Moving on with our Three-Down Theatre series of season previews, here's a look at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a team looking for accomplishments both on and off the field.
Film: The Princess Bride.
There are plenty of crossovers between Rob Reiner's adaptation of William Goldman's book and this Ticats' team, and they start with Hamilton's new coach. Much like film hero Westley (Cary Elwes), George Cortez has been absent from the main scene for several years; while Westley was off serving with the Dread Pirate Roberts, Cortez was off toiling in the college (2002-05) and NFL (2010-2011) ranks, and both have since returned in more prominent roles. Westley came back as the famed pirate, while Cortez has returned to the CFL as a head coach, and both are out on crucial missions with ticking clocks: Westley wanted to save his love Buttercup before she married the evil Prince Humperdinck, while Cortez is determined to earn a Grey Cup in Hamilton in the last season before the Tiger-Cats' travelling road show. Both additionally have tough exteriors, too; Westley first returns dressed in black as a frightening pirate, while Cortez's sideline eruptions in practice and his gruffness with many media members haven't portrayed him as a likeable saviour. Westley's able to overcome that and win even one-time enemies to his side over the course of the film, though; we'll see if Cortez can do the same, and we'll find out just how much of a conqueror he is.
One of those previous enemies also has an analogue in Hamilton. That would be Spanish swordfighter Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), whose similarities to Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris can't be overlooked. Initially, both were villains; Montoya was in the service of Buttercup's kidnapper, Vizzini, while Burris has memorably starred with the Calgary Stampeders for most of the last decade. Both soon changed their stance, though; Montoya wound up joining Westley's cause in an attempt to get revenge on the six-fingered man who killed his father, while Burris came to Hamilton in a trade after losing his starting job in Calgary to Drew Tate, and he'd undoubtedly like some revenge on his former organization and his doubters around the league. It's unclear if Burris yet has a line to rival Montoya's ("Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."), but both have shown a willingness to work with unconventional allies in order to achieve their goals. We'll see if Burris' quest turns out as well as Montoya's did.
Montoya isn't the only one-time adversary who proves crucial to Westley's quest, as the massive Greenland-born Fezzik (memorably played by Andre the Giant) also winds up on the side of good. The closest parallel here in Hamilton is key free-agent acquisition Andy Fantuz, who's returned to his birthplace and college home in Southern Ontario to try and help the Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup after years tearing up the league with Saskatchewan. While Fantuz isn't as physically imposing as Fezzik (or teammate Sam Giguère, for that matter), he's still a huge addition for this team. In fact, between Fantuz, Giguère and Dave Stala, the team has three incredible Canadian receivers they could start, which could pave the way for keeping import linebacker (and 2010 CFL outstanding defensive player) Markeith Knowlton in the starting lineup. It sounds like that's unlikely for the moment, though, so the Tiger-Cats may fall victim to one of the classic blunders: beyond getting involved in land wars in Asia and going in against Sicilians when death's on the line, you also want to avoid "leaving good players out because of ratio concerns".
Another notable feature of The Princess Bride is the important roles played by characters without a lot of screen time. The most crucial of those might be healer Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal; he's only in the movie briefly, but manages to revive Westley from his "mostly dead" state and set him up for the final confrontation with Humperdinck. An example with this team might be the running back situation, which saw key free agent acquisition Martell Mallett knocked out for the year following an Achilles tear in training camp. That led to the team bringing back the recently-cut Avon Cobourne, whose CFL career may have proven to be only "mostly dead" (a few weeks back, he was selling insurance in Florida, but now he's back in professional football), and it's also led to the emergence of rookie Chevon Walker, who figured to be nothing more than an intriguing backup with minimal screen time while Mallett was healthy. It's unclear if Walker can have Miracle Max's impact, but the Tiger-Cats will need a strong running game from either him or Cobourne if they want to be serious Grey Cup contenders. We'll see if this story turns out as happily as Goldman's, or if it takes a darker turn along the way.
Prediction: 10-8 in the regular season thanks to their high-flying offence, first-round playoff win, loss in the East Final.
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