Football: Mac's title defence begins with so-so game, but great environment

Today we welcome a guest post from Scott Hastie, the new assistant sports editor at The Silhouette, on the atmosphere surrounding McMaster's first home game since their Vanier Cup championship.

On Monday afternoon, the Marauders took the field for the first time since their Vanier Cup championship, in front of a sold-out Ron Joyce Stadium.

The game itself was nothing memorable, with Mac dominating as you can see in the highlights below, but the atmosphere in the stadium was special, to say the least.

In addition to the Vanier celebrations, the home opener was tied in with McMaster’s Welcome Week and the stands were full of wide-eyed first year students, ready to cheer on their football team — and not just for the first half. The students were donning their dorm colour t-shirts while the McMaster spirit squad, nicknamed the Maroons, led the first-years in chants for the entire game.

The game began with a ceremonial kickoff, led by McMaster football alumnus and decorated Olympian rower Jerry Brown. The silver medallist (and former offensive tackle) received a warm welcome from the Hamilton crowd, but the buzz for Brown did not compare to the anticipation for the McMaster squad. As the team gathered at centre-field for a huddle, the record attendance crowd gave the Maroon and Grey a standing ovation, drowning out any and all attempts for conversation for those of us in the press box.

Impressively, the fans in attendance remained in their seats throughout, despite the McMaster lead reaching 22 points at the half and swelling to 43 in the fourth quarter. This year, football means something to the Mac community and the crowd made it very clear: if you come to Ron Joyce, be prepared to experience what home-field advantage looks like. The fans pulled no punches, chanting “Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye” at the end of the fourth quarter, rubbing the loss in the face of a young Guelph squad that had received some Top 10 votes in the preseason poll.

It was a new experience for an OUA event. The vibe in the stadium was full of optimism and the hope of a repeat. Yes, it was a game where first-year students could get in for free, but general admission tickets for upper-year students had sold out a week before the game, and season ticket sales are up 40%.

The fan support is definitely there, as you'd expect with a defending champion. It remains to be seen whether McMaster will have the same success this year, but the road back to the Vanier Cup began here on Monday, and the home team could not have asked for a better start.
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  1. I suppose it isn't a stretch to have expected that the Vanier honeymoon was going to make for a great Mac experience this year. However, I can't help but wonder if the university and its athletic department have been working to consolidate the gains of that goodwill and enthusiasm. Ask Laurier, the gains that a championship run and era of dominance grant a program eventually plays itself out. Don't get me wrong, University Stadium is still a fun place to catch a game but there has been a degree of apathy present, the last couple of years. Here's hoping Mac is considering and working on measures to further brand this year's vibrant football experience with the broader student, alumni, and Hamilton community.

  2. SFHS: I can tell you that was a concern of at least the coaching staff as early as last December. OC/Assistant HC/Crazy playbook guy Jon Behie said they wanted to avoid the lull in interest that followed their Yates Run from 2000-03 and try and make Mac football something people were interested even when they weren't Vanier contenders.