You ever heard the phrase about waiting a long time for a bus, and then two show up at once? On Sunday, Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field will be hosting its first-ever Grey Cup and it’s set to host it again in 2023. But Sunday’s game will also be played 25 years since the last time the city of Hamilton last hosted the big game. Indeed, Sunday will mark just the third time since the founding of the CFL in 1958 that Hamilton has been home to the Grey Cup final. But that doesn’t mean Hamilton’s old home, Ivor Wynne Stadium is short on Grey Cup memories, far from it. Let’s take a look back at the previous Grey Cup games held in Steel town.
1972 Grey Cup – Hamilton Tiger-Cats 13 – Saskatchewan Roughriders 10
From 1953 to 1972, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were a model sports franchise and won more Grey Cups than anyone else over that 19 year period. As the dynasty days were slowing down, there could be no better send-off for Hamilton’s golden age than winning a sixth Grey Cup at their home stadium. It wouldn’t be easy though, lead by Ron Lancaster and George Reed, the late ’60s and early ’70s were one of the greatest teams ever in Saskatchewan Roughriders history.
The game was dominated by the defences of both teams and the Ti-Cats set the tone early when Riders quarterback Ron Lancaster was picked off by Hamilton defensive back Al Brenner. The Ti-Cats used this momentum to drive to the Riders’ 16-yard line and Ti-Cats rookie quarterback Chuck Ealey flighted a ball to the right side of the endzone where it found running back Dave Fleming despite tight coverage from the Riders defender Roy Robinson. The referees awarded Hamilton a touchdown despite replay showing that he might not have been inbounds when he made the catch. Regardless of the controversy, it was 7-0 Hamilton with four minutes left in the first quarter.
Saskatchewan would be forced to punt on their next drive, but the Ti-Cats special teams made a great play to block Bob Pearce’s punt to give Hamilton great field goal position. They couldn’t punch the ball in for another touchdown however and had to settle for a field goal from teenage kicker Ian Sunter to make it 10-0 going into the second quarter. After starting out at their 35-yard line following the Ti-Cats field goal, Saskatchewan wasted no time getting back into the game marching the ball down to Hamilton’s eight-yard line and Lancaster found his receiver Tom Campana for a touchdown making the game 10-7.
Late on in the second quarter, Saskatchewan again got the ball in Hamilton territory setting up Jack Abendschan, the hero in the West final with a 20-yard field goal to make it 10-10 with under two minutes in the half left. That would be how the first half would end, 10 apiece.
To begin the second half, both teams were able to move the ball on offence but the defences proved strong enough to not give away points. Saskatchewan would come closest to breaking the tie but Abendschan’s field goal attempt went wide to leave the score level. Hamilton themselves would have a golden opportunity themselves. After forcing Saskatchewan to punt from their endzone, the Ti-Cats started their ensuing drive deep in Rider territory, but after running out to his left, Ealey’s pass into the endzone was intercepted by Roy Robinson to keep the score once again at 10-10.
Indeed the defences stole the show in the third quarter, on the immediate drive, Lancaster was picked off in the middle of the field a second time, this time by Gerry Sternberg, setting up a tense fourth quarter and the feeling that the next score could win the game. The game was tense, and an offence again blinked as this time it was Hamilton’s turn again to turn it over when Lewis Cook picked off Ealey to leave both quarterbacks with two interceptions each.
Sooner or later, someone was gonna have to put up a decisive score. With less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Hamilton began a drive on their own 15-yard line. Step forward, Hamilton Tiger-Cats tight end, Tony Gabriel. Ealey targeted Gabriel three times and connected every time to move the ball up to Saskatchewan’s 41-yard line. On a crucial second and eight, Ealey then connected with Garney Henley at the 26-yard line, effectively meaning all Hamilton had to do was run the clock and they would have a very makable field goal to win the game. They would run just one more play before bringing on kicker Ian Sunter to attempt a game-winning field goal from the 34-yard line.
In the previous 59 Grey Cups, no more than two field goals had ever successfully been attempted in a final, but with no time left on the clock, Sunter put the ball through the uprights to win the game for Hamilton 13-10, becoming the first-ever team in the CFL era to win the big game at their own stadium. It was the sixth Grey Cup win in Hamilton Tiger-Cats history, and for many Hamilton faithful, it was the greatest game the team ever played at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
1996 Grey Cup Final – Toronto Argonauts 43 – Edmonton Elks 37
What. A. Game. The 1996 ’Snow Bowl’ was exactly what the CFL needed at the time to help lift the league out of its darkest hour. The experiment with US expansion had been disappointing, ending after just two seasons, and after 120 years, the Ottawa Rough Riders, a staple in Canadian Football were forced to fold due to financial problems.
