On Wednesday, Nov. 3, 1869, in a room above George Lee’s Fruit Store, the Hamilton Football Club was formed. Hamilton Football Clubs have won the Grey Cup in every decade of the 20th century, a feat matched in professional sports by only one other franchise, the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League. In 1908, the Tigers won the dominion championship, a year before the Grey Cup was presented.
Prior to World War II, Hamilton’s football team was known as the Tigers. The colours of yellow and black were well represented and the present philosophy of tough football was established in those early days. The only time that Hamilton football was interrupted as a spectator sport was during World War I and World War II.
After World War II the Tiger Football Team started competition again. At the same time, a new group in the city was formed and they became known as the Hamilton Wildcats. As it can well be imagined, competition was high on and off the field. The Hamilton Tigers were able to induce players like Frank Filchuk and Merle Hapes in the late 1940s to come up and play for no more than athletic awards.
The competition for fan participation was so great that both teams were unable to operate on a sound financial basis. Under the guidance of Mr. Ralph W. Cooper, Mr. F.M. Gibson and many other prominent Hamilton citizens, including the late Mr. C.C. Lawson and the late Mr. Sam Manson, it was decided that the two clubs should amalgamate and form one representative team for Hamilton.
The present name, TIGER-CATS, and what is known as the modern era of football started in 1950. In order that the two groups could work favourably together they selected Mr. Cooper as president to bring these two factions to work under one roof.
The first action taken by the new amalgamated group and Mr. Cooper was to select Mr. Carl M. Voyles as coach and general manager of the football team. This man had a successful background as a coach, but, more important, was known for his organizational ability. Working under a limited budget, coach Voyles was able to entice some outstanding American players such as Vince Mazza, Edgar Jones, Jack Carpenter, Ralph Sazio, Bill Gregus, Stan Heath and Vince Scott to come to Hamilton and form the nucleus of a solid football team. The height of coach Voyles’ career and the rebuilding of a new football team was reached in 1953 when the Tiger-Cats appeared in the Grey Cup game and defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. With the retirement of coach Voyles at the end of the 1955 season, a new head coach, Jim Trimble, and new general manager, J.G. Gaudaur, were appointed. Coach Trimble and Mr. Gaudaur continued the Tiger-Cats’ winning ways, appearing in five Grey Cup games in 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, and 1962.
Early in 1959, Mr. F.M. Gibson of Hamilton and Mr. R. Parliament of Winnipeg were appointed as a CFL committee of two to explore the possibilities of a full or partial interlocking schedule for the Eastern Football Conference and the Western Football Conference and, at the Grey Cup meeting in November 1960, the CFL accepted a partial interlocking schedule for the years 1961 and 1962. In November of 1979, the CFL adopted a full interlocking schedule for 1981, with each of the nine teams playing home and away games.
In February of 1963, Mr. F.M. Gibson of the Tiger-Cats became president of the E.F.C. and served a second term in that position in 1974.
In 1963, Ralph J. Sazio, one of the original players who had come up in 1950 and had been with the team through the years as a player and assistant coach, was named the head coach when Jim Trimble moved to Montreal. The team’s winning ways continued and Sazio had an outstanding five years as head coach, appearing in the Grey Cup game four times and winning three championships.
Mr. Ralph J. Sazio of the Tiger-Cats became president of the EFC in 1970. Jerry Williams was appointed head coach in 1972, set a then team won-lost record of 11-3 and went on to win the Grey Cup that year in a game played in Hamilton. In 1973, Mr. Sazio was elected president of the Hamilton Tiger-Cat Football Club and in May of that year the team was sold to Mr. Michael G. DeGroote, chairman and chief executive officer of Laidlaw Transportation Limited.
Mr. Sazio became president of the Canadian Football League in 1975. In 1977 Mr. DeGroote became president of the EFC. Mr. Bob Shaw was the team’s general manager from 1976 through 1979 and was also the head coach in 1976 and 1977, relinquishing that position to John Payne in 1978 and 1979.
In February 1978, the club was purchased by Maple Leaf Gardens Limited and Mr. Harold E. Ballard. Mr. Ballard became the team president that year.
Ralph J. Sazio took over as the general manager and vice-president, with John Payne as his head coach in 1980. In 1981, Mr. Frank Kush became head coach and the EFC and WFC were dissolved as separate identities and became the Eastern and Western Divisions of the Canadian Football League.
