The team for you? The Ottawa REDBLACKS

The team for you? The Ottawa REDBLACKS
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Are the Ottawa REDBLACKS the team for you? We recently ran an article giving you some pointers as to which CFL team you might want to support. It was about making the right choice for you.

That was a brief introduction to each team. Following on from that I thought it might be fun to look at each of the nine teams in a little more depth. Especially because, in that article we noted, “You need to find an affinity. Feel a connection. Have something that makes them, however they perform, very much your team.”

We started with a look at the the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Staying in the East Division, this time it’s the turn of the Ottawa REDBLACKS. Is there something here that will create a connection? Let’s see.

The Stadium

TD place stadium is the home of the RedBlacks. Image from ottawaredblacks.com

The REDBLACKS play at TD Place Stadium. The 24,000 seat stadium hosts the REDBLACKS and was previously also home to the Ottawa Fury FC a Canadian football (soccer) team that competed in the USL and NASL. In their place the REDBLACKS now share the stadium with Atlético Ottawa who play in the Canadian Premier League.

Before TD place however, this ground had a long and storied history. Whilst the stadium has developed over time the playing field has existed since the 1870s, and a stadium has been in place since 1908. For many years, the stadium was known as Lansdowne Park, after the grounds in which it was located.

It was renamed in 1993 to honour Frank Clair, coach and general manager for the Ottawa Rough Riders during the 1960s and 1970s. In fact the ground has housed each iteration of Ottawa CFL football teams, the Rough Riders, played at the field from their inception in 1876 until 1996, when the team ceased operations. A successor team, the Ottawa Renegades, played at the stadium from 2002 until 2005. Now, the Redblacks, have played at the stadium since 2014.

TD place also has college football (U Sports) as from the 1870s onward, the field has been home to University of Ottawa’s Gee-Gees football team. The stadium is home to the Panda Game, an annual game between the cross-city rivals, the Carleton University Ravens and the Gee-Gees.

7 Grey Cups have been contested on this site in 19251939194019671988, (all as Lansdowne Park) 2004, (Frank Clair stadium) & 2017 (TD Place).

The History

The REDBLACKS are the newest franchise in the CFL. They were awarded a franchise in 2008, started football operations in 2013 and played their first season as an expansion club in 2014 finishing with a 2-16 record. However there has been football in Ottawa, on and off, for much longer than this. The Ottawa Football club was founded in 1876. They would later become better known as the Ottawa Rough Riders. Arguably the greatest CFL team to be gone but not forgotten.

Despite a brief hiatus in the 1920’s when they were known as the Senators, the Rough Riders survived from 1876-1996. Ottawa had one of the oldest football franchises in North America up to that point. The Rough Riders won the Grey Cup nine times, last wining it in 1976 & last appearing in the big game in 1981.

Post Rough Rider Football in Ottawa

After the sad demise of this once proud franchise following the 1996 season Ottawa was without a CFL team. That changed in 2002 when the Ottawa Renegades appeared. The Renegades struggled financially and went 23-49 over 4 years before disappearing.

That was the last CFL team in Ottawa until the REDBLACKS were awarded a franchise in 2008. Wikipedia states that “For historical purposes, the CFL classifies the REDBLACKS, Renegades and Rough Riders as one discontinuous franchise.” But the REDBLACKS are still seen as an expansion franchise that has only played six seasons.

A legendary Canadian Quarterback

Russ Jackson in action for the Ottawa Rough Riders. Image from OttawaCitizen

One of the Rough Riders most beloved players was Canadian QB Russ Jackson. It’s probably fair to say that Jackson is universally accepted as the best Canadian QB in CFL history. He played his entire career with the Ottawa Rough Riders and in his early years split the QB duties with another CFL Hall of Famer, Ron Lancaster.

Between 1958 and 1969 Russ Jackson made 137 starts for Ottawa throwing for 24,593 yards and 185 touchdowns. All in a much less pass friendly era. He also ran for over 5,000 yards notching 54 touchdowns along the way. He was named Most Outstanding Canadian 4 times, and league MOP 3 times, as well as winning 3 Grey Cups before being inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

His Rough Riders #12 shirt is the only retired REDBLACKS shirt number. If you wanted to see him in action you can find 1960’s Grey Cup portal games to do just that. And there is a great article by Marshall Ferguson on Jackson in the Grey Cups here.

The Ottawa REDBLACKS connection to the Past

Initially the team owners had wanted to revive the Rough Rider name in Ottawa. They even acquired the Rough Riders intellectual properties, including their trademarks, from the previous owner.

Objections from those associated with the Saskatchewan Roughriders scuppered a return for the Eastern Riders name however. The italicized R seen on the REDBLACKS helmet is a tribute to the block R seen on the Rough Rider helmets of the past.

They may be an expansion franchise. But the REDBLACKS can also be viewed as part of a twice interrupted tradition of football dating back to 1876 in the city.

The Ottawa REDBLACKS today

Ottawa REDBLACKS fans will not look back on their latest CFL season (2019) with any fondness. How did it all go wrong? The REDBLACKS won their first grey Cup in 2016. It was one of the best championship games of the decade. (Of course if you do accept all the Ottawa teams as one non-continuous entity, like Montreal, then their first Grey Cup win came in 1925 as the Ottawa Senators).

The REDBLACKS team has an all time regular season record of 44-62-2. Yet from 2015-2018 they went 39-31-2 in the regular season and 3-1 in the playoffs. This includes 3 East Division titles, 3 Grey Cup appearances and 1 championship win.

REDBLACKS fans could excuse a 2-16 expansion year. Football was back, and Ottawa was possibly more competitive than the final record suggests. Yet in 2019 they went 3-15, worst in the CFL, and missed the playoffs. This was one year removed from an 11-7 season and Grey Cup appearance too.

It is hard to know how Ottawa will perform in 2021. A cancelled season means everybody is looking at the CFL teams and guessing how they will perform against each other to a certain extent. Ottawa will return with a different looking squad that will have lost marquee players. Key losses include Canadian WR Brad Sinopoli & one of the great number one draft picks of the 2010’s lineman Alex Mateas.

Despite all that, maybe a break can give Ottawa fans the chance to hope a rebuild will help. Whatever happens, it will be a new era in Ottawa. After the 2019 season Head Coach Rick Campbell left, and now they have their second ever coach, Paul Lapolice, who was offensive coordinator for the 2019 Grey Cup winning Blue Bombers.

Are they right for you?

There are nine teams to choose from. This is the second. But could the REDBLACKS be the ones for you? One connection for UK fans might be that we have had coverage of the CFL from BT sport in 2014, the first year the Ottawa REDBLACKS played.

Another might be kicker Lewis Ward. He set the Pro Football record for consecutive Field Goals made hitting on 69 straight on a stretch of success covering parts of the 2018 & 2019 CFL seasons. In October 2019 he hit a 56-yard field goal, the longest in Ottawa professional football history.

But why might this bring you to the REDBLACKS? Ward is a Canadian citizen but he was born in England and only moved to Canada just before beginning high school. Maybe he can be a gateway for UK based fans who take a casual interest in the three down game. And, in particular, the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

Banner Image from ottawaredblacks.com

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