The @20YardEndZone Podcast – Episode 4

The 20-Yard End Zone Podcast – Episode 4

The guys talk Khalif Mitchell, the CFL’s West division, the CFL draft, synthetic turf, the XFL and more! We’re also very pleased to be joined by UBC head coach Blake Nill who talked a bit about his #1-ranked Thunderbirds heading into the CIS football season.

Thanks for listening!

@DefendTheR

#TBT: Looking back with Pat Woodcock

By: Santino Filoso

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Today we catch up with Pat Woodcock, one of the most successful CFL players to come out of Ottawa. After finishing his college career at Syracuse University and a short stint in the NFL with the New York Giants (and later the Washington Redskins), Woodcock began his CFL career in Montreal. 2002 was a breakout year for Woodcock, culminating with a Grey Cup ring, a Grey Cup record and the Dick Suderman Trophy (awarded to the Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Canadian). In 2004 Woodcock signed with the Renegades and over the following two seasons made 64 catches for 860 yards and 5 TDs, averaging 13.4 yards per catch. Following the Renegades dispersal draft, Woodcock went on to play for Edmonton Eskimos and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before retiring in 2008.

Growing up were you a Rough Rider fan and did you ever imagine you’d play professionally at Lansdowne?

I think everyone at some point dreams of playing for their hometown team when they’re playing pickup games or dreaming about the future. As a kid, I had the chance to play during halftime of 1988 Grey Cup, which of course was an amazing experience. The Rough Riders folded just as I headed to Syracuse University to play college football, so it certainly wasn’t on my radar by that time.

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In the 90th Grey Cup (2002), you won the Most Valuable Canadian award and had a historic 99 yard touchdown play. Take us through it.

Field conditions were lousy, and it had been a really slow start to the game for both sides. During the week, we’d played around with different receiver formations to capitalize on match ups. For this play, I ended up in the slot closest to Anthony Calvillo on the wide side of the field. The route was called D97; the receiver outside of me had a “Go” or “9” route, and I was running diagonally across the field. Basically the safety had to choose one of us, and he chose poorly. As the ball got to me I could feel him just missing the tackle behind me, then it was a pure sprint to the end zone. When I got to the sideline, Chris Cuthbert told me that I’d set the record for longest TD reception in the Grey Cup. For a Canadian kid who grew up with the Grey Cup being the biggest day of the year, it was a pretty surreal moment.

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How would you describe your time with the Renegades?

I think the only way to describe it would be bittersweet. It was frustrating that we were never able to use the full talent of the players on our team and achieve more success. And the way we were treated by management was extremely disappointing, we all had such high hopes for the organization, but unfortunately the owners at the time had no interest in really trying to run a professional team.

On the other hand, I was able to fulfill a dream and play for the hometown team, and it was amazing being able to play in front of friends and family again after having been away for college and the early part of my pro career. Not to mention that of all the teams I played for, it’s the Renegades teammates that I’m most in contact with today.

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After the 2005 season, did the players have a feeling the Renegades were going to fold or did it catch you off guard?

I don’t know if we really thought the team would fold, but obviously we knew that things weren’t moving in a good direction. It wasn’t much of a surprise to be honest.

Why did you wear #16?

When I first started playing at 8 years old, they gave me #16. I changed numbers a couple of times when I was in high school, but then when I got to Syracuse they gave me #16 as well. I took that as a bit of a sign and just kept it after that.

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Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?

I think it’s easy to say the 2002 season; being named an all-star, winning the Grey Cup and the Top Canadian Award, and setting that record. But I’m proud of my career as a whole, I had a dream and a goal from a very young age and made a plan, worked really hard, and achieved everything I dreamed of. Not many people get to say that.

What was your most disappointing loss?

Probably the 2003 Grey Cup. I definitely felt like we had as good a team if not better than in ’02, but on that particular day things didn’t go our way. It would’ve been pretty special to win two Grey Cups back-to-back.

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Who is the funniest guy you ever played with?

Wow, that’s a really hard question, football locker rooms are pretty crazy places and I played for 8 years. If I had to pick one guy for all-round craziness and non-stop jokes, it would have to be Sherrod Gideon. He was a receiver for the Renegades in 2004 and I’m not sure that guy ever said a serious word in his life.

What are you currently doing for work?

I actually partnered with another former Renegade, Donnie Ruiz, and together we run Elite Performance Academy in Kanata. We’re a High Performance Athlete Development Program and we work with many of Ottawa’s top athletes. Our clients include professional and national level athletes from the NFL, CFL, NASL, NLL, Team Canada Baseball, Basketball and Taekwondo, Team Ontario Game Medalists, Team France Lacrosse, prep school athletes with scholarships in football, basketball and lacrosse. Not to mention over 60 NCAA and CIS athletes in every sport from football to soccer to rugby and rowing.

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If you had one piece of advice you could offer young football players, what would it be?

It’s actually that they’re playing too much football! With the way the various leagues (at least in Ontario) are set up, many young athletes are playing close to 30 football games in a single year. There are lots of issues with this, all stemming around the fact that because they are always playing, they never have a chance to just work on their individual game. They’re constantly beating down their bodies physically, and not spending any time actually developing the strength, speed, and skill required to compete at the next level.  It also means 30 games worth of collisions and head impacts, which surely is influencing the number of concussions we’re seeing in young players.

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Do you still keep in touch with a lot of your former teammates?

Yes, quite a few. As I mentioned, I work with Donnie Ruiz every day and we also run Elite Football Academy during the winter and have had a number of former teammates as part of our coaching staff, including Darren Joseph, Steve Glenn, Mike Sutherland.  Yo Murphy and Kerry Joseph are also involved in training athletes (in the States), so we keep in touch with them as well.

Now that you are retired, what do you most miss about playing in the CFL?

