It was a brisk November Saturday in Winnipeg — aren't they all? — when the undefeated, second-ranked McMaster Marauders showed up to go head-to-head with the Manitoba Bisons in a Canadian university semifinal game. The next day, it was the Tiger-Cats' turn as they visited the hometown Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League's East final.
Nobody at the time was thinking much about geography and how it might be awhile until a similar story could be told again.
Yet it turns out that weekend 13 years ago was the last time a city hosted a CFL and interuniversity semifinal on the same weekend and won them both. Meaning the McMaster Marauders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats have a chance to do something incredibly special this weekend.
On Saturday at 4 p.m., the Marauders will take on the Mount Allison Mounties in the Mitchell Bowl at Ron Joyce Stadium. The winner goes to the Vanier Cup to play for the national championship in Montreal. The next day at 1 p.m., the Ticats face the Montreal Alouettes at Tim Hortons Field. Winner goes to the Grey Cup in Vancouver.
Win them both and this city will kick off one of the great weeks of football anticipation and pigskin partying this country has ever seen.
"It would be one hell of a week in Hamilton," Ticat legend Angelo Mosca says.
A handful of Canadian cities have attempted to pull the home-victory double since Winnipeg last did it. As recently as 2013, Calgary hosted both games. While the University of Calgary Dinos advanced, the Stampeders lost. Just as had happened in 2010. In 2002, the Alouettes won when the double took place in Montreal, but McGill lost.
There have been other permutations and combinations. Cities have had their two teams play on the same weekend, but not both at home. Cities have had their two teams win the semis but on different weekends. But it's been a while since the stars aligned and both hosts won and advanced to their championship games within 24 hours of each other.
It's already a huge deal. Amazingly, there's more.
Adding an exclamation mark to Hamilton's claim as Footballtown or Gridironland or whatever the souvenir T-shirt manufacturers might come up with, is the fact that next week this city is hosting the OFSAA Bowls. Nine high school provincial championships will be played at Ron Joyce Stadium, three each on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
"This is new that they're outside of Toronto," says Cardinal Newman head coach Anthony Macaluso, whose side is one win away from playing in one of the games.
It all adds up to a smorgasbord of high-level football, a pretty nice jolt to the local economy with hundreds of players, officials and fans from out of town staying here for a few days, and a ton of pro-Hamilton exposure since the CFL and Canadian Interuniversity Sport games will both be shown on TV across the country.
More than anything though, it's a chance to inject a massive dose of pride and excitement into the community. Win one of this weekend's games and people will be happy. Win both and locals may cause a worldwide shortage of anything that's black, gold and maroon.
"It would be awesome," says Ticats defensive back and former Marauder Mike Daly. "If you like Hamilton football, you're going to be following (both) Mac and the Tiger-Cats. That's how it works."
That's how it worked for Winnipeggers that day in 2001. The Bisons toppled the Marauders 27-6 and the Bombers knocked off the Ticats 28-13, sending Winnipeg into a state of football ecstasy.
The magic was short-lived, though. The following week, the Bombers fell to Calgary in the Grey Cup and the Bisons were crushed 42-16 by St. Mary's in the Vanier Cup. Manitoba's capital got the double but couldn't make it a double double.
Now Hamilton gets to try. And that sounds like something this city might enjoy.