Labour Day, 1991
I'm not going to lie: I did not attend this game because of the Tiger-Cats. I was an ardent supporter of the team, but I begged my Dad to take me to the 1991 Labour Day Classic for one reason and one reason only.
I went to see The Rocket.
Growing up, I loved the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Their best player was Raghib Ismail, aka The Rocket. I had seen The Rocket play on television, and now I had my chance to see him in person. It pained me that he signed with the Argonauts, but doing so allowed me to witness The Rocket live, which for a nine-year-old boy who loved Notre Dame was a dream come true.
Looking back, I have no recollection of what The Rocket did that day: about how well or poorly he played or whether he scored or not. What I do remember, however, is the 0-8 Tiger-Cats putting the boots to the 6-2 Argos. The final score was 48-24 for Hamilton. The Cats went in heavy underdogs and laid an absolute beating on the future Grey Cup champions.
I went to see The Rocket, but what I experienced stuck with me much, much longer.
Labour Day, 2004
There were games in between, but 2004 was something special. Not only was this a rebirth year for the Cats (they were coming off a 1-17 2003 season), but the team's and fan base's energy was renewed because of new owner Bob Young. The Cats were 5-5 entering the game, while the Argos were 6-4. This was probably the last time the Labour Day Classic held such importance before this year.
This game I did not attend. The previous September, I moved to Toronto, and I watched this game on the CBC instead of taking it in live.
I regret that I missed it because what a game it was.
This one ended in a 30-30 tie after double overtime, Troy Davis had the game of a lifetime, and when all was said and done, the Cats made a re-believer out of me. Not that I ever lost faith or anything. Heck, I wore Tiger-Cats gear in Toronto during the 1-17 season.
While I held onto my Tiger-Cat love, and I would defend the team to all those who dared disrespect the Black & Gold, the feeling that the 2004 Labour Day Classic gave me didn't come back for quite some time.
That time was 2009.
Labour Day, 2009
As much as 2004 was a rebirth, 2009 felt like a phoenix rising from the ashes. The Cats were a very respectable 4-4, which came as a great shock coming on the heels of two 3-15 seasons. Optimism was renewed in Hamilton. I was once again caught up in Tiger-Cat fever, having moved back to Steeltown in May of that year.
This Labour Day Classic was hardly a classic, but it was the first one in a long time where the Cats went in as the favourites.
They did not disappoint.
The Cats manhandled the Argos from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. The only time the Argos put up any fight was right at the beginning of the game when the best player Toronto had, Running Back Jamal Robertson, scored a TD. After that, it was all Tiger-Cats. Glenn threw for two TDs, Dave Stala caught his first Labour Day TD as a Tiger-Cat, and Arland Bruce played well in his first game against the Argos since being dealt from Toronto to Hamilton earlier in the year.
When the season ended, the Argos were in complete disarray. They finished the season at 3-15, failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year and fired their Head Couch
The Tiger-Cats, on the other hand, ended the season with a 9-9 record, their first non-losing season since 2004, made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and hosted a playoff game for the first time since 2001. It was a return to relevance for the Tabbies.
Labour Day always holds a special place in a Tiger-Cat fan's heart. I know there are many more Labour Day Classic memories to come. I'm sure the day I take my newly born nephew to his first Classic will be very special. Maybe this year's game will provide something worth remembering as well.
But that's future, and I'm here to remember the past. These are some of my Labour Day Classic memories; I'm curious to hear some of yours.