I miss the guys, and the competition. I’m lucky in that my post football career provides a little bit of both of those things; our staff and our athletes are kind of like being in a locker room and we compete with our athletes occasionally as part of their training and development. But it’s not quite the same, there’s nothing like a football family and going on the field each week and laying it on the line together.

Are you a Redblacks season ticket holder?

Yes sir and I’m looking forward to season two! There’s definitely a different feel to games when you’re watching from the stands.

Thanks for everything Pat and best of luck training the next generation of CFL athletes!

@RedBlackGade

– All images via Scott Grant Photography

#TBT: An Interview with Mike Vilimek

By: Santino Filoso

Mike Vilimek

Vancouver born and raised, today’s guest, Mike Vilimek, played RB and LB in high school before going on to set school records at Simon Fraser University. Drafted with the second of two 1st round picks the Renegades held in the 2002 CFL draft, Vilimek played for 3 years in Ottawa before signing with Montreal as a free agent in 2005.

As a Vancouver native, did you get out to a lot of Lions games as a kid?

Yes. My most memorable was the 1994 Grey Cup, when the Lions faced the Baltimore Stallions. I was only 15 at the time and was offered a pair of tickets at the last minute. After Lui Passaglia kicked the game-winning field goal for the Lions, the building erupted. It was a great experience.

 

You played university football at Simon Fraser, setting a school record for most rushing yards in a game with 315. What do you remember about that day?

Often when a back sets a rushing record, the game is a blowout. Not in this case. We were in a close back-and-forth match-up with Humboldt State University. We ended up needing every one of those yards to beat them 37-34. I also surpassed the SFU single season rushing record that game so it was a very special day for me.

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The Renegades selected you 2nd overall in the 2002 draft, did you feel any pressure being drafted so high?

Not really. All the excitement of the team’s inaugural season plus the fact that every player on the team was a first-year Renegade lessened the focus on rookies like myself. That being said, I had success running the ball in our first pre-season game which I think probably set higher expectations for me than being drafted 2nd overall did. Unfortunately, that success in the pre-season didn’t translate into opportunities to carry the ball in the regular season.

During your time in Ottawa you often were the lead blocker for Josh Ranek, who was nicknamed “The Little Ball of Hate”. As a FB why did you enjoy blocking for a guy like that?

Josh got that nickname because every time he touched the ball, he ran with it like he was angry. And he had a lot of success doing it. Off the field, he was very polite, no ego, and was one of the nicest guys on the team. Blocking for a guy like that is always fun.

A lot of people blame the Renegades ownership for being a distraction to the team, did you ever feel that way?

Not really. I can’t say it was ever a distraction to me as a player. However, I left for Montreal as a free agent after the 2004 season, so I never experienced ownership under the Gliebermans. But if you ask players from the 2005 season, they may have a different story.

Throughout your career you were a special teams ace, making numerous tackles on kick coverage. What’s the trick to containing a dangerous returner?

Usually a dangerous returner is going to be faster than you, so the only way to contain him is to use the sidelines, your teammates, and by keeping proper angles. You can’t allow him to turn it into a foot race because you’ll lose.

How did you pump yourself up before a big game?

Some guys like to listen to music or yell and jump up and down. My routine was more about visualization. I’d walk through the game in my mind and visualize the plays I would make. That way when the game started I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

What was the best hit you ever gave and the worst you received?

The best hit I gave was in a game versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. I lined up as a slot receiver just outside the defensive end. The play was designed to come wide to my side so at the snap of the ball, the defensive end came up field thinking he had a free run at the QB. He never saw it coming. It was one of those hits where the guy goes airborne. For the rest of the game, I could see him looking where I was lined up before each play.

The worst hit I received wasn’t one of those highlight real hits and it’s not the kind of hit many fans would even notice. When you’re in a pile of people and someone gets a running start at you, the momentum from the hit has no where to go but to be absorbed by your body. Those hits hurt the most.

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In 2005 you signed with Montreal and went on to become a goal line specialist, scoring 5 TDs that season. Did you do anything differently that year or was it just a case of the coach giving you an opportunity?

I never got much of a chance to contribute as a ball carrier with Ottawa. I had success running the ball in the pre-season three years in a row, (interestingly enough against Montreal, who I would eventually sign with as a free agent) but that pre-season success in Ottawa never transferred to opportunities in the regular season. In my first year with Montreal, they simply gave me the chance, and I ran with it, literally.

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Where do you feel is the toughest stadium in the CFL to go in and get a win?

Definitely BC Place. In my years with Ottawa and Montreal, we never once got a win at BC Place, regular season or playoffs. We could beat BC at home, but never at their place. Some blamed the 3 hour time change where a 7pm kickoff meant teams from back East were playing starting a game at 10pm. I don’t really buy that, but I don’t have a better explanation either.

Why #35?

When I arrived at SFU as a freshman, that happened to be the number that was available. After the success I had at the university level, I wanted to keep the same number. Fortunately I was able to get #35 as both a Renegade and as an Alouette.

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Are there any losses that still haunt you?

Yeah. The 2005 and 2006 Grey Cup games. I got to play in two Grey Cups in my CFL career, but ended up retiring without a ring. Any professional athlete will tell you retiring without ever winning the ‘big one’ is tough.

Since you retired, what have you been doing for work?

I’m a Director at Oracle, one of the largest enterprise software companies in the world. I lead a team responsible for the global go-to-market strategies and activities for Oracle’s HCM Cloud solutions.

Did you still keep in touch with any other former Renegades?

Not as much as I used to. It pains me to say, but most of the updates I get now come from Facebook.

Any plans to return to Ottawa and catch a Redblacks game?

Ottawa is a great city, especially in the summer. I haven’t been back since I stopped playing but I hope to make it back soon. I’d love to take in a Redblacks game. Even with the renovated stadium, I’m sure it would bring back a lot of memories.

Thanks for your time Mike and hope to see you in Ottawa soon!

