Culture Club: Work is fun for Hamilton Tiger-Cats heading into the Grey Cup
CALGARY — Two days away from their biggest game of the Canadian Football League season, where a franchise that wears black and gold tries to etch its name in Grey Cup history after a 19-year drought, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are dancing, jumping, hugging and laughing at McMahon Stadium.
This is a Ticats team that is having fun in its journey. In the locker room, the Ticats have music-themed days: Marley Monday, Tupac Tuesday, White Boy Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, Aloha Friday and Gospel Sunday.
It’s who and what the Ticats, who will play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday, are. It’s a culture that head coach Orlondo Steinauer put in place in training camp at Hamilton’s McMaster University back in May. It’s a culture that’s unique, but one that works. It’s one big love-in. The players will do battle Sunday as one.
“It’s who we are, it’s how we got here,” Steinauer said Friday. “From the outside, it may look like we’re loose or confident. I would encourage you to come watch us Day 1 at training camp, see how we practised and see if there’s any difference. There were a lot of people dancing out there today. They have fun, but as you can see between the white lines, we’re moving, it’s crisp.”
The Tiger-Cats know what they’re up against Sunday. The Blue Bombers have a roster loaded with playmakers, their own guys who want to seize the opportunity to win a national championship. But the Ticats’ focus is more about themselves and what’s been shaped than it is worrying about the Bombers.
“What you see out there today is exactly what it was weeks 7, 8, 9, 10,” Steinauer said. “This is what fits this year’s football team. You may come out next year — in 2020 — and say, ‘Where’s the music?’ Each year is different because you have different players. This suits this year’s team. They know how to focus when it comes time to focus. We have white lines going into all our meeting rooms that signify that it’s the same as stepping onto the field. We’re locked in as soon as we go into the meeting rooms.
“We could be high-fiving or on our phones and, boom, it’s time to go to work. This team, in 2019, understands that. That doesn’t mean it works for any other team any other place in North America or that would it would work for us next year. The outside noise is just that … noise. We don’t feed into what other people think about how we’re doing things. We’re focused on ourselves and consistent improvement, and that’s just been the messaging. That’s why it’s easy to be confident and go play the game.”
Steinauer said he’s been around plenty of different team dynamics over his years of playing and coaching.
“When we were in Hamilton and Ron Lancaster was the head coach, there was no doubt who was in charge,” Steinauer said. “We had conditioning, we had meetings, there were fines, that’s what we did. Then I thought, ‘OK, this is how you win a championship.’ Then I went to Toronto and I worked with Pinball Clemons. Opposite. Barbecues. Sit on your helmet. Play Frisbee. And I thought, ‘Wait, there isn’t just one way to win a championship.’ That’s when I kind of adopted that there were different ways to win championships. You have different personalities in the locker room. Back then, with the longer-term deals, you were able to have people together for a bit longer.”
“If you ask anyone on our team, it feels like a blink ago we were in camp,” Ticats defensive lineman Dylan Wynn said. “That’s because we love what we do, we put everything into what we do. That’s from the top town — from Caretaker (owner Bob Young) to anybody in our building. The positive energy really feeds in. It’s a joy to come to work and I love what I do.
“In my experience with big games, the trick is to make things consistent and make the week as normal as possible. We’ve been doing what we’re doing on the field since Day 1. We’ve been playing music, everybody’s been dancing. It’s how our team has gotten to where we are. I think it’d be a big mistake if we tightened up too much and tried to do something new on the eve of battle. It wouldn’t make any sense. We’re trying to get consistency and have this week be like any other.”
SECOND AND LONG: The Ticats will start Tyrell Sutton rather than Cameron Marshall at running back Sunday. In his seventh CFL season, Sutton hasn’t played since Oct. 26. Asked about the decision, Steinauer said, “Tyrell will go. It’s just the direction we, as a staff, have decided to go. He’s a downhill guy, we’ve seen what he can do. We competed against him for quite a while when he was in Montreal. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s a tremendous blocker. Each week, as people have figured out, we’re going to do whatever it takes to win that week. We feel like, for this week, Sutton is the direction we want to go.” … Asked about his relationship with defensive tackle Ted Laurent, Wynn, a first-year Ticat, said, “He’s a great guy. He’s a little quiet, but once you get him out of his shell, it’s hard to find a better friend. I definitely forced the issue. The first day, I think, when I sat next to him, he gave me a weird look: ‘Why are you sitting so close to me in meetings?’ I said, ‘Ted, you and I are going to be best friends and we’re going to make it to the Grey Cup, honest.’ That helped loosen him up a bit. It took him awhile. But I kept asking him questions and got to know him as a person.”
THE END AROUND: Weird how CFL players (430 of them voted) named Redblacks long-snapper Louis-Philippe Bourassa to their CFLPA all-star team. Not that he isn’t talented enough. But it seems very clear that the majority of the players voted against Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris because of a positive drug test and two-game suspension. Bourassa also tested positive this season and was suspended for two games. … Asked if he was going to do some talking during Sunday’s game, Ticats LB Simoni Lawrence said, “I don’t like to have conversations. I just say what I want to say. I’m not expecting them to talk back to me. I’m going to play my game. I’m just me. What I do works.” Lawrence, coming off what was his best CFL regular season, is excited for what Sunday may bring. “It’s time for business, it’s time to do what everybody here wanted to do at the beginning of the season,” he said. “We’re prepared. I feel like confidence comes from preparation and I feel like we’re super prepared.” … Winnipeg Free Press reporter Jeff Hamilton has been taking some heat from Blue Bombers fans who are urging him to at least temporarily change his byline and Twitter handle to Jeff Winnipeg.
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