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September 2, 2017

Hogan: Labour Day is a serious matter

Ricky Ray (15) during the Labour Day game between the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, ON. Monday, September 5, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

It’s Labour Day!

The Toronto Argonauts are a point out of in first place in the CFL East.

It doesn’t matter.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are 0-8 this season.

It doesn’t matter.

In the history of the Labour Day Classic between the two rivals, the Ticats lead the series 32-13.

That doesn’t matter either.

The long-time rivals are getting ready for an annual matchup that captures the imagination of Southern Ontario. The Labour Day Classic isn’t just a football game, it’s an event. For most Argos and Ticats fans, it’s the biggest game of the season outside of the Grey Cup. For some in Hamilton, it’s even more important than the Grey Cup.

The LDC, as it’s become known, features an opportunity to roll out the cliches. It’s blue collar versus white collar, Timmy’s versus lattes, small town versus bougie city.

Again: It. Doesn’t. Matter.

This is the one game each season where being an underdog means little to nothing at all. The intensity is such that teams and individual players can raise their level of play a notch or three and compete with their rivals.

When they kick things off at around 6:30 on Monday there are a few things worth noting.

Hamilton fans hate Toronto. While realizing that hate is a strong word, understand it’s a strong hate. The Hammer lives in the shadow of Toronto the same way that Canada lives in the shadow of the United States. The larger of the two rarely notices the smaller unless something really good or really bad happens. The LDC is an opportunity for little brother to kick the larger sibling in the shin.

The game will be a little more intense than the average regular-season game, both on the field and in the stands. The crowd will be a little louder and the hitting will have a bit more oomph as well. Even for players new to the rivalry or new to the CFL, they’ll know all about this game by kickoff. Every player involved in this matchup has a rivalry somewhere in his background, be it pro, college or high school. It won’t take long for them to flip the switch and understand that there’s more than just two points on the line.

Hamilton has nothing to lose. That’s what should scare the Argos a bit. The Tiger Cats are 0-8 and worthy of that record. The playoffs aren’t happening for them this year, so for the home team, this is their Grey Cup. That will allow them to play with a little more recklessness. They can take chances they normally wouldn’t.

Something unusual may happen on Monday. In 2002, a Ticat fan went all Mike Tyson and bit off part of an Argo fan’s ear. He was sentenced to six months in jail for aggravated assault. Three years later Argo return specialist Bashir Levingston threw his helmet at a fan in the stands after someone spit on him. In the 2004 Classic, a brawl broke out and R. Jay Soward and Andre Talbot of the Argos, and Wayne Shaw and, shockingly, Adriano Belli of the Ticats were ejected. There were over 400 yards in penalties that day.

In the 2004 Classic, a brawl broke out and R. Jay Soward and Andre Talbot of the Argos, and Wayne Shaw and, shockingly, Adriano Belli of the Ticats were ejected. There were over 400 yards in penalties that day.

Nothing may top the weirdness of the 2000 LDC. In Week Eight, Michael Clemons was a slotback for the Argos. The next game he was their head coach. John Huard had been fired after a 51-4 loss to B.C, so in a desperation move the club asked Pinball to become the coach. He’d make his debut at Ivor Wynne Stadium but lose 29-12.

In 2014 the Argos best player was their punter. Swayze Waters had an incredible afternoon. Not only would he record a 77-yard rouge, but he’d pin the Ticats at their one-yard line twice with coffin-corner punts. He’d average 53.5 yards per punt on the afternoon.

There’s an adage that the CFL season really begins on Labour Day. For Argo and Ticat fans, it’s a second opportunity for a season opener, and if history repeats itself, a chance to experience a game that could provide vivid memories.