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CALGARY — The first time Brandon Banks heard the chant, in his first game in Hamilton years ago, he thought some oddly dressed guy had jumped out of the stands and made something up on the spot.
He didn’t know the history of Oskee Wee Wee. He didn’t know the significance.
“I didn’t know it was a thing,” he said. “Truth, I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what it is. I know it gets you riled up. I know it gets our crowd going. It’s tradition, I guess. That’s what Hamilton football is all about, tradition. I want to be part of that.”
It is part of the sound of Hamilton football. The chant for all generations of fans.
“Oskee Wee Wee
Oskee Wah Wah
Tigers … eat em raw.”
The greatest weird chant in CFL history. So what does it mean and where did it come from?
“I don’t know,” said Ted Laurent, the defensive lineman who has played six years for the Tiger-Cats. “For some reason, I never asked what it meant. I just went along with the flow. I don’t have a clue what it means but I love it, I really love it.”
There is no one story about where Oskee Wee Wee came from. But there are some vivid interpretations. One story traces the origins back to a rugby chant in New Zealand. Another one has it as a drinking chant of some kind: originally “Oskee Wee Wee, Whiskey Wah Wah.”
Another story goes to back to something called the Oski Yell at the University of California. The mascot being Oski the Bear. They had something that began like this:
“Oski Wow Wow
Whiskey Wee Wee”
That was in the early 1900s. And then the chants were altered accordingly.
The final line of the chant — Tigers, eat em raw — dates back to the 1920s, when the original purveyor of the cheer, Pigskin Pete, a man named Vince Wirtz, brought it to Hamilton football. There were two football teams in Hamilton in those days, the Tigers and the Wildcats. Hence the Tigers part of the cheer.
In 1950, the Tigers and the Wildcats merged, which brought the team name, Tiger-Cats. Wirtz was the chief cheerleader for more than 40 years before passing the hat to son, Bill, not the hockey owner. There have been three Pigskin Petes since.
And this much we know: the chant is older than the football team. And it’s really the only chant in Canadian football that instantly identifies the city and the team.
“I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know what it means,” said Delvin Breaux, the Ticats all-star defensive back. “But I think it’s dope. It’s pretty dope, man.
“It’s crazy but it’s our thing. We love it. It backs up the city. It means something to the people, it’s Steeltown, it’s hard-working people, hard-working football.”
A few weeks ago, Jamaal Westerman spent part of his bye week in San Diego. He was walking down the street and surprisingly someone recognized him.
They didn’t say hello, they didn’t say his name.
“All they said was ‘Oskee Wee Wee.’ It’s like being a member of a secret club,” the defensive lineman said. “He knew I was from Hamilton, I knew he was from Hamilton. We didn’t have to say anything else.
“There’s a real meaning to the cheer. To me, it means heart, it means togetherness, it means dedication, everything we’re trying to be with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It’s Hamilton, man. It’s who we are. It’s how we play. It’s toughness, it’s grit, it’s determination. But mostly, it’s a crazy few words about our city.”
The Grey Cup scoreboard as the weekend approaches: Hamilton cheer 1, Winnipeg, without a cheer, 0.
Around the league, Calgary has a horse, the Argos have an age-old derogatory cheer of Arrrrgggghhhos, the B.C. Lions had Crazy George, and in Saskatchewan, a man used to light himself on fire. Saner heads prevailed and The Flame was extinguished and Crazy George was put to pasture.
But Oskee Wee Wee endures.
And part of it has made its way into the language of hockey when longtime Ticats fan and Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Bowen started using ‘Holy Mackinaw’ as part of his regular play by play routine.
“The thing is, it’s Hamilton’s sound,” said linebacker Simoni Lawrence. “Anybody from Hamilton knows what it is and recognizes it. When I hear that, I think of grind-it-out-guys, that’s who we are. You ask me where it came from, I just laugh or shrug.”
Luke Tasker is just about the only Ticat player to have personally researched Oskee Wee Wee.
“It’s history,” said Tasker. “And it’s tradition. “Wherever it came from doesn’t matter now. It’s ours. It’s a Hamilton kind of thing. Oskee Wee Wee is one of those things, if you to ask what it is, you don’t get it.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019