Monday, November 24, 2014

Hamilton's big day

It was a good day in the sports world yesterday if your name was Hamilton.  It started early in the morning, when Lewis Hamilton took the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to win his second Formula 1 World Championship, and continued a few hours later when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated the Montreal Alouettes to advance to the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup Championship.

It was a good day if, like me, you're a fan of somewhat marginal sporting events.  American Formula 1 fans are a small but hearty group, and the title battle between Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg seemed destined to come down to this final race - as indeed it did.  The math was simple* - if Rosberg won the race, as he was favored to do, Hamilton had to finish second to take the championship.  Anything less, and the title was Rosberg's.

*Somewhat misleading, thanks to the stupidity of awarding double points for the season's final race.  Hamilton, winner of 10 races during the year, as opposed to Rosberg's five, would have had a much larger margin of error had the points allocation been that of every other race.  It goes to show that auto racing should not be treated like coupons at a grocery store.

Truth be told, I've found the season less than enthralling.  The duel between the Mercedes drivers didn't captivate me the way it did others; the Mercs were so dominant during the course of the season that one was tempted to think of the cars as far more important than their drivers.  Mercedes clinched the constructor's championship several races ago, and there was never any real threat from other teams.  I'm not in the minority in thinking this season a disappointment, and the continuing chaos about the financial status of the sport doesn't give one much encouragement for the future; nevertheless, there was a race to be run yesterday morning, a championship to be decided.

Hamilton ran a magnificent race.  He sprinted out to the lead from the start, getting a tremendous jump over the pole-sitter Rosberg, and was never headed.  I'd thought that Hamilton's best bet would have been to avoid Rosberg, tuck into second place, and run a safe race to the end.  It still would have been a smart strategy, but it's not what Hamilton did, and I'm in no position to disagree with his dominant performance.  Rosberg ran into mechanical difficulties in the second half of the race, eventually dropping out of the top ten, and Hamilton held off a late challenge from Felipe Massa to take his 11th victory of the season, and the World Championship.

Dominant car or not, there's no doubt that Hamilton is a fabulous driver, and yesterday's race proved - if any further proof was necessary - that the best man won.


Nearing the halfway point of the CFL season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were mired in a terrible funk, with a record of 1-6.  It wasn't quite as bad as it might seem; the entire Eastern Division was so bad that 1-6 was still enough to be in contention for first place.  As if that weren't bad enough, the Ti-Cats' new stadium, Tim Horton's Field, was behind schedule, and the team had to play its first three home games at a small college field that afforded them - nothing.

But on Labour Day, the stadium finally opened, and the 'Cats fortunes changed.  They went undefeated at Tim Horton's, winning all six of their regular season games there, and went 8-3 down the stretch, including a must-win against Montreal in the final game of the season*, to finish at 9-9.  Not that impressive, perhaps, but good enough to finish in first place, earning a first-round bye in the playoffs.  Yesterday, their opponent in the East Finals, with a spot in the Grey Cup on the line, was again Montreal.

*Had the Ti-Cats lost that final game, they would have finished at 8-10, and the Toronto Argonauts would have slipped into the final playoff position.  It was that tight.

The game was played in Hamilton, before a sold-out crowd, and although Montreal jumped out to an early lead, the feeling was that this was going to be Hamilton's day.  More specifically, it was Brandon Banks' day.  The Hamilton punt-returner had one touchdown called back because of a penalty, but it wasn't enough to stop him, as he returned two subsequent punts for touchdowns in a tremendous performance that led the Tabbies to a 40-24 victory, and a trip to Vancouver for next week's Grey Cup.

It's the second Cup appearance in a row for Hamilton, which was routed last year by Saskatchewan, in a forgettable game.  They'll be facing the Western champion Calgary Stampeders, who finished the regular season with a league-best record of 15-3, blew off Edmonton in yesterday's nightcap (43-18), and will be heavy favorites to take the Cup next Sunday.  But for us Hamilton fans who believe in signs, we have a few things going for us.  The last time the Tiger-Cats won the Grey Cup, in 1999, they were also playing in their second consecutive championship, having lost the year before.  And that 1999 game was also played in Vancouver, against the same Calgary Stampeders, who were favored to win.  The Tiger-Cats defeated them 32-21 that year - will history repeat itself this season?

After all, if yesterday tells us anything, it's that you shouldn't bet against anyone named Hamilton.

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