On Saturday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the last CFL game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. It's scheduled for demolition next month, to be replaced by a new $145.7-million state-of-the-art facility the Ticats will call home in 2014.
The stadium will also host men's and women's soccer games during the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Hage, 31, has spent his nine-year CFL career in Hamilton but won't play Saturday due to a triceps injury. Regardless, the storied 84-year-old stadium will always be special to him.
"It's like your grandma's house," Hage said. "It's old, it's comfortable, it's home.
"You look at the walls, you look at old pictures and, wow, history was made here with all these great players. That's the feel of this place to me. I played in places that had state-of-the-art everything but this brought me back to the essence of why we're here, to play football.
"The saddest part is being unable to bring my kids here one day and tell them this is where I played. I'll bring them to the same location but not the same vibe. It's going to look like a new stadium and they might enjoy it better but to me it'll never be the same.''
The new stadium will be built on the same parcel of land where Ivor Wynne currently stands in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. It's also where the then-Civic Stadium hosted the 1930 British Empire Games — now known as the Commonwealth Games.
"We have the only stadium that's perched in the middle of a neighbourhood," said former Ticats receiver Earl Winfield. "You've got a high school next door, just normal work folk live up and down the street so the uniqueness of this place is it's truly a community-based team.
"I can't say I'm going to miss it ... but the thing about it is it's going to be bigger and better. The stadium is going down but the site is still the same ... so all it's going to do is move into the future.''
The new facility will have an initial seating capacity of 22,500 that will increase to 24,000 for Ticats games and could expand to 40,000 for major events like the Grey Cup. The field will shift 90 degrees to a north-south axis from the east-west format at Ivor Wynne to minimize the effect of the sun on athletes and reduce wind inside.
It will also feature 700 club seats, 400 group sales suites seats, 30 VIP suites, six elevators, larger seats, updated press and broadcasting facilities and concession stands on all levels.
Ivor Wynne Stadium currently holds 29,600 fans for football and provides terrific sightlines. However, its washrooms are outdated, many patrons must watch games on bench seats while corporate boxes are very limited — all significant challenges the Ticats face in trying to attract new fans.
One of Ivor Wynne's charms is the proximity of fans to the field.
They're close enough to the teams on the sidelines to heckle players and coaches. Seats are also located above the cramped visitors' locker-room that rarely offered air-conditioned relief on sweltering summer evenings or enough heat in the fall.
In 2005, Toronto's Bashir Levingston received a one-game suspension for throwing his helmet following an altercation with spectators in that area.
Ticats slotback Dave Stala knows firsthand about the issues surrounding the visitors' changeroom. The 10-year veteran grew up in Hamilton and used it for high school football games at Ivor Wynne as well as over his first six CFL seasons with the Montreal Alouettes.
"When you come out of there, fans are heckling you and can pour stuff on you from the top," he said. "The other thing is there's no heat in there and the showers overflow.''
Stala, 32, acknowledges Ivor Wynne's historical significance but says it's time Hamilton got a new stadium.
"It is pretty historic and growing up I booed the other team a lot and watched the '96 Grey Cup here, which was pretty exciting," Stala said. "And then there was putting this jersey on here the first time.
"It has been a lot of fun but the fans and players definitely deserve a new stadium. Hopefully we can shut it down with a win.''
Hage said Ivor Wynne's demise reflects what's happening throughout Hamilton.
"It's becoming a great city, a better city, a more up-to-date city," he said. "The city is transforming to compete with all the big cities in the country and the stadium is a parallel to what's happening in the city.''
But there's plenty Hage will miss about Ivor Wynne, most notably walking through the players' tunnel to get to the field.
"You're underneath people and all of a sudden within two, three steps you start hearing the crowd but you can't understand what's happening, especially the Labour Day game when the crowd is chanting, 'Argos Suck,' and the game hasn't started," he said. "Then you come out and in three steps all this is in your face.
"I always took that walk before games alone ... to gather my thoughts. I'm going to miss it.''
But for Hage, nothing will beat the electricity of a sold-out Ivor Wynne Stadium on Labour Day against archrival Toronto.
"In my rookie year in '04 there were six, seven ejections and fighting and I was like, 'What's going on here?' Hage said with a chuckle. "The atmosphere, the fights, the crowd ... it's just a different feel.
"We practise here all the time so you take it for granted, you don't look up in the stands. On gameday it gets loud, it gets rough and you listen to the crowd and the chants and you look up and it's, 'Whoa.' It looks bigger all of the sudden, like the stadium has a voice. It's a magical place.''
Playing on Labour Day also remains a top memory for Winfield.
"It was probably the high point of my career," he said. "They say as we grow older we get to an age where we actually peak and I think that's the point where I peaked with the help of 11 other guys.
"I remember looking up into the stands and it looked like they were right there on top of me. It's crazy when it's full like that. It's loud. They love their Hamilton Tiger-Cats and definitely let you know.''
A perennial fan favourite in Hamilton was defensive end Grover Covington, who had a league-high 157 career sacks during his 11 seasons in Steeltown. In 1986, Covington was the defensive MVP in the Ticats' 39-15 Grey Cup win over Edmonton.
The Canadian Football Hall of Famer said he remembers all of his sacks, but especially those he registered at Ivor Wynne.
"I never really got excited making a tackle or hitting a running back,'' he said. "But there's something about hitting the quarterback ... I just enjoyed it when I got the sack and it pumped up the crowd.
"They're great fans, I loved it when this place was packed and they just went crazy.Suggest a correction