@RedBlackGade

– All images via Scott Grant and Google

#TBT: Catching up with Mike Maurer

By: Santino Filoso

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Our guest today is former Ottawa Renegade FB Mike Maurer. Maurer, a Saskatoon native, was selected from BC by the Renegades in their 2002 expansion draft, and went on to start 44 games during his time in Ottawa. Known for being a bruising back with a penchant for laying devastating blocks, the two time winning Grey Cup champion (2000 and 2005) enjoyed a stand out 13 year career in the CFL and finished in a tie for second place on the CFL’s career special teams tackles list.

Before breaking into the CFL, you served in the Canadian Forces, tell us about that experience.

At the time, I thought that might be my career path, as I chose not to play football after graduating high school. Being in the military taught  me valuable lessons; how to work hard, be a team player, self discipline, what it means to be mentally tough, and to be part of and do something greater than myself.

What was your initial reaction when you found out that you’d been selected by the Renegades in their expansion draft?

A little disbelief but lots of excitement at the same time. The Lions weren’t offering a very flattering contract extension, so with Ottawa selecting me that early it meant I was wanted and valued, and that felt great.

During your time in Ottawa you often were the lead blocker for Josh Ranek, who was nicknamed “The Little Ball of Hate”. As a FB why did you enjoy blocking for a guy like that?

Josh is an unbelievable guy, someone I’m still good friends with to this day. Josh also exemplifies what it is to be a professional athlete – the first one in the building and last one to leave. For those reasons, it was easy for me and everyone on offense to block for him because he worked so hard and wanted the team to be successful so badly.

The only rushing TD of your career came while you were on the Renegades, talk us through that play.

To be honest I don’t remember the play too much, it’s in the books as a run but I actually think it was a fumble recovery. We were on the goal line and I blocked my man into the end zone and was looking over my shoulder to watch Darren Davis run in, but the ball popped onto the ground and I just jumped on it.

As a blocking fullback who was a dual threat on screens, what was your favourite play to run? 

In Ottawa we ran something like a bit of a shovel pass where it looked like a zone-lead play. I’d motion to the left and the tailback and QB would play-action to the left while I slipped behind the line back to the right. That’s when the QB would turn and dump it to me.  A mis-direction play like that was normally good for a solid gain, especially if we’d been running the ball well throughout the game.

Joe Paopao is often credited with keeping the Renegades team very close, even through challenging and difficult times. What did you most respect about him as a coach?

It’s always beneficial for a coach when he’s actually been a player himself, because when he’s coaching the guys know he’s walked in their shoes. Joe wore his heart on his sleeve, and he had such passion for the game.  He was always coming up with activities for the team to do together, and he knew how to treat his players. I don’t think I could pick one thing but he really knew how to get the players to go to war for him and leave it all out there on the field in a way I haven’t seen from anyone else.

In 2005, you were a member of the Eskimos and played in what I consider to be one of the best Grey Cups in CFL history. You were named the Most Valuable Canadian for your role in the victory. Looking back now, what sticks with you about that game?

I recently watched the game for the first time since 2005.  What struck me while I was watching it was that it felt like I was watching the wrong game. When I played I was never a scoreboard watcher, so it felt wrong seeing the score with Montreal being ahead for so much of it. During the game it felt like we had it all under control and had all the confidence in the world, as if the final result was a foregone conclusion. I was so surprised watching it again to see we were the ones to come from behind and tie to send it into overtime. It just didn’t have that feeling.

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What was the biggest hit you ever gave or received?

I know I’ve had my fair share of big hits dealt: some special teams blind-sides and as a FB burying a guy or knocking guys clean off their feet on a peel-back or downfield hit. But I specifically remember a few times where I got blown up: Fred Perry got me on kickoff cover and I didn’t see him coming and he ear holed me pretty good. I essentially did a cartwheel, but I did get up immediately and still got in on the tackle. The other was while I was with Edmonton and I ran a shallow pattern into the flat, Ricky Ray shouldn’t have thrown me the ball since there was a corner sitting in the zone but he did. I caught the pass and the split second I turned my head the DB hit me in the chin with his crown and the first thing that hit the ground was my head. I believe it was dubbed the hit of the year on TSN.

Over the course of your career you racked up 168 special teams tackles. What’s the trick to bringing down a dangerous returner?

You know if I had known I was that close to the all-time record which I think was 182 or something I would have played another season to be #1. I was a tailback early in my career, and my aggressiveness matched just about anyone. I suppose my aggressiveness plus being given the opportunity to make tackles, combined with the reckless abandon of not caring what happened to my body, was the recipe.

In your opinion, which stadium has the best hecklers?

Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Montreal and Hamilton were all tough places to play. That being said, it’s got to be Saskatchewan or Hamilton though I’d probably put Hamilton #1 because it seemed like the fans were so close to the field, they seemed right on top of you.

After retiring following the 2007 season, late in 2008 and then again in 2009 you came out of retirement to play a few more games. What led to those decisions?

My daughters got to an age where they’d often voice their opinion of me playing away from home, so that’s how I knew it was time to hang them up. As for me coming out of retirement, it was something that kind of caught everyone by surprise, but I felt a strong allegiance to Edmonton as they’d treated me so well. In 2008 they asked if I wanted to be part of a playoff push and since it only ended up being the last 4 games of regular season and 2 playoff ones, I wasn’t gone from home for too long  Then in 2009, right before the Labour Day home and away with Calgary, Edmonton was hit with the injury bug.  I think 3 or 4 Canadian backs were hurt and they needed someone that could come in and start on offense. There wasn’t really any players out there that could’ve walk in off the street to start so I decided to come back again. The tricky part about 2009 was that the offensive terminology was different, so Ricky Ray would call the play in the huddle, then as we broke and walked to the line he’d call the play again as we used to call it in the past, just for me to understand. Looking back it’s pretty funny, thankfully Ricky Ray was a great QB to play with and he helped me a lot. After that stint I realized I needed to stay retired, I’d escaped my career without major injury and wanted to stay keep things that way.