In 1981, Mr. F.M. Gibson became the team’s administrative consultant and, on Aug. 6, 1981, Mr. Joe Zuger took over from Ralph J. Sazio as general manager.
Mr. Joe Zuger continued as the general manager in 1982, with Bud Riley as his head coach. In 1983, Joe Zuger remained in the general manager position. Bud Riley was the head coach until Oct. 7 when director of player personnel Al Bruno was appointed head coach. Mr. F.M. Gibson, the administrative consultant, retired June 1, 1983. The Tiger-Cats overcame early-season adversity to become the Eastern Division champions in 1984, with Joe Zuger as general manager and Al Bruno as head coach. The Tiger-Cats’ 1984 Grey Cup appearance was the team’s 13th since its inception in 1950.
In 1985, under the direction of general manager Joe Zuger and head coach Al Bruno, the team recorded its best record since 1982 and finished first in the Eastern Division. A win in Hamilton culminated with the Eastern Division championship. The team set two CFL records with 46 interceptions in a single season and 786 yards on interception returns in a single season.
The Tiger-Cats won the Grey Cup for the seventh time in modern history with a convincing 39-15 win over the Edmonton Eskimos in 1986. With general manager Joe Zuger and head coach Al Bruno continuing in their respective positions, the team enjoyed above .500 percentage football. The Tiger-Cats played in the first regular-season overtime game in CFL history Sept. 14, 1986 against Saskatchewan. The game ended in a 21-21 tie.
In 1987, Mr. Joe Zuger continued as general manager. Head coach Al Bruno had a mild heart attack after a 6-6 start. Co-defensive coordinator Ted Schmitz was the interim head coach and guided the Tiger-Cats to a third-place finish with a 7-11 record. Head coach Al Bruno returned for the Eastern Division semi-final against the Toronto Argonauts on Nov. 15, which Hamilton lost 29-13.
The Tiger-Cats tied for second place with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1988. Al Bruno completed his fifth full season as head coach and Joe Zuger continued as general manager.
On March 1, 1989, David Braley, president of Orlick Industries in Hamilton, purchased the Tiger-Cat franchise from Harold E. Ballard and Maple Leaf Gardens Limited. Mr. Braley became an active member and assumed the role of president of the new Hamilton Tiger-Cat Football Club.
In 1989, The Tiger-Cats set team records with 12 wins in a season and 519 points scored in a single season. Al Bruno and Joe Zuger remained as head coach and general manager. The Tiger-Cats and Saskatchewan Roughriders played in the Grey Cup game in Toronto’s SkyDome and Saskatchewan won 43-40. Rocky DiPietro became the CFL career leader with 655 pass receptions.
David Braley and Joe Zuger continued as president and general manager, respectively, in 1990. Al Bruno was head coach until Sept. 24 when director of player personnel David Beckman took over as interim head coach. The Tiger-Cats finished the regular season with a 6-12 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. On Dec. 18, 1990 Joe Zuger named David Beckman as head coach of the Tiger-Cats for the 1991 season.
In 1991, David Braley continued as president with Joe Zuger in his 11th season as general manager. David Beckman was relieved of his duties after the Ticats lost the first eight games. John Gregory was appointed Tiger-Cat head coach. The Cats completed the season with a 3-15 record and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
David Braley turned the team over to a group of community representatives led by chairman Roger Yachetti in July, 1992. In August, John Michaluk was named president. John Gregory had his first full season as head coach and coached the Ticats to an 11-7 record and second place in the Eastern Division. The Tiger-Cats hosted the Eastern semi-final and defeated Ottawa 29-28. In the Eastern final, Hamilton visited Winnipeg and lost to the Blue Bombers 59-11. In the off-season Joe Zuger retired after 12 seasons as general manager.
In 1993, the team finished second in the Eastern Division with a 6-12 record under director of football operations and head coach John Gregory. Hamilton hosted the Eastern semi-final and defeated Ottawa 21-10. In the Eastern final, the Tiger-Cats lost to the Blue Bombers 20-19 at Winnipeg Stadium. In October, businessman David Macdonald of Sanwa McCarthy Securities Limited, Toronto, assembled a limited partnership that raised three million dollars in operating capital for the team’s community ownership group.
