The "Tigers" of Hamilton, Ontario circa 1906.
Although the current Hamilton Tiger-Cats were only founded in 1950, football in Hamilton however goes back much further than that. The history of Hamilton Tiger-Cats Football Club can be traced back to November 3, 1869 in a room above George Lees Fruit Store, when the Hamilton Football Club was formed. The Hamilton football club played their first game on December 18, 1869 against the 13th Battalion (now Royal Hamilton Light Infantry). In 1872, the Hamilton Football club began play at the Hamilton AAA Grounds and they became known as the Tigers in 1873.
The Hamilton Tigers began play in the Ontario Rugby Football Union (ORFU) in 1883 and won their first Canadian Dominion Football Championship in 1906 when the Tigers beat McGill University 29-3. The Tigers continued in the ORFU until 1907, when the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (IRFU) was formed. The IRFU later became known as the Big Four and eventually, the IRFU became the East division of the modern CFL in the 1950s. The Tigers faced stiff local competition with the ORFU's Hamilton Alerts who, in 1912, won the City of Hamilton its first Grey Cup, the trophy that was now awarded to the Canadian Dominion Football Champions, by beating the Toronto Argonauts 114.
The Hamilton Tigers playing an unknown Ottawa team in 1910.
In the following season (1913), the Tigers won their first of five Grey Cups when they beat the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club by the lopsided margin of 442. The Alerts were refused entry into the ORFU in 1913 with many of its players opting to join the Tigers, while the Alerts gradually faded from existence. The Alerts gave way to a team under the name Hamilton Rowing Club from 1913-1915, who also played in the ORFU. 1914 saw the complete amalgamation of the Hamilton Alerts and the Hamilton Tigers and the football club continued playing under the name "Tigers". In 1915, in the final pre-war season, the Hamilton Tigers won their second Grey Cup.
After over a decade-long drought, the Hamilton Tigers won the Grey Cup championship game in 1928, 1929 and 1932. The 1941 season saw the Tigers suspend play for the remainder of World War II. The Hamilton Tigers folded, largely because a number of players had gone into the armed services. It is believed by some that the failure of the Tigers is what caused the IRFU to be dissolved, and the Eastern Rugby Football Union (ERFU) to be formed. Because of the absence of the Tigers, a new club called the Hamilton Wildcats were formed to play in the ORFU in 1941. The Wildcats were given permission to use players from the Hamilton Tigers, but not the traditional black and yellow colors of the Tigers. In 1943, the Hamilton Flying Wildcats, stocked with Royal Canadian Air Force personnel, won the 31st Grey Cup.
Things returned to normal in 1945 when the IRFU and the Hamilton Tigers resumed play while the Wildcats (no longer known as the Flying Wildcats) continued on in the ORFU. In 1948 the Hamilton Wildcats joined the IRFU to replace the Tigers who joined the Ontario Rugby Football Union. The Tigers and Wildcats switch of unions only lasted two years (1948-49) as both clubs struggled. At this time, the Tigers and Wildcats competed for fans, talent and bragging rights so vehemently that neither team could operate on a sound financial level. Consequently, The Tigers and Wildcats amalgamated in 1950 to form the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that would compete in the IRFU. Under the guidance of prominent and distinguished local leaders such as Ralph "Super-Duper" Cooper and F.M. Gibson, it was decided that the two teams should merge as one that would represent Hamilton. Cooper was named team president and Carl Voyles served as head coach and general manager. A contest was held among the fans to determine the colors for the newly formed football club; the result was a combination of the two clubs' colors: yellow, black, red, white and blue. Over the years, the colors have evolved to gold, black and white and remain to this day. In 1950, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats begin play in Ivor Wynne Stadium.
League annals show Hamilton teams have won fifteenth Grey Cups (8 in the modern era), and they are the only team in North American professional sports history to win a championship in every decade of the 20th Century!
The Hamilton Football Club was founded on November 3, 1869 in a room above George Lees Fruit Store, where the club adopted the colours of black and orange. The first game in franchise history took place on December 18, 1869 against the 13th Battalion (now Royal Hamilton Light Infantry) where the final score was not recorded. The club was first referred to as the Tigers in their first game against the Toronto Argonauts at the University of Toronto. In that game, which was won by Toronto by a Goal and a Try to Nil, it was the first time that Hamilton wore black and yellow, hence the nickname "Tigers."
