April 22nd, 2018

Inside the CFL: Grey Cup host Ottawa boasts rich football history

By None on November 20, 2017.

Nine years after Confederation, the Ottawa Football Club was formed. They won their first game over Aylmer at Jacques Cartier Square when Sir Percy Sherwood kicked a single. They captured their first Grey Cups as the Senators in 1925 and ’26. They won seven more as the Rough Riders between then and 1976. (Before 1925 they were named after Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders from the Spanish-American War, 1898. When they switched to Senators, the Regina Football Club adopted the name.)

Twenty years ago, the Rough Riders folded and their Western counterparts had to mount a desperate S.O.S. campaign to avoid a similar fate. The league with two Roughrider teams was in danger of having none. Saskatchewan survived and wentfrom third place to a Grey Cup loss to Toronto. They also became the richest team in the league. Ottawa returned to the CFL as the Renegades in 2001. They lasted four seasons, winning 23 of 72 games, no play-off appearances. A big part of the problem was bad ownership. It wasn’t the fans. Ottawa had been a solid football town for 120 years, not only supporting their pro teams but also the University of Ottawa Gee Gees and Carleton Ravens as well as the junior Sooners.

In 2008, local entrepreneurs Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy, Jeff Hunt, William Shenkman and John Pugh were awarded a CFL franchise.

They had deep pockets and they took their time. Unlike previous owners who lived in the States, the Glieberman brothers of Detroit (the Commissioner who arranged that sale was J. Donald Crump. Remind you of anybody?) and the inscrutableHorn Chen from Chicago,(most team GMs couldn’t recall ever meeting him),these men loved their city and wanted it to be first-class in every way. In 2010 City Council partnered with them to refurbish Landsdowne Park. Three years later, the first GM, Marcel Desjardins was in place. He hired Stampeder assistant Rick Campbell as head coach. From a football outfit that had folded twice in 10 years, the controversially-named Redblacks became the most successful expansion team in Canadian professional sports history, losing the Grey Cup game to Edmonton in only their second season and winning it over the prohibitively favoured Stampeders last year.

When the Renegades were born, they were immediately awarded the 2004 Grey Cup to help get the new group off to a good start. They were no better at that than running a football team. When the Redblacks came into existence, they were awarded the 105th Grey Cup game to celebrate our country’s 150th birthday. This time, Bytowners will be pulling out all stops to make sure it is the greatest ever. Although the good folks of our nation’s capital wish their beloved Redblacks were defending their title Sunday, they will put aside their disappointment and lavish all visitors with eastern hospitality. The town that fun forgot? Not on your life.

There will be concerts, parades, the Spirit of Edmonton, Riderville, Calgarians flipping flapjacks, street festivals, Touchdown Manitoba, Gridiron Gals, the Flutie Brothers Band and more, all capped off with what should be a thrilling finale on Sunday at TD Place in the venerable Lansdowne area, site of so many great football moments for well over 100 years.

This will be the seventh time Ottawa has hosted the Grey Cup festival. The first in the modern era was our centennial year, 1967 when one of the greatest defensive teams in league history, Angelo Mosca and his Hamilton Tiger-Cats trounced Ron Lancaster and his Saskatchewan Roughriders 24-1. In 1988, Winnipeg staged a stirring comeback to defeat B.C., 22-21. In 2004, 41 year old grandfather Damon Allen, coached by the youngest bench boss in the league, 39 year old Pinball Clemons,led his Argos to an upset victory over Wally Buono’s B.C. Lions, 27-19. His quarterback was Dave Dickenson, even though his starter for most of that season Casey Printers won the 2004 Most Outstanding Player Award. That year the stadium was in terrible condition and the festival a dud. The new ownership has ensured none of that will be repeated this week.

For family and football reasons, Ottawa has a special place in my heart. I am looking forward to attending and covering my 43rd Grey Cup.

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 45 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com.

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