In June there was a short preview in Guelph, but that was an exhibition game where hardly anyone was present. And it’s this Friday at Tim Hortons Field when the full impact will fall on Hamilton fans like a plummeting anvil smashing Wile E. Coyote.
But how unnatural will it feel in Toronto Saturday night when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats take to the playing field and Brandon – trade name ‘Speedy’ – Banks wears number 16 there, but in Argo colors? Double blue is to Ticats Crazies what red is to a bull and here is Hamilton’s all-time career return leader, second best touchdown scorer and fifth highest reception leader, dressed head to toe in the same uniform he so stripped . many bodies of Argos?
Banks played 111 mostly dynamic regular season games for Hamilton from 2013 to 2021. A full 20 of those were against Hamilton’s historical, geographic and symbolic arch-rivals, but this will be the first against the Ticats.
“I’ll be honest, it’s getting weird. You know how much I love the players and the fans there and how much respect I have for the organization,” Banks told The Spectator. “When I go to the locker room at Tim Hortons Field next week, I’ll be like, ‘Man , I’m really on the other side’, but it will feel strange on Saturday too.”
Banks is one of the most, if not the most entertaining players to ever spend any length of time in a Ticat uniform. He personified potential, a wiry threat to do something unique every time a pass or kick went up in his general direction. A small, but tough master of creating excited anticipation.
When June Jones transferred him from mostly special teams to mostly receiver and held on to Jeremiah Masoli at the other end, there hasn’t been another pass-catch tandem in the CFL that looked this good for at least two years. In 2018-19, he had 24 touchdown receptions in 30 games. He was the runaway winner of the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award in 2019, the best regular season in Hamilton’s history.
Consider this. At their current touchdown rate, the entire Ticats team – offense, defense and special teams – would be deep in 2024 to match the 65 majors Banks scored in his time here.
Injuries, age (34) and the long layoff from the pandemic may have delayed him one step, maybe two, but he is completely healthy and still leads the Argos with three touchdowns, one more than he had with the Ticats last year. winter decided to part ways with their signature 21st Century receiver.
“Speedy has been a focal point of this organization for a long time,” said Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer. “A future Hall of Famer. I have a lot of love for him as a person, and what he does on the pitch speaks for itself. He can still score anywhere on the pitch and they use him in the return game. We’ll have our hands full.”
The Argos have a talented and deep receiving corps and with Eric Rogers and DaVaris Daniels returning from injury, Banks is on Saturday’s depth chart as a backup, not a starter. But that’s only for the first part. Expect him to play in different spots throughout the match, especially if Toronto falls behind.
“A guy like Speedy, he’s always able to hit a home run,” said Ticat cornerback Jumal Rolle, who will sometimes have to cover for him, as he so often did in practice. “We have to be aware of where he is at all times and respect what he brings into play.”
Banks often played from his most comfortable location, on the short side of the field when he was at his best in Hamilton on the wide side. He is the first to point out that he has missed some balls this season that he could have brought in.
“I’m not catching the ball as well as I’d like right now,” he says. “Why? I don’t know. Me and Mac (quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson) have been communicating a bit wrong. Mainly it’s me. Every time I have it in my hands I have to grab it. I just think too much , doubting myself if I’m running the right route, I read that right.”
He asked the Argos for more return action and has scored five punts in the past two games. He lost quite a bit at the end of Toronto’s loss to Ottawa over the weekend, trying to make anything, anything, happen for a team that stumbled all over itself. But the week before, he had a great 35-yard return against Saskatchewan.
“That brought back that old feeling,” he said.
Banks says he is healthy and enjoying the game again after losing some of his taste for it in a difficult 2021 season. Much of his personal misfortune was due to injuries, and he won’t say more than that.
“I just want to show that I can still play football,” he says meeting the Ticats four times over the next five weeks. “I think some people in the management of (Ticat) had doubts, didn’t think I could play anymore.
“But I have nothing but love for everyone out there and I don’t go out to try to prove a point, or show anyone, I just go out to feel happy about playing, especially against guys I’m like” I have been against it for so long in practice.
“I’m over every sadness I had for not being in Hamilton. Who wouldn’t want to end their career in an organization like that? I didn’t want to leave there without the fans, the management, the city, Scott Mitchell and the other to give executives a Gray Cup, that organization really deserves it.
“That’s the only thing I regret.”