How would you characterize yourself as a player and did you have anyone you tried to model your game after?

As a player all I wanted to do was leave it all out on the field, every play, every game. I looked at every play as a street fight where I needed to win my 1-on-1 battle.  So in a few words I’d like to think of myself as a tough, hard-nosed guy that gave everything he had every play, regardless of the score.  I tried to be the best version of myself, and tried to take what I had and make the most of it.

Why did you wear #19?

It stuck because after I made the team with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the media told me I was the first person to make the team after being assigned #19 in over a decade.  I thought maybe that was good luck sign so I kept it. Also, back then it was an oddball number and I enjoyed being different.

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What was your typical pre-game meal?

It was pretty much always a chicken breast, pasta and fresh vegetables and fruit.

In the 2006 off-season you made headlines when you debuted in the Maximum Fighting Championship. How did that come about?

Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu were part of my offseason training and I enjoyed the sport, it was a great hobby that I still train in and don’t consider myself retired from it at all.  During an interview I mentioned that I trained and had the desire to compete and Mark Pavelich, who was with the Maximum Fighting Championship, heard that and approached me.

Tell me thing that the average CFL fan doesn’t know about you.

I’m a board game geek.  My idea of a fun night would be to have family or friends over to play some games. Strategy games like the Game of Thrones board game, Spartacus, Ticket to Ride, Agricola, Pandemic, Kingsburg, Last Night on Earth, and Red Dragon Inn are my favourites.  I probably have in the neighbourhood of 50 games that I like to play depending on my mood or the group I’m with.

What are you doing for work nowadays?

In the past I’ve worked as a childcare worker at a treatment centre for youth at risk, and applied at the Police and Fire departments, but have settled into what is essentially a sales rep job with Corix Water Products. They’re a North American distributor of water and wastewater products like pipe, valves, fittings, and so on. I also own a tree cutting company called Wolverine Tree Services.

Do you still keep in touch with a lot of your former teammates? If so, who?

I still see Josh Ranek once or twice a year, we’re quite close. Mike Abou-Mechrek lives a few blocks away and I still chat with Dan Farthing and Dan Rashovich. I’m just starting to get involved with alumni associations and am looking forward to reconnecting with a lot of past teammates, many of whom I consider to be brothers.

Coach Kani Kauahi Ottawa Renegades. Photo Scott Grant

Thanks so much for your time Mike and all the best!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant Photography and Google

#TBT: Reminiscing with Pat Fleming

By: Santino Filoso

Pat Flemming Ottawa Renegades 2003. Photo Scott Grant

Today’s interview features Ottawa native and former Renegades punter Pat Fleming. With 19,838 career punting yards to his credit, Pat averaged 41.7 yards per kick over the course of his five years in the CFL. The Renegades’ 2003 rookie of the year was selected by the Hamilton Ticats in the Renegades’ dispersal draft and finished his career with the Winnipeg Bombers.

As an Ottawa native, did you go to many Rough Rider games as a child?

My dad was a season ticket holder when I was growing up and still is today.  I went to a lot of the games with him and loved it. I have lots of memories growing up watching the Rough Riders and actually my 5th grade project was on the CFL and the Grey Cup.

Have you always been a punter or did you make the switch from another position at some point?

Growing up I played defensive back (DB) and free safety (FS).  When I went to college at Bowling Green I went as a safety and punter.  Once I earned a scholarship as the starting punter I knew my days playing DB were over.  That’s when I became strictly a punter. I started punting and kicking when I was 10 years old when my coach at the time asked us “Who can kick the ball?”.  I didn’t know I could until I tried it but I was the best on our team and realized I was blessed with the ability to kick the ball far. The rest is history.

The Renegades selected you in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft (11th overall), did you have any idea that they were interested in you?

None whatsoever, my mother heard it on the radio and she called me to let me know. At the time I still had a year left at Bowling Green.

How did it feel to spend three years playing for your hometown team?

It was amazing. There’s nothing like playing on the same field where you grew up watching Rough Rider greats and dreaming about being a professional football player. I enjoyed my time in Hamilton and Winnipeg, but nothing compares to playing in your home town, in front of friends and family. I loved my time in Ottawa.

On your first kick you ended up spraining your ankle and missing a few weeks, probably not how you imagined your debut going right?

Not at all, but luckily I had a good week in camp before that exhibition game so the coaching staff didn’t judge me on that punt, which wasn’t my best.  It happened so fast and I ended up missing the first five games due to that high ankle sprain.

Looking back on your time with the Renegades, what sticks with you the most?

That I got to play on the same field that Rough Riders like Orville Lee, Rohan Marley, Ken Evraire, Terry Baker, Damon Allen and Darren Joseph played on. It’s funny because when I was in the 5th grade Damon Allen came to my school and talked to my class, 15 years later I’m teammates with Darren Joseph and playing against Damon Allen. Talk about surreal.

I’m not sure if you’re aware but according to CFL.ca you’ve got a career QB rating of -414.6 for attempting two passes that were both picked off. Is that an accurate reflection of your QB skills?’

LOL. Despite being picked off I think both worked out okay. The first pass was a fake punt call in Montreal.  I rolled left and tried to throw the ball to the receiver but was picked off.  It ended up working out okay as it yielded us about 18 yards in field position. The second attempt wasn’t a called fake punt, but came off a bad snap. I knew I couldn’t get the punt off without it being blocked, so I took off and ran for the first down marker. Initially I saw the chains and thought I could make it, only to realize that I was looking at the beginning of the chains and still had another 10 yards to go with a DB barreling down on me.  I reacted quickly and threw towards a receiver, but was intercepted again. We still gained 25 yards so it wasn’t a total disaster.

As the punter you often end up as the last man between the returner and the end zone, what kind of things go through your mind when you know that you HAVE to make that open field tackle?

