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Inside the CFL: Labor Day memories and musings

By Ted Michaels, CFL Columnist

Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - The Labor Day weekend has always meant a lot to me.

As a kid, Labor Day meant either attending or listening to the traditional game at Civic, then later renamed, Ivor Wynne Stadium. That game was usually against the hated arch-rival Toronto Argonauts. And more often than not, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat them, which meant jubilation.

The euphoric feeling, though, became tempered somewhat when I had dinner and started to think about what awaited me the next day.

Yup, back to school. And, in one instance, that knot in my stomach became a boulder, especially when I was starting the seventh grade and my teacher was going to be Mrs. Baird-Kerr. All summer, I heard about how mean she was, and how loud she yelled.

Turns out, she wasn't that bad at all.

Later, in 1981, the Tiger-Cats took on the Edmonton Eskimos, who ended the season with a remarkable 14-1-1 record.

In a memorable game, the two teams went back and forth, and when it was over, the game ended in a 34-34 tie.

On Sept. 5, 1988, these eyes witnessed one of the greatest individual performances ever, when Earl Winfield almost single handedly beat the Argos. He scored three touchdowns, first on a 101-yard punt return in the first quarter, then a 58-yard touchdown pass from Mike Kerrigan, and finally, a 100-yard kickoff return TD in the fourth quarter. The Tiger-Cats throttled the Argos, 56-28, and Winfield amassed 400 total yards, which still stands as the fourth- most in CFL history.

This weekend marks the unofficial start to the second half of the CFL season. And it has me thinking about a few things.

First, the Tiger-Cats are slowly getting their act together. The winners of three in a row, they head to BC for the first of a back-to-back series against the Lions.

Some Hamilton fans are saying, "Big deal. They've won three games against Winnipeg and one against Edmonton."

While there is some validity to that argument, don't tell head coach Kent Austin.

"You line up and play the team that is in front of you," Austin said after the win over Winnipeg last week. "That (the quality of opponent) doesn't mean anything."

It'll be intriguing to see how far this team has come, and how far it may have to go after the series with BC.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers start the long weekend with a trip to Mosaic Stadium to take on the Roughriders.

For those not familiar with the Labor Day Classic, think Auburn-Alabama, or Michigan-Ohio State, or USC-UCLA.

In essence, the whole city of Regina shuts down, the parties go on all weekend, and the stadium is jammed with fans of Rider nation. The din that crowd makes can literally make your ears ring.

Last year, the Bombers went into Regina and were pounded, 52-0. It marked the first game of newly appointed head coach Tim Burke, who replaced the fired Paul LaPolice.

Ironically, LaPolice had a 2-6 record when he was fired, while Burke is 1-7 this year.

The woes of the Bombers are well documented. They fired their president and CEO Gath Buchko, general manager Joe Mack and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, and now interim CEO Wade Miller and interim GM Kyle Walters have to clean up the mess. And how bad is that mess?

One former executive told me, "The Bombers are already three months behind in their planning for next year."

One can only hope, at some point, the Winnipeg franchise gives its long- suffering fans some hope. The Bombers haven't won a Grey Cup since 1990. The fans deserve better.

Monday afternoon, the Eskimos take on the Stampeders at McMahon Stadium in the traditional Labor Day Classic. Two arch-rivals, separated by three hours, go at it, in what is always, as an old football coach called it, a "slobber- knocker."

The question in that game is, will it be Kavis Reed's last Labor Day game as Eskimos head coach?

Already at 1-7, the Eskimos, while playing hard, haven't been able to turn the season around.

The whispers in the CFL are the Eskimos are the architects of their own demise, with questionable calls by Reed, usually in critical situations, that have turned wins into defeats. A loss to the Stampeders Monday, followed by another loss the following Friday to the Stampeders at home would mean the Eskimos' season could be over.

And if that's the case, I wonder how GM Ed Hervey can justify giving Reed a contract extension at the start of the season.

LET'S PLAY TWO

The new Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton is starting to take shape. The outline of the two-tiered stands is clearly visible, and when you drive by, you can visualize the stands being packed on game day.

Which leads me to wonder.

Last Sunday, the McMaster Marauders opened up the 2013 CIS season. Prior to the game, several Tiger-Cat representatives attended a function with Marauders corporate supporters and alumni.

Everyone agreed the CFL and CIS must continue to work together to promote Canadian football.

So, why not have a Labor Day doubleheader, with the Marauders leading off the day of football?

I await the answer.

DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY

In 2007, the Kansas City Chiefs were featured on the outstanding HBO series "Hard Knocks." In a memorable scene, defensive back Tyron Brackenridge showed off his dance moves in the dressing room.

Brackenridge is currently a member of the Green Riders and rapidly becoming one of the best defensive players in the CFL.

With players celebrating touchdowns in various ways, I find myself hoping that one day soon Brackenridge will celebrate a defensive touchdown, either by himself or a teammate, by breaking into that legendary dance in the end zone.

Trust me, it's a classic.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?

08/27 12:30:41 ET

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