’ve pulled for the Tiger-Cats in five different decades. And while there were many years where the only way I could keep track of them was to find scores from games buried in my newspaper, now I can watch every game they play thanks to ESPN.
And I do.
I’m not saying that during last Saturday’s 21-18 win over Toronto I was the only person in Greenville wearing a game-used Greg Randall jersey from 2006, but … well, actually I am saying that.
I also have an assortment of caps and T-shirts, and even find myself spreading the Ticats gospel from time to time.
A couple of weeks ago I was at a convenience store when the clerk asked if my Hamilton tee was in support of a high school team that he was unfamiliar with. I had to explain that it represented a Canadian professional squad born of the 1950 merger between the Hamilton Football Club Tigers and Hamilton Wildcats.
All I wanted was a Twix bar, but being able to drop some Tabbies knowledge on the dude was an added bonus.
Of course it’s quite easy to be a fan this year, especially since the team ran away with the East Division with a 15-3 record.
Having an affinity for wideouts (split end and kicker were the positions I played during my elementary school career), I’ve been a big fan of Luke Tasker since he joined the team in 2013.
And Brandon Banks – who has had a breakout year in 2019 – has quickly become my favorite player.
I was bummed when quarterback Jeremiah Masoli suffered a season-ending injury in July, but proud of how backup Dane Evans jumped in and earned his own medals as field general.
And what a debut for Orlondo Steinauer, who tied the CFL record for most wins by a rookie head coach.
Winning their division gives the Ticats a first round playoff bye this weekend, so I’ll be watching the Eastern semi-final between Edmonton and Montreal on Sunday to see who Hamilton gets on November 17.
Hopefully the Tiger-Cats will defeat either the Eskimos or the Alouettes and advance to the Grey Cup on November 24 (where the opponent will be either Saskatchewan, Calgary or Winnipeg). If that happens, my house will become the official CFL Embassy in Greenville as the game – for me – will be just as big as a Super Bowl.
So Tiger-Cats, know that I’m with you all the way and hope you go all the way.
Even though Mayberry wasn’t Ed Sawyer’s home town and Hamilton isn’t mine, it’s where my team plays.
And when you look at it that way, it seems a lot like home.