Hamilton Tiger Cats superfan Paul Cicero at Tim Hortons Field, where he’s seen hundreds of football games.
(Thomas Froese Photo)

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(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, November 27, 2021)

One day Paul Cicero’s dad bought him a Hamilton Ticats hat and sat the boy in Ivor Wynne Stadium to watch a game. Then TC, the Ticats’ mascot, came by, took the hat, and pretended to consume Paul’s head, before leading the stadium in a roaring cheer. It was 1987. Paul was six.

It’s just one Ticats story – Paul is full of them – that runs deep and alongside stories of Paul’s family. They’re stories that also give you the feeling that if sports teams, never mind families, have ghosts, then maybe they’re nearby.

Paul’s father, Charlie, a long-time Hamilton insurance broker, saw about 300 Ticats games, starting shortly after the team was birthed. That was in 1950, after the Hamilton Tigers, a revered football club dating to the 1880s, merged with the Hamilton Wildcats.

Later Charlie took his kids – Paul and his two siblings – to games, but Paul especially found his place. From age six to 18, he never missed a home game, and only then to go to university. In 1999, Paul traveled from Halifax, met up in Toronto with his dad, before the two flew west to watch their beloved Ticats win the Grey Cup in Vancouver.

That was Hamilton’s last CFL championship, and a marker of Paul’s connection with his father. Charlie Cicero died in 2015, and Paul took over his insurance brokerage. Or, more accurately, Calogero Cicero died. (Charlie had reverted to his birth name after his Uncle Calogero, who he was named after, appeared in a dream and asked him what the “Charlie” stuff was all about.)

In 2016, Paul attended every Ticats game, home or away. “I’d never heard of anyone doing it.” So he drove and took trains to Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, and flew to games in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Vancouver. Some 20,000 km later, it became Paul’s tribute.

“I got a new appreciation of the travel these guys do. It also gave me the chance to see Canada.” When the Ticats learned about superfan Paul Cicero, they had him lead the team onto the field for that season’s final game. Now a 2016 commemorative jersey is displayed in his home.

Naturally, Paul, who’s on a first-name basis at the Ticats store at Tim Hortons Field, has jerseys and gear. Not that everyone understands. Ticats legend Angelo Mosca – the winner of four Grey Cups as a Ticat who died recently at 84 – once gave Paul’s father an old Hamilton jersey of his. Charlie, then a teenager, wore the already spent jersey into such a threadbare state that his mother, never imagining its value, tossed it.

Then there’s Paul’s “Nana,” his mother’s mother, 107 and still in her Stoney Creek home of seven decades. “She reads the Spec every day, and the sports just for the Ticats news so she can talk to me.”

There are more stories. Too many for today’s paper. Dates and scores and plays flow easily from Paul’s memory. As do names of players, especially locals – Hitchcock and Morreale and Smith among them – like they’re old friends.  Or what about the live tigers the Ticats would bring, caged, to home games? To rattle opponents. (We’re looking at you, Toronto Argos.)

After seeing hundreds of Ticats games, Paul has also collected some memories with opposing fans. (We’re still looking at you, Argos). He’d like a few more. With this year’s Grey Cup in Hamilton, Dec. 12, the Ticats could vie for a national title at home. It’s a rarity in football. First they need to beat Montreal tomorrow, then Toronto in the CFL Eastern final next weekend.

The Grey Cup remains among Canada’s most venerable institutions. This one, the 108th, will ramp up with the Grey Cup’s week-long festival, something even Paul has never attended. It’s expected to bring tens of millions of dollars into Hamilton region. Then the game.

And then, who knows? Maybe even a ghost or two will show up.