CFL fans flood Hamilton for Grey Cup party 2 years in the making

The Hammer is coming alive.

And fans of the Canadian Football League say it’s about time.

Now two days before the playing of the 108th Grey Cup, the energy level in the city is picking up by the minute — leading up to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-cats taking the field on Sunday.

But a quick look around a local sidewalk, pub or the Hamilton Convention Centre will show you it’s about much more than the two teams playing for Canadian football supremacy — rather, it’s a celebration of a sport, culture and country.

“It’s a relief,” Toronto Argonauts fan Shelley Foster tells 680 CJOB. “It’s been a really fun part of my life. The CFL has the best fans, and it’s great to watch.”

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Foster’s at her third Grey Cup — what she thinks will be only the beginning of a long tradition.

There’s a certain sense of pride around this game and, for some, attending it year after year — no matter where it is, who’s playing, or how cold it may be.

Vancouverite Evan Ozirny sports one of the longest streaks here this week, Sunday’s game marking his 28th in a row.

Or 29, if you’ll indulge him.

“I even showed up in Regina last year on the date and the time of the game, standing outside (Mosaic Stadium) and taking pictures. (I did it) just so no one could question my streak.”

Read more: Despite pandemic blow, CFL commissioner optimistic for future after ‘long-overdue’ changes

It’s that type of dedication that makes the first trip so special, and more often than not, turns it into more.

The pandemic has undoubtedly made its mark on the event: The players are kept farther apart from media than ever before, mask-wearing and proof of vaccination are mandatory inside the events, and sanitizer bottles line every hallway.

But those who waited through a cancelled 2020 season, and the uncertainty the start of this one brought, say that won’t take away from the experience they waited 105 weeks for.

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And for Hamiltonians, the wait to host a Grey Cup all their own has been much longer than that.

“It’s very meaningful. What the city has done, the league has done, (Ticats owner Bob Young) and the mayor have pulled together to put on a modified show, but it’s still a show,” Tiger-Cats fan Cindy Stuive says.

“It’s been awesome, just being part of it all.”

“It’s a different Grey Cup, and I think this is just the trial run for putting things back on track in 2022.”

Ozirny says he’ll be inside Mosiac Stadium for that one, then right back in Hamilton the year after, when the city gets to throw an even bigger party.

Click to play video: 'Organizers adjust for pandemic Grey Cup, but big celebration still expected in Hamilton' Organizers adjust for pandemic Grey Cup, but big celebration still expected in Hamilton

Organizers adjust for pandemic Grey Cup, but big celebration still expected in Hamilton

While the sanctioned CFL events may be less plentiful than Grey Cup regulars are used to, the city’s hospitality sector is picking up the slack.

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“Hamilton’s a great football city,” Bombers fan Lauren Girard says. “We’re happy to come here.”

There’s a sense of relief and optimism in the air, with some fans saying they’re just happy to be back at an event they weren’t sure was going to happen again.

“I think it’s incredible, we only lost one game to COVID-19 this year,” Ozirny says. “I expected a lot more.”

“It was disappointing to have no football in 2020, but we’ve got to stay safe,” Blue Bombers fan Cathy Girard says. “I think the CFL will come back strong.”

If Grey Cup week is any indication, Girard’s prediction is well on its way to coming true.

Click to play video: 'CFL fans prepare for the return of this year’s Grey Cup' CFL fans prepare for the return of this year’s Grey Cup

CFL fans prepare for the return of this year’s Grey Cup

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