CFL Pass

The Ticats' Caretaker hopes to bring a Grey Cup back to the community

CALGARY—There’s nothing like the prospect of a Grey Cup title to turn a 59-year-old man into a giddy 12-year-old football fan.

But that’s what Hamilton’s stellar campaign has done to owner Bob Young. The Ticats face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Grey Cup game Sunday.

“Well, here’s the story because everyone treats me like this special guy and I’m not,” said the amiable Young, visibly fidgeting and jumping for joy as he spoke. “I’m a 12-year-old Ticats fan, I get all excited.

“There isn’t anything for us 12-year-old Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans that’s more exciting than winning a Grey Cup.”

Hamilton’s last Grey Cup title came in 1999, but the Ticats have given their supporters plenty to cheer about this year. Hamilton posted a CFL-best 15-3 record — the most regular-season wins in franchise history. The club was 10-0 at Tim Hortons Field and four Ticats were honoured Thursday at the league’s awards banquet — Brandon Banks (MOP), Orlondo Steinauer (coach), Chris Van Zeyl (lineman) and Frankie Williams (special teams).

Hamilton is playing in its third Grey Cup since Young bought the club in 2003 and the Ticats are looking to secure him his first title. They came close in 2014 when Banks’s late 90-yard punt-return TD was erased by penalty, giving the Calgary Stampeders a 20-16 victory. But Young said the Ticats don’t have to win a Grey Cup title to validate his ownership.

“No, no, our teams have done that all along,” he said. “We’ve had great teams, they’ve come within a bad officiating call of winning Grey Cups before.

“I’ll get into trouble for it.”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Ticats since Young rescued them from bankruptcy. He purchased the franchise in the memory of his brother, Michael, a diehard Hamilton football fan who died in 2002 at age 53.

It’s for that reason Young refers to himself as Hamilton’s “caretaker” rather than “owner.”

“He’s having the best time this season,” Young said of his brother. “Mind you, so are we all. This is easily, not just the most talented team, what I admire about it is they play as a team as well as we’ve ever had here in Hamilton.”

When Young was introduced as Hamilton’s owner, he faced reporters alone on the podium. He said he had no idea who is football and business people were. “The only thing I could promise was we’ll keep getting better and we’ve done it really slowly. If you track the Ticats’ progress … you love it when a plan comes together.”

The Ticats went 9-8-1 and reached the playoffs in Young’s first season, then registered just 15 combined wins over the next four years. Hamilton returned to the CFL post-season in 2009 and reached the 2013 Grey Cup final, dropping a 45-23 decision to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina.

Then came the heartbreaking loss in Vancouver. But Hamilton’s struggles weren’t limited to just the field as there were many questionable front-office hires of individuals with limited or no football experience.

“This has been a fun adventure, I like challenges,” Young said. “Seriously, I’ve never looked at any of it in the negative, it’s all opportunities.

“I’m at the bottom of the pyramid — we put our fans at the top. My job is to try and help everyone be a little bit more successful than they would be than without me. It’s fun when this thing works out the way it was plotted 14 years ago.”

But not everyone in Young’s family can handle the unpredictable nature of sport.

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“The one super power I do have, which I inherited from the Young family is, no matter how stressed out and depressed I am, when I got to bed I will sleep,” he said. “And in the morning I wake up, shockingly enough the sun did come out.

“It drives my wife crazy. We’ll be at dinner, I’ll be as depressed and stressed out as she’s ever seen me. She’ll go to bed worried, she won’t sleep all night and in the morning will say, ‘What are you going to do about all of those disasters?’ And I’ll go, ‘What disasters?’ ”

Young had no previous football ownership experience prior to purchasing the Ticats. So early on he leaned heavily upon such CFL heavyweights as David Braley, Robert Wetenhall and Hugh Campbell.

“I loved Hugh Campbell but he taught me a very painful lesson,” Young said. “He organized a trade with us early on when we weren’t the most sophisticated football organization in the league and just took advantage of us.

“It’s a zero-sum game and you win as much by winning on the field (as you do) by making sure the other guy loses (and understanding) that guys like Hugh will do bad things to you. But he says, ‘You’re a grown-up, you knew what the rules were. Your job is to outsmart me,’ and he taught me that. If it wasn’t so much fun, you could get really mad at people.”

Young said Hamilton’s Grey Cup drought has never crossed his mind.

“It’s like in business you don’t try to make money (first),” he said. “You try and serve your customers and, if you serve your customers properly, you’ll eventually make money.

“All you can focus on is making your organization better, finding better people and helping them get better. Then the drought will eventually take care of itself.”

And Young said a CFL title would mean plenty to Hamilton.

“The community cares so much about this team,” he said. “That’s why I’m only the caretaker.

“I don’t care how much credit other people want to give me, I don’t deserve any of it. This is a community team, I’m just here to help the community support their team.”

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