I loved it.  Growing up playing safety I enjoyed contact and wasn’t shy of hitting.  I always used to run down field quickly for two reasons.  One was to get involved in the action and make some tackles and the other was because the returners were faster than me. Tackling the extremely fast guys in the open field was very difficult, so by running down field I could contain them in the holes before they’d break free.

Could you share with our readers who might not know, why you changed your number from 48 to 28?

When I was drafted the coaches asked me if I wanted to keep my college number and I said yes. I ended up changing numbers because we ran a fake field goal where it was a direct snap to our kicker Lawrence Tynes.  I was the holder and ran down the line towards the right as Lawrence shovel passed me the ball.  It worked great and I gained 18 yards before being knocked out of bounds on the 3 yard line. Unfortunately it was called back on a flag for an “ineligible receiver”. Back then players with numbers in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s had to report to the ref before the play.  The coaching staff wasn’t aware and so the next day when I came to practice they told me my new number was 28 so that if we ever ran the fake again I’d actually be eligible.

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What was your favourite fake or trick play to run?

The one I just mentioned because it was my play. What I mean by that is that I came up with it in practice and the coaches actually ran it.

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Did you have any specific pre-game rituals or habits?

I’d always go for a walk about 4-5 hours before the game, come back and eat my pre-game meal.

What’s worse to kick in, rain or extreme cold? 

Cold is hard because your hands get so dry and slick that the ball slips out of your hands. You end up constantly licking them to get some tack on them. Rain isn’t much fun either, but the ball boys usually do a good job keeping the balls dry. I always thought the worst were games in late October/early November where it was both cold and rainy.

Hang time > directional kicking?

I played college ball in the States so hang time was a big deal.  I loved punting for hang time.  I was blessed with a strong leg so I was able to get great air under the ball. I struggled with directional kicking throughout my career because I never actually had to do it in college. I always preferred punting for hang time as it was more natural for me.

Pat Fleming Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Just how hard is it to angle a kick to a certain point on the field?

It’s hard because there are factors that people don’t think of such as the snap, blocking protection, wind, the rushers barreling at you and your steps have to be exact. In most CFL stadiums the wind swirls so the direction you see the flags moving on the field isn’t always accurate.

Is there one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don’t realize?

How athletic you need to be.  Kickers and punters for the most part have to be athletic and not just able to kick a ball.  Most kickers and punters in the CFL/NFL were great athletes growing up and played multiple position in high school.

Are you a fan of the rouge or is there some merit to the argument that it rewards failure? 

I don’t think it rewards failure and it’s been part of our game for so long so I say keep it. Plus it’s one of those things that makes our game different from the NFL.

Since you retired what have you been doing for work?

I’m a licensed kinesiologist and the owner of Fleming Fitness. We’re a team of certified trainers and kinesiologists that specialize in injury rehab. We’re mobile, so we go into people’s homes and help them get set up on an exercise program designed for their needs.

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Have you ever given any thought to coaching?

Nah,  I try and help out kids as much as I can as a guest coach. That’s the extent of my coaching career.

Last year the Redblacks struggled to a 2-16 record, what do they need to address this off-season to ensure they improve next season?

First off, I think we were better than our record showed.  We competed in a lot of games and lost some really tough, close games.  Our defense was great.  The offense struggled a bit, but with our new additions to OL and WR I think we’ll be better.  Adding Jason Maas as the Offensive Coordinator was a great addition as well.  He had a great CFL career as a player and it seems to be translating over into his coaching career.  We were teammates in 2006 in Hamilton and he was one of the hardest working guys on the team by far. In terms of special teams I think Maher did a good job punting and kicking.

Thanks for your time and best of luck in your future endeavours!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant

#TBT: An Interview with Stephen Jones

By: Santino Filoso

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Today we catch up with Stephen Jones, one of the best WRs to ever suit up for an Ottawa CFL team. During the course of his stellar 10 year career, Jones played for Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Ottawa, was a two-time CFL All-Star, three time CFL East All-Star and won a Grey Cup with Edmonton Eskimos in 1987. Jones made 51 career TD grabs and sits 2nd on Ottawa’s career reception list with 278 catches to his credit, trailing only Tony Gabriel.

Originally you played QB in college. When did you make the transition to receiver and just how difficult was it?

The first time I played receiver was my senior year in university. It was tough at first but at the university level I did well because of my athletic ability. 

What was your initial impression of Ottawa when you first came to the city in 1990?

I loved Ottawa long before I signed with the team in 1990. The first time I came to this city was in 1985 or 1986 and it was definitely the most beautiful city I’d seen in all my travels. I knew then, that Ottawa was a place where I would like to live out my life.

In 1992, you racked up 254 receiving yards in a single game vs the Argos, what do you remember about that day?

It was the season opener and “The Rocket” (Raghib Ismail) was coming to town but my teammates and I showed off and stole his spotlight. There were a lot of great plays but two in particular come to mind. The first was a catch that Jock Climie made while lying on his back. The other was a seven yard pass that I dropped that would have given me the record for most yards in one game.

During your time in Ottawa, the team went through a number of uniform and logo changes. Is there any jersey that you really liked or disliked and what logo did you prefer?

Without any question, the all black uniform with the “R” was my all time favorite.  I loved playing in that uniform.

Stephan Jones Ottawa Rough Riders 1991. Photo F. Scott Grant

What was your favourite (or least favourite) stadium to play in?

I really loved playing in BC Place because the track was fast and the weather was always great.  Ottawa and Hamilton were tied for next best stadiums due to the close proximity of the stands to the players.

Statistically speaking, the three best years of your career happened in Ottawa. How did you manage to take your game to another level during your time with the Rough Riders?

The ability to stay healthy was a key component. The fact that Ottawa’s turf was hard and fast was a great help.

