MOOSE JAW, Sask. -- The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been riding the bus all season, so a 70-kilometre trip to Moose Jaw to practise indoors Friday was just par for the course.
Without a home while their new stadium is built, the Ticats have bused to McMaster University to train and the University of Guelph to play "home" games. The daily commute has provided plenty of time for the team to bond and it shows.
On Friday, Hamilton players did their best -- and worst -- bird call imitations as they warmed up in the friendly confines of the YaraCentre. From burly linemen to their leader in quarterback Henry Burris, the Ticats squawked and whooped like kids on a sugar high.
It made for a loose, if somewhat irritating, spectacle ahead of Sunday's Grey Cup showdown with the favoured Saskatchewan Roughriders.
"All season, we've been doing it. It's kind of a team deal making a lot of bird noises," explained offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski. "The bus rides to and from McMaster gave us a lot of free time. It's just guys being kids and having fun. Making crow and duck and seagull etc. noises."
Dyakowski, a big man with a big brain who is slated to appear on "Jeopardy" in April, then essentially gave up trying to explain the cacophony.
"There's no real reason for it," he admitted. "It's just proof that football is a great deterrent to maturation."
Tiger-Cats coach Kent Austin laughed when asked about the bird calls, admitting he was glad he wouldn't have to hear them much longer.
"It's the players' football team, right?" he said. "I've told them that from the beginning. It's not our team, it's not my team. The players are going to make this team what they want it to be."
The bus rides have turned the Ticats into a real band of brothers who enjoy each other's company. On Friday, the team looked supremely loose before focusing on the business of practice.
"We've got a good crew, a good team," said Dyakowski. "We work well together. We know how to have a good time, we know how to get our work done."
Linebacker Jamall Johnson said the team may enjoy each other's company, but it still has its eye on the prize.
"We're just being ourselves. We know what we're here to do," said Johnson. "Nobody's relaxed or complacent or just happy to be here. We're here to win the Cup and that's our goal. You don't have to be serious and not enjoy your teammates and your coaches and where we are to get that done.
"We've been through a lot this year and we know what it takes. ... we may be, (as) you call it, relaxed but we're focused and we're ready to play ball."
The Hamilton players may also have got some added motivation for the CFL Awards show Thursday night, which came across as somewhat of a Riderville love-in.
The Ticats have endured hardships to get here. The 10-8 team lost four of its first five games this season before going on a 9-4 run. Hamilton enters Sunday's championship game on a four-game win streak and has lost just one of its last seven outings.
"I love it," said the 30-year-old kicker. "You never know how long you can play for. Any moment you can share with guys like this, it's an amazing opportunity. You build team chemistry."
Austin has been around football long enough to know what time together can lead to.
"We've got a pretty close team and the guys believe in each other. The bus trips help. Any time that they can spend together as a group, you're either going to make the most of it or you're going to let it aggravate you or frustrate you. Our guys didn't do that so it's a real credit to them."
"They didn't have any issues about jumping on a bus and driving down here. No big deal," said Austin. "They came to work."