The league also had the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Saskatchewan Roughriders’ futures uncertain. Things got so bad that there were genuine concerns there would not be enough funds available to pay the Edmonton and Toronto players for the Grey Cup, fortunately, with the help of the Hamilton-based business Tim Hortons, the 1996 Grey Cup final at Ivor Wynne could go ahead, and what a final it was!
The game got off to a good start for Edmonton, who scored two points off a Toronto safety before scoring one of the most iconic touchdowns in CFL history. Edmonton QB Danny McManus threw a long ball towards the sideline into the path of receiver Eddie Brown. The ball was ever so slightly overhit, causing the ball to bounce off both his leg before Brown caught the ball in his stride to run the ball in for a 64-yard touchdown. (Seriously, watch this play if you haven’t seen it before) It was a great start for Edmonton and head coach Ron Lancaster, who was on the losing side in the last Grey Cup game at Ivor Wynne, they went into the second quarter with a 9-0 lead.
Now here’s where the game gets wild. Toronto got on the scoreboard thanks to a 37-yard field goal from Mike Vanderjagt. Edmonton would be forced to punt the ball away, putting it in the hands of Argos’ return specialist Jimmy Cunningham who ran right through the heart of Edmonton’s special team to leave himself with nothing but daylight (and snow, lots of snow) in front of him for an 80-yard return touchdown. Edmonton where now 10-9 down, and after another Vanderjagt field goal from the 32, it was now 13-9 Argos halfway through the second quarter.
Edmonton would regain the lead however thanks to another long play. On the very first play after the ensuing kickoff, McManus fired the ball through two Argos defenders to find receiver Jim Sandusky who ran the ball in for a 75-yard score to flip to lead back to the Green and Gold. If it wasn’t clear already the second quarter was a shoot-out. Toronto responded in the perfect manner by taking the ball down to Edmonton’s one-yard line, setting up a touchdown for running back Robert Drummond to make it 20-16 Toronto.
But the scoring still wasn’t finished, from the immediate kick off Edmonton’s Henry ”Gizmo” Williams ran the ball home for another quick-fire Edmonton touchdown. So far their three touchdown scoring plays had been on plays combining for 230 yards to give them a 20-23 lead. The only problem was there was still time for Toronto to score again. Quarterback Doug Flutie, one of the greatest to ever throw the ball in Canadian Football lead his team to the 10 yard line and with time winding down, he ran the ball in to make it 27-23 Argos going into the half. In just 15 minutes of play, both teams had combined for an incredible 41 points.
Now, according to the world of “How I Met Your Mother”, Robin Sparkles performed the 1996 halftime show and infamously tried to reinvent herself as a grunge artist called Robin Daggers. A move that killed her music career eventually caused her to move to New York. Given how the second quarter was, Robin Daggers performing at halftime seems just as believable as me telling you that only three points would be scored in the third quarter. After a pulsating second quarter, a Vanderjagt 17-yard field goal would be the only points in the third quarter, indeed another effort from 28 by Vanderjagt would make it 33-22 halfway through the fourth quarter.
Edmonton would have to score next, and thanks to a five-yard touchdown run from Eric Blount, they were back in the game at 33-30. It looked as if momentum was swinging Edmonton’s way, but thanks to a highly controversial play, Toronto would hold off the Edmonton come back just a little while longer. Facing a third and one, Doug Flutie took the snap and tried a quarterback sneak, the ball looked to have never been properly secured by him and it was knocked out of his hands for a fumble. But before Edmonton could pounce on the ball, the play was blown dead and Toronto was awarded the first down, leaving Ron Lancaster incensed on the sideline.
Yet another field goal from Vanderjagt made it 36-30, leaving Edmonton less than two minutes to score a game-winning touchdown. On the first play of the drive, McManus threw the ball towards receiver Darren Flutie, Doug’s brother. Darren Flutie slipped trying to make the catch leaving the door open for Argos’ cornerback Adrion Smith to intercept the pass and run the ball home for a 49-yard pick-six, effectively icing the game by making it 43-30 Toronto.
Edmonton would have time to get one more score thanks to McManus finding Marc Tolbert for a seven-yard TD, but after a failed onside kick all that was left to do was officially crown the Toronto Argonauts as the 1996 Grey Cup champions. The 1996 Grey Cup was an exciting back and forth game that is still considered one of the greatest Grey Cups of all time, as every bit as good offensively as 1972 was defensive. Both CFL era Grey Cups in Hamilton have been memorable, and here’s hoping that the contest on Sunday at Tim Horton’s Field will be able to hold its own with 1972 and 1996.
Side note; Ron Lancaster was 0-2 in those Grey Cups in Hamilton, but funnily enough, he was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach the last time they lifted the Grey Cup in 1999.