In 1995 you went from playing for the Rough Riders to marketing and coaching with them. Tell us how that came about and what you most enjoyed about that experience.

That was a tough time for me as well as all the Ottawa fans.  There was nothing pleasant about my playing career being cut short and I was trying to find a positive side to my career ending before it should have. It gave me valuable experience in dealing with the business community.

 Throughout the course of your career you had the opportunity to catch passes from a number of QBs. Who were some of your favourites?

Without a doubt it was Matt Dunnigan, followed by Damon Allen and Tom Burgess.  Matt threw the best deep pass in all of football, no one was better.  Tom Burgess was such a fighter and a winner and Damon turned out to be the greatest QB of all time in the CFL.

You were on the receiving end of a number of big hits, who hit the hardest?

A guy nicknamed “Pipes”  (Bobby Dawson), he would lay you out.

Were you a superstitious player?

Not at all but I was a bit crazy.

What was the most disappointing loss of your career?

Nothing was as crushing as the ’92 Ottawa playoff game in Hamilton.  The Rough Riders were winning by two touchdowns with three minutes left in the game and we somehow managed to lose.

This is a two part question. I’ve heard that you are a great singer. What is your go-to karaoke song and would you ever consider singing the national anthem at TD Place?

It’s been a while as far as singing goes, and over the years I have lost my voice.  If I had to pick a song to sing it would be “Baby Stay With Me”  by Jeffery Osborn. And I would decline the offer to sing the national anthem, if I was asked.

Every player has a nickname or two – what was yours?

Step Toe

Looking back on your 10 years in the CFL, what are you most proud of?

Being on a team that won the Grey Cup.

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In 1987 Jones was the Eskimo’s 2nd leading pass receiving with 55 catches for 1147 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also had 51 kickoff returns for 957 yards

 

Why did you choose to settle down in Ottawa after your playing career finished?

I love the city, the people are wonderful and the fishing is great.  It’s the perfect place to raise a family.

Since you retired, what have you been doing for work?

I’ve been in the security business and I’ve met a lot of terrific people.

Which current CFL wide receiver is your favourite to watch?

It is hard to pick one as they move around so much in the league, but I like Chad Owens, Emmanuel Arceneaux, and the receivers in Montreal. It looks like Ottawa just picked up a few good ones too.

If you could give young receivers a single piece of advice, what would it be?

Forget about how you look when going after a ball and that you don’t always have to use your hands. Just catch it however you can and never let the ball hit the ground.

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Check out Jones following his advice, again and again and again and again and again

 Have you made it out to any Redblacks games?

Of course, I’m a season ticket holder and I’m thrilled that CFL is back in Ottawa.

Thank you so much for your time and all the amazing catches you made while in Ottawa. You were easily one of the most entertaining players R-Nation has had the pleasure of watching wear the R.

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant

#TBT: Looking back with Marc Parenteau

By: Santino Filoso

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In today’s Throwback Thursday Interview we sit down with offensive lineman Marc Parenteau. Drafted by the Renegades in 2003, Marc went on to play for Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Toronto during the course of his 9 year career, winning two Grey Cups (in 2007 and 2012) along the way.

RR: After being drafted by the Renegades with the 36th pick in 2003, you didn’t get to start a game until 2005, how frustrating was that experience?

MP: I actually decided not pursue any NFL or CFL options after my collegiate career at Boston College. I’d played a lot of football since I managed to avoid being redshirted and played every game for four years, going to four straight Bowl games and earning All-Star nods my final two years. I felt that my football career was full and I was content to leave it there, so after college I accepted a job with a private company. At the time I was also coaching at Bishop’s University and while there I got the “itch” to play back and decided to try and make a comeback in 2005. I was fortunate enough to make the Renegades after a two year hiatus.

When you think back to your time with Ottawa, what sticks with you the most?

The city and fans were so great, all they wanted was a well managed team that could compete in the league.  I never would have left if they hadn’t folded.

On the line of scrimmage pretty much anything goes if the ref doesn’t notice. What were some of your favourite tricks or techniques that you used to give yourself an edge that might not have always been legal?

Holding hahaha!  I didn’t cheapshot opponents but if I got my hands on you I was going to hold you until that whistle blew.

Who was the most ferocious defender you where ever matched up against?

Adriano Belli, I always knew it was going to be a tough game when I played him

Describe the feeling you got as an lineman when you pulled on a sweep and got to take a 15 yard run at a DB.

I felt scared! Mostly because as a lineman you know the DBs are quicker than you and that they would do anything to avoid contact. You always knew you might totally miss them and get ridiculed by fellow offensive lineman in meetings the next day.

Did you have any pre-game superstitious?

I did early in my career.  Ranging from what I would eat, to the order of how I got ready to the drills I did pre-game on the field.  I got away from those at the end of my career and took a bit of a more relaxed approach.

Offensive linemen pride themselves on ignoring the elements and always wearing short sleeves. Did you ever cave and cover up your arms?

Now and then in practice but never in games.

Mike Abou-Mechrek told me that you were the funniest guy he’s ever played with. What kind of things did you do to keep the mood light at practice or during games?

Oh Mike! I would hide people’s stuff in the locker room, make jokes pre-game or even sometimes in the huddle between plays. Sometimes when they’d put up the 50/50 draw on the scoreboard and I’d stop everyone in the huddle to show them.

What was the most memorable prank you ever involved in?

Too many to name and some of those are top secret since they still don’t know it was me.  Let’s just say some players were sent “seat belt extenders” on plane trips by flight attendants in front of everyone. Also if a rookie acted out he may have found his stuff frozen in a big ball in the ice machine the next day.

Which fan base has the best hecklers?

I’d say it’s a tie between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg.

On the field did you talk a lot of trash or were you more of the silent type?

Mostly silent but I had the occasional game where I was lippy.

In terms of style, what was your favourite jersey to wear?

Anything that fit properly hahaha.

Why #57?