Ontario Rugby Football Union
The "Tigers" of Hamilton, Ontario circa 1906
On January 6, 1883, the Ontario Rugby Football Union was formed to provide a structured league of rugby-football play among teams based in Ontario. The Hamilton Tigers were one of the first 16 teams in this league, which consisted of both club and university teams. The Tigers initially played well, but could not advance to the championship game. It wasn't until 1888 that they met Ottawa College in the ORFU Final, but lost that game 10-1. After seven years in the league, the Tigers won their first ORFU championship in 1890 over Queen's University by a score of 8-6, bringing the city of Hamilton their first championship team. They would go on to win the ORFU Championship in 1897 over Osgoode Hall 16-8, but would see difficult times at the turn of the century.
In 1898, the Canadian Rugby Union instituted regular season play, whereas the teams would be solely playing a playoff-like structure prior. While it intensified play between the Toronto Argonauts, Ottawa Rough Riders, and Kingston Granites, it also exposed Hamilton as the weaker of the four. However, the Tigers returned to form in 1903 and would proceed to dominate all competition in the ORFU, winning four consecutive championships. There were, however, several disputes with the Canadian Rugby Union and the Quebec Rugby Football Union that prevented the Tigers from competing for a national championship from 1903-1905. It wasn't until 1906, where the Tigers finally agreed to play the QRFU rules, that Hamilton defeated McGill University anyway, by a score of 29-3, to become Dominion Champions.
Inerprovincial Rugby Football Union
The Hamilton Tigers playing an unknown Ottawa team, 1910
The Interprovincial Rugby Football Union was formed on September 13, 1907 in an amalgamation of the Tigers and Toronto Argonauts of the ORFU and the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Montreal Football Club of the QRFU. In 1908, the Tigers would win the last national championship to be awarded before the introduction of the Grey Cup trophy in 1909. The team would face local competition with the newly formed Ontario Rugby Football Union's Hamilton Alerts who, in 1912, won the city of Hamilton its first Grey Cup by beating the Toronto Argonauts 114. The Alerts having challenged the authority of the ORFU during that season, would not be reinstated into the union, so many of its players joined the Tigers in the off-season. The Tigers would go on to win their first Grey Cup over the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club in 1913 by a score of 44-2. They would win their second Grey Cup two years later in the last Grey Cup game to be played before World War I interrupted play for three years.
After the Great War, the Tigers struggled to return to the title game, while only qualifying for post-season play twice in the following seven years and losing to Queen's both times. It wasn't until 1927 that Hamilton once again reached the Grey Cup by defeating Queen's, but losing to the Toronto Balmy Beach Beachers. However, their fortunes would change as they played the Regina Roughriders in the first radio play-by-play broadcast Grey Cup game in a 30-3 victory for the Tabbies. The Tigers would again post victories over the Roughriders the next year in 1929 and again in 1932 in convincing fashion. However, the Tigers would earn the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to lose to a team based in Western Canada, to the Winnipeg 'Pegs in the 23rd Grey Cup. After their loss to Winnipeg, the fortunes of the Tigers waned as they did not have a winning record in the next five years. In 1941, the Hamilton Tigers suspended operations due to many of its players joining the army to fight in the Second World War.
After the Tigers folded, a new team was formed in 1941 to begin play in the ORFU named the Hamilton Wildcats. The Wildcats enjoyed success in Steeltown after having won the Grey Cup in 1943 and having outstanding regular season records. The Tigers resumed operations in 1945 along with the rest of the IRFU, but, due to poor play by the Tigers and superb play by the Wildcats, the Tigers found it difficult to compete in the Hamilton market. More importantly, the Tigers were experiencing monetary disputes with the IRFU over allocations of revenue. After signing Frank Filchock, who had been suspended by the NFL due to gambling issues, the Tigers felt that the other teams in the IRFU should share in the payment of his high salary because they were benefiting from higher attendances when he was playing in their cities. After the IRFU refused, the Tigers made an arrangement with the ORFU and transferred to that league, with the Wildcats switching to the IRFU on April 9, 1948.
The switch proved to be a costly one as Filchock left to join the Montreal Alouettes in 1949 and the Tigers were left out of the IRFU. Not only that, but both the Tigers and the Wildcats were struggling to compete for fan support and the financial repercussions started to mount. As a result, local prominent citizens including Mr. Ralph W. Cooper, Mr. F.M. Gibson, Mr. C.C. Lawson and Mr. Sam Manson decided that the two clubs should amalgamate and operate as one entity. As such, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats football club began play in 1950 in the IRFU as the singular representative of the city of Hamilton.
Main article: Hamilton Tigers (football) seasons
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