The City of Hamilton was awarded the 1996 Grey Cup Game on August 9, 1994. It was Hamilton’s first chance to host the game since 1972. Head coach John Gregory was relieved of his duties Aug. 12 after a 1-5 start and was replaced by defensive co-ordinator Don Sutherin, a former Tiger-Cat player. In September, president John Michaluk resigned from his position. Sutherin coached the Tiger-Cats to a 4-14 record with several close losses and Hamilton was eliminated from the playoffs, losing the last game of the season on the last play.
During DRIVE FOR ’95, the CFL imposed a strict set of four conditions in October, 1994 that the Tiger-Cats had to meet by Dec. 23, 1994 or the franchise would be revoked. The target of 12,500 season tickets was considered the most difficult condition and the daily update received a great deal of media attention. One week before the deadline, the Tiger-Cats announced at centre field of Ivor Wynne that 13,287 season tickets were sold and the 125-year old tradition of football in Hamilton was preserved. The DRIVE FOR ’95 was a resounding success because of the support of the alumni, business community, the City of Hamilton, the Region of Hamilton-Wentworth and, most importantly, the fans.
In April, 1995 the franchise reverted to private ownership as it was transferred from the community-based group led by Yachetti to a group headed by Toronto businessmen David Macdonald (chairman) and George Grant (vice-chairman). The Tiger-Cats enjoyed a solid season in 1995, improving to 8-10 under Sutherin and qualifying for the playoffs. The average attendance at home games was 21,568, for the highest total since the 1981.
In 1996, the Tiger-Cats finished 8-10 again under Sutherin and lost 21-11 to the Montreal Alouettes in the Eastern semi-final. The Grey Cup was played at Ivor Wynne Stadium for the first time since 1972 and the “Showdown in Steeltown” featured a great week of events and a terrific football game. The Toronto Argonauts defeated the Edmonton Eskimos 43-37 in a snowstorm, placing the 84th Grey Cup championship among the greatest games of all time.
The Tiger-Cats struggled on the field with a 2-16 record in 1997, for their worst record in history. Head coach and director of football operations Don Sutherin was fired Aug. 11. Offensive line and special-teams coach Urban Bowman took over on an interim basis for the duration of the season. The remaining coaching staff was fired Oct. 27, two days after the end of the troubled season.
CFL quarterback legend and Canadian Football Hall of Famer Ron Lancaster was named head coach and director of football operations Nov. 26, beginning a new era in Tiger-Cat football.
In 1998, the Tiger-Cats rebounded from the worst season in team history to the best regular-season record ever, posting the second greatest turnaround in CFL history in the process. The Tiger-Cats had a 21-point improvement from to a 12-5-1 record. The Eastern Division final was played at Ivor Wynne Stadium for the first time since 1989 and the team did not disappoint the home fans, with a thrilling 22-20 win over the Montreal Alouettes. Paul Osbaldiston kicked a 54-yard field goal with no time left, tying the CFL playoff record for the longest field goal, to send the Tiger-Cats to Winnipeg for the team’s first Grey Cup appearance since 1989. Hamilton lost 26-24 to the Calgary Stampeders in the 86th Grey Cup on a 35-yard field goal by Mark McLoughlin with no time left that decided the outcome.
The Tiger-Cats finished second in the Eastern Division with an 11-7 record, two points behind the Montreal Alouettes, in 1999. In the Eastern semi-final, the Ticats defeated Toronto 27-6 at Ivor Wynne Stadium. The Tiger-Cats beat Montreal 27-26 in the Eastern final at Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal. Finally, after a 13-year drought, the Tiger-Cats won the Grey Cup 32-21 over Calgary at B.C. Place Stadium.
The Tiger-Cats were also second in the East in 2000, with a 9-9-0 record, including two overtime losses, for 20 points. They lost to Winnipeg 22-20 in the Eastern semi-final.
The Tiger-Cats were second in the East for the third straight time in 2001, at 11-7-0. They defeated Montreal 24-12 in the division semi-final at Ivor Wynne Stadium, then lost to Winnipeg 28-13 in the East final in Winnipeg.
In 2003, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats suffered through 1-17 season and team went into receivership. In October of 2003, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was purchased by Ancaster native Bob Young.
Young hired local McMaster Marauders coach Greg Marshall and the 2004 Tiger-Cats finished the season 9-8-1 and clinched a playoff berth before bowing out in the East Semi-Final 24-6 to the Toronto Argonauts.
During the 2004 season the Hamilton Tiger-Cats drew over 250,000 fans to Ivor Wynne Stadium for the first time in the illusterous 135-year history.
More Tiger-Cats History
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