I was #73 in high school and college but OL can’t wear numbers in 70s in the CFL. I settled on #57 because I liked the look of it.

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Which Grey Cup win was more satisfying, 2007 or 2012?

That’s an unfair question, that’s like picking a favourite son! They’re both very special to me for various reasons.

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CFL: 100th Grey Cup Calgary Stampeders at Toronto Argonauts

CFL: 100th Grey Cup Calgary Stampeders at Toronto Argonauts

You are the only lineman in CFL history to ever score a touchdown in a Grey Cup (2010), talk us through that play.

It was originally put into the game plan two weeks earlier and even though we didn’t use it we left it in the goal line package. When the call game in during the Grey Cup I couldn’t believe it and was even more in shock that it was actually thrown to me. It’s an awesome memory and still without a doubt the best celebration in CFL history. When the play started I knew I really had to make it look like a run and once I cleared the line I didn’t see anyone within 10 yards of me. Glory followed.

 

As a Sherbooke native, which CIS team do you cheer for?

I actually moved to Florida when I was 12 years old so I never followed any CIS team.

Why did you choose to settle in Ottawa after you finished your CFL career?

I would have never left if it was up to me.  Even when they announced they were bringing a team back I patiently waited hoping to get a chance to play for it, but it kept getting delayed and then I was at the end of my career.  Ottawa is such a beautiful city and the perfect place for my real estate business. I wouldn`t want to be anywhere else

Finish the sentence. Every tourist coming to Ottawa should…..

Visit the Byward Market. It’s close to Parliament Hill and there’s tons of activities to do

Have you made it out to any Redblacks games? 

I made it to the opener and it was a great game! I have a bunch of friends who play on the team.

North Side or South Side?

No comment

Thanks so much for your time Marc and I look forward to seeing you at more Redblacks’ games in 2015!

@RedBlackGade

*All images via Marc’s collection

#TBT: Looking back with Lonie

By: Santino Filoso

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I recently had an opportunity to catch up with Lonie Glieberman, one of the most notorious sports figures in Ottawa’s history. In 1991 Bernie Glieberman (Lonie’s father), bought the Rough Riders for $1 (assuming their $1,000,000 debt) and quickly installed Lonie as team president. Two years and several questionable moves later, the Gliebermans left town to start a CFL franchise in Shreveport after selling the Rough Riders to Bruce Firestone. In 2005 with the Renegades facing financial difficulties, the Gliebermans re-entered the picture, once more buying Ottawa’s team when no one else would. Lonie’s second go at being team president was again mired in controversy and only one year after buying the team Bernie walked away from it, forcing the Renegades to be suspended by the league.

RR: It’s 1991, why did you and your father decide to get into the CFL? Was it purely a sports move or was there another motive? (For example, real estate?)

LG: We thought buying the Rough Riders was a great opportunity as we were under the impression the CFL would expand. The team was obviously undervalued due to it’s debt and the league was buzzing at the time; Gretzky was involved with the Argos, Rocket Ismail was the highest paid player in pro football and all signs seemed to be pointing up.

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What experience did you have that made you feel confident that you’d succeed as the president of football operations? 

I didn’t have experience, but my Dad did. We looked at it as a global property, not just an Ottawa based one and I think that by treating it that way I did have some transferable skills from our other businesses. I was confident as the future looked bright, a big TV deal for the CFL seemed about to happen and that would’ve made all the difference. The reason the CFL is so strong and stable today is a direct result of the good TV deal they have.

Looking back, would you still have changed the R logo to the double flaming RRs knowing how much the single R meant to Ottawa’s football history? 

Well, I still do like the double Rs, but from a traditionalist standpoint the white R is better. I guess you can compare it to Alabama’s A, that encapsulates football there and won’t ever change. At the time we wanted to try and breath some life into the franchise but maybe changing the logo wasn’t the best idea.

Which logo was your favourite?

The double Rs with flames. To be honest I really love the Renegades logo too, granted when you look at it you don’t feel the tradition, but it’s a modern, cool logo. The plain white R carries emotion, but I still think the double flaming Rs looks better if you look at it unemotionally.

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Why did you fire Dan Rambo on the eve of the 1993 season? 

The main thing to keep in mind here is that this was the early cell phone era. I was at a wedding and received information from an employee in the organization who went to my dad and our CEO John Ritchie, claiming that there was a rebellion happening; scouts were threatening to quit over dissension about the way Dan was running football operations. Our main scout, Mike Mcagnon, was out of cell reach so instead of waiting to talk to him I rushed and made a bad decision without verifying the facts. It was a rash decision based on not enough information. I thought it was a move I had to make but I’ll be the first to admit it was not the right call. I hold myself accountable and it’s my fault for not slowing down and getting all the information, including talking to Dan Rambo.

Glenn Kulka and Andrew Stewart infamously fought at practice and during the course of their brawl crashed into your office. How’d you react to/handle that situation?

Football is a very emotional game and you have to deal with the fact that tempers sometimes flare. Instead of happening outside as a kind of practice scuffle, this one happened inside and ended up crashing through a glass wall. That’s the only reason it ever got out and became a big news.

How many Rough Rider cheerleaders did you actually end up dating? 

I came to Ottawa as a single, 23 year old guy and I have no problem admitting that I did what I think any other guy in my shoes would’ve done. I did what normal guys who are around a lot of single girls do. Unfortunately the story caught fire and went on but so be it. I certainly don’t think I did anything wrong.

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Was the introduction of an NHL franchise to the Ottawa market in ’92 at all part of the rationale for bailing on Ottawa, and going to Shreveport?   

No, that had nothing to do with it. There were two main reasons that we left. First, the stadium was a hinderance. I don’t blame the City of Ottawa as they were losing money running the facility, and it’s hard to maintain a stadium and make money, but they didn’t even have the funds to paint the seats in the stadium. The crew up-keeping the stadium was top notch, but there wasn’t enough dates or events to make it profitable or even break-even. The City did their best but ultimately it wasn’t enough. The second reason we left was because the CFL’s future at the time was in the US, expansion was the key to growing the league and keeping it afloat in a very difficult time.

