Geoff Connor doesn’t remember the first time he saw Pigskin Pete, the bowler hat-wearing head cheerleader of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It would have likely been when he was a toddler, as he’s been going to Ticat games since he was a little one.
But it was definitely Paul Weiler — number three of five Pigskin Petes. After a public search conducted on social media by the Ticats, Geoff was selected to be the next incarnation.
The Pigskin Pete character has been around since the 1920s, when Hamilton had two football teams: the Tigers and the Wildcats. The Canadian Football Hall of Fame, conveniently located in the new Tim Hortons Field, has a football on display with the original lyrics of the Oskie Wee Wee chant scrawled across it, along with an image of a tiger. The chant was a little different back then. Pigskin Pete would encourage fans to scream out, “Oskee wa wa! Whisky wee wee! Holy mackinaw! Tigers! Eat ’em raw! Wow!” Over time the chant morphed to the familiar “Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa! Holy mackinaw! Tigers! Eat ’em raw!”
Vince Wirtz was the original Pigskin Pete, who wore the famous bowler hat, along with a full length fur coat, and often chomping down on a cigar. After he retired in 1966, his son Bill Wirtz became the new Pigskin Pete. He retired after the 1975 season. Paul Weiler, a retired Dofasco locomotive operator and bus driver, became the next long-running Pigskin Pete. His tenure lasted 31 seasons, ending in 2003. When he passed, his obituary in the Hamilton Spec detailed just how famous the character had made him. Even while canoeing down remote parts of South America, Paul was recognized by fans. Geoff remembers Paul as being really gentle, approachable, and nice — all great qualities in a mascot.
Dan Black took over from Paul in 2008, but resigned after 10 seasons last year, citing a need to focus on family. “Dan was really energetic. Super excitable and heavily into the games. He did a great job getting everybody hyped up for the games,” Geoff recalls.
Who is Geoff Connor? First and foremost, he’s a Hamiltonian. He grew up in the city, going to school near the original Ivor Wynne Stadium. He’s been going to games since he was a baby. He teaches as a supply teacher across the city. He’s wrestled in the local wrestling circuit for years as Jim Nye the Science Guy. Less than a month after retiring his character, he came across this. He asked around his circle of friends before he took the jump: “Should I do this?” Everyone said yes, of course. When they think of Tiger-Cats, Geoff’s name inevitably pops up as their number one fan. “[The Ticats and my] history are intertwined. So they gave me a lot of support to do it.”
He released his video a week before the contest closed and it was immediately picked up by friends and supporters from his wrestling days, including professional wrestler Santino Marella, who reshared it to his 1.1 million followers.
“Wrestling fans are really loyal,” Geoff explains. They quickly reshared and spread the word about Geoff’s campaign. “It was really uplifting to see [wrestling fans] come to my side.”
Geoff’s roots with the Ticats run deep in his family, too. His mother was a majorette in the fifties and a junior cheerleader for the team in the sixties. “She was always the one that took me to games,” Geoff recalls. His great uncle had season tickets they would borrow. “I’ve been going to games literally longer than I can remember. I talk about the team like they’re my children.”
In his audition video, you can see a very blurry Geoff, probably about ten years old wearing black and yellow, streaking through the old Ivor Wynne Stadium stands, gripping a Ticats flag in one hand, the other outstretched, cheering at the top of his lungs as he runs from one end of the aisle to the other. He still owns that flag and has since passed it down to his own son, who, at just over ten months is likely going to need a bit more time before he’s let loose into the stadium. But probably not that much more. He’ll be able to watch his father from the stands as he leads 25,000 people in one of the most well-known Canadian football chants.
Geoff wants to bring a mixture of Paul’s approachable personality and Dan’s excitability to the character. “I really want to get along with everyone, especially with kids. Work on getting kids involved and invested in the games. But at the same time, [I want to] work on bringing the energy level up and getting the fans going in a game, cheering on our defense, cheering on our players. Somewhere in between those two guys is where I think I’m going to try and position myself.”
Geoff is still coming to grips with the idea that he’s actually been chosen as the new Pigskin Pete. “It’s the dream that I never knew I could ever have. I never thought that I would be that guy. I’m still trying to understand what being Pigskin Pete is, but it means so much to me.”
Geoff’s first game as Pigskin Pete was at Tim Hortons Field on June 6th in the preseason opener against the Toronto Argonauts.