They’re a league-best 9-2. They have the second-highest scoring offence in the league and the stingiest defence. They don’t have a letter next to their name in the standings yet, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are a heavy favourite to host the East Final this year.
When people talk about the best team in the league, though, the conversation tends to steer away from Tiger town.
The question came up in The Weekly Say, asking if the Ticats are getting enough respect for what they’re doing this year. To put it in context, they’re well on track to post their best regular-season ever.
That warrants repeating: Ever.
The Ticats won 12 games in 1998 and 1989. They’ve won 11 games five times (1972, 1981, 1992, 1999 and 2001). Pending a complete collapse over their final seven games, they’ll set a franchise record this year.
Despite that unprecedented success, the pundits (myself being one of them) haven’t been collectively kind to the Ticats. They’ve gotten as high as the No. 2 team in the Nissan Titan Power Rankings this year. This week, they’re ranked third, despite having beaten the two teams in front of them (Calgary and Winnipeg).
Inside Tim Horton’s Field, there isn’t much concern about the team’s week-to-week movement in the rankings, or what anyone outside of that building thinks about their team.
“I do not stay up at night (worrying about it),” Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer said after his team’s practice on Wednesday. “Our record is what it is. However people want to view it, it’s fine. I wouldn’t feel any differently about our ballclub if we were .500.
“I know how we come to work every day. I’m really not interested in other people’s opinions.”
In the midst of a career season, Ticats defensive tackle Dylan Wynn is focused solely on his work.
“I don’t have cable. I don’t watch the TSN panel. I don’t watch the power ranking, whatever that is. None of that, absolutely none of it.
“It’s great for fans, and it (creates) amazing talking points. And I guess it would be fun guessing who would win every week, but no,” he laughed at the idea of paying outside opinions any attention.
“Not at all.”
The Ticats have bigger things to focus on. They head out west on Friday for an extended stay in Alberta. They’ll face the Stampeders on Saturday, then spend the week there before travelling north to Edmonton for their game against the Esks on Friday, Sept. 20. They’ll be in Winnipeg a week after that to face the Bombers, running a difficult road gauntlet. A perfect 6-0 at home this season, this stands to be the most trying part of the Ticats’ successful season. They’re 3-2 on the road.
IT DOESN’T PHASE ME ONE IOTA WHAT’S WRITTEN…WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK WE ARE OR THE RESPECT THAT WE GET. YOU EARN YOUR RESPECT.
– ORLONDO STEINAUER
Veteran offensive lineman Mike Filer said the team understands the magnitude of these next three games, but that they’ve done a really good job this year of compartmentalizing games and not getting ahead of themselves.
“Labour Day is probably the biggest game of the regular season for this place,” he said. “We just took it as the next game. We knew that if we went out and did what we had assigned, and planned and prepared for that the scoreboard would take care of itself. That’s the way we’re going about these next three weeks.
“We’re not going to do anything different. We’re going to continue to go and focus on doing our jobs and being the best team we can be.”
Linebacker Simoni Lawrence said he’ll look at power rankings when they pop up in his Twitter or Instagram, but it’s not something he fixates on.
“I’d rather just keep winning games and everybody not caring,” Lawrence said. “I feel like when you look at the rankings and stuff, you start looking ahead. We’re just a relaxed, confident group. We just go and we ball.
“I don’t think we put any pressure on ourselves and I think that’s why we’re able just to go out there and play football. We just know we’re a really great football team, so let’s just go show it every week.”
On the outside, these next few weeks could legitimize the Ticats’ success to the people that may have held back on rewarding them for their record. People will always point to an easier schedule for an East powerhouse team. Some wins in hostile territory out West would go a long way toward changing minds.
Inside the Ticats’ organization, opinions won’t change. Their team has survived the loss of Jeremiah Masoli, seen its defensive line pillaged by injury and is currently on its fourth starting running back. It erased the Argos’ 24-11 halftime lead after ejections further decimated their defence. Plenty of obstacles have popped up this season and the Ticats scale them like they’re American Ninja Warrior contestants and find ways to continue winning.
“The short answer is no,” Steinauer said of any perceived lack of respect.
“It doesn’t phase me one iota what’s written…what other people think we are or the respect that we get. You earn your respect.”