Hamilton Tiger-Cats legend and 7-time Grey Cup champion dead at 85

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Published January 12, 2022 at 6:07 pm

Don Sutherin, who was a contemporary of the great Angelo Mosca on the field and dialled up the defensive schemes for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ most recent Grey Cup champion, died on Tuesday.

Sutherin, who was 85 years old, died in hospital in Canton, Ohio, according to a report in the Columbus Dispatch. He is survived by his wife, Nancy, and their four daughters. Known universally as Sudsy, he was a seven-time Grey Cup champion — four times as a player (Hamilton 1963 and ’65, Ottawa ’68-69), twice as an assistant coach (Edmonton in 1987, Calgary in 1992) and, lastly but not leastly as the defensive coordinator of the ’99 Tiger-Cats.

Sutherin was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

Former players such as Mike Philbrick and Mike Morreale joined the string of tributes over Twitter.

Sutherin came to the Tiger-Cats in 1958 after being a big part of a co-national championship team with the Ohio State Buckeyes, where he a kicked a game-winning field goal in the Rose Bowl in his final game. He played for the legendary Woody Hayes, and decades later, would channel some of his college coach’s famed intensity.

Ken Kirkwood, a professor at Western University who had a tryout with the Tiger-Cats in the 1990s, called Sutherin “a nice man” and “probably the most intense coach I’ve ever seen.”

In eight of his 11 CFL seasons, Sutherin’s team played in the Grey Cup. He remains third on the Tiger-Cats career interceptions list with 35 in 86 games, including a team-record four in one game in 1961. He was also a four-time East Division all-star, and was voted by the fans to the Tiger-Cats’ all-time team.

Those 1960s Ticats teams included presences such as Mosca, Garney Henley, Bernie Faloney and Hal Patterson. Mosca died last fall at 84 from complications with Alzheimer’s disease.

Along with Hamilton and the Ottawa Rough Riders, Sutherin also played two NFL seasons with the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, and finished his CFL tenure with the Toronto Argonauts.

After retiring as a player and returning to the United States, Sutherin came back to the CFL as a coach in the early 1980s. The first Ottawa team he was involved with went to the Grey Cup, marking the last time the Rough Riders appeared in the championship game.

Sutherin was head coach of the Tiger-Cats from 1994 and ’97, at a time when the CFL and the franchise was fighting for its very economic survival. He was replaced in the top job early in his fourth season.

However, he came back as defensive coordinator the following season to help effect one of the greatest turnarounds in league history. Hamilton made a 10-win improvement — to 12-6 after a 2-16 season — and came within seconds of a Grey Cup win before losing to Calgary on a final-play field goal.

The next season, with rush end Joe Montford as their key defensive disruptor, the Tiger-Cats earned a rematch with Calgary and won handily.

Though not for a lack of trying, that remains the franchise’s most recent championship.

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