The Rough Riders and Renegades have 124 years of history between them, do you still have any interesting mementos from either franchise?

I’ve got a couple of jerseys from the flaming R days and some old programs but that’s pretty much it. I’ve got more memories than mementos, to be honest. I have tons of old games on tape and like looking back at those, we played a number of really exciting games.

How were you treated by fellow owners in 1991-93 vs 2005? 

There wasn’t a real difference other than the fact that in the early years we came into a league that was in the middle of a crisis. The CFL faced tremendous challenges in the ’90s and I think there was a bit more solidarity as people weren’t sure if the league would survive. Every decision we made could’ve caused the league to fold. In 2005, things were firmer and the league was on stabler ground.

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What did you learn from running the Rough Riders that made you feel like things would be different with the Renegades in 2005?

More years of experience naturally makes you better at something. Fan support in early ’90s was just under 24,000 a game, which is similar to today’s 24,500 mark. Attendance wasn’t a challenge, but getting TV revenue was, so for us coming back, the TV deal was key.

After all the flak you took the first time around, why did you decide to come back to Ottawa in 2005, only to leave a year later?

The Renegades were well run but they ultimately didn’t succeed. We went from 4,000 season ticket holders to 10,000 in less than 24 hours by making things more affordable. On the field it was a fun year but we were decimated by losing so many free agents in the winter, that killed us. I give Joe Paopao a ton of credit for even winning 7 games. Off the field we felt that attendance was strong and if anything we were controversially run, definitely not poorly run. The Renegades didn’t end up being profitable but I didn’t run the team incompetently, just a little differently, and that’s not always a bad thing. There was a buzz around us and what would you rather have, a team that nobody cares about and that no one mentions, or one that is in the news, making the rounds at the water cooler?

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In 2006, why not stick with the team for at least another year and attempt to sell, instead of just returning the keys and walking away?

I resigned before the decision was made to leave. My father and his partners felt like it would take at least another 14 million before the team would financially turn around and start making money, meaning we were still around 3-5 years away from breaking even. Even after the team broke even it would’ve taken an incredibly long time to recoup that 14 million in profits. That reality combined with other factors was why the decision was made. We were losing too much money, there was still no good TV deal for the league, the stadium itself was a huge issue, so much so the City later declared the South Side stands unsafe for occupancy, and my Dad felt nothing was going to change, so that made leaving the only course of action. I was surprised to be honest, but it was Dad’s call, he didn’t want to keep throwing good money after bad.

To this day the Renegade’s Mardi Gras promotion continues to be criticized. Can you explain the thought process that went into it?

Sure, it’s incredibly simple. 16-28 year olds are the CFL’s lost generation and we felt we needed to get their attention. In 2005, how many high school kids do you think owned Renegade jerseys? Not too many right? A big part of that is because players change teams so much that it’s hard for fans to develop loyalty. In the NFL guys like Marino, Manning, Brady, etc. mainly played for a single team throughout their entire career, so it’s easy for generations of fans to identify with the team. In the CFL look at a guy like Burris, how many teams has he played on? Can you name a single QB in the CFL who played their entire career on one team? It doesn’t make sense why teams don’t do more to keep their franchise players. In the CFL a guy has a bad year and he gets turfed because it’s a small league and teams sacrifice player development to win now, which leads to a high rate of player turnover. That’s not how you build a young fan base.

Getting back to the promotion, the 16-28 age bracket was always more focused on the NFL and we felt we had to turn the them from the NFL to the CFL. Forget the hullabaloo about the girls for the moment, the Mardi Gras promotion created social interaction, and millennials like social gatherings. More than anything the promotion was an attempt to create a social scene that would get the “lost generation’s” attention. The hope was that young males would go to the game for the promotion but then think to themselves, “Wow the football is actually exciting” and then come back for the next game because of the on field product. If they aren’t coming to the stadium in the first place how can we make more CFL fans?

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People criticized the hell out of it but you can’t argue with result, attendance in the South Side upper deck, which wasn’t a place families went anyways, was sold out. The league hated it and unfortunately it had to be cancelled due to complaints. Ottawa radio shows were full of complaints but you can’t use those as science. Our actual customers might be happy, but they weren’t the ones calling in to complain.

There’s a quote that I believe strongly in that states: “It is better to be hated by some then loved by no one”. What the quote means is it very difficult for a brand to be loved by its customers if it plays it safe and is bland. Sometimes by being different you are going to piss people off but others will become passionate customers who love the brand. For example, Mount Bohemia (ski resort I run) doesn’t have any beginners runs nor do we ever groom the terrain. That pisses off beginner skiers and also the skiers who prefer groomed runs. However we’ve managed to create a very loyal fan base for those who like this brand position. That’s why Bohemia beat Mont Tremblant, Jay Peak and Sugarbush, all much bigger resorts than Bohemia, in a Powder (ski magazine) contest.

To sum up, the CFL’s biggest problem is that teenagers and young adults are indifferent to it. The Mardi Gras promotion at least got people talking about the team and into the stadium. It’s when people don’t care about your product that you’re in deep shit. Apathy is worse than hatred, no doubt. If a girl hates you it means she likes you but is pissed off. Mardi Gras was one of the ways we tried to fight that apathy.

Have you been back to Ottawa since the Renegades folded?

Yeah I came back briefly twice, on my way over to ski in Vermont. Whenever I’m in Ottawa I always go to Mamma Teresa’s Ristorante for the best Italian food in town and afterwards I hit up Stacy Kramer’s cookie shop for dessert.

What do you feel were your biggest accomplishments as a CFL owner?

Helping the CFL expand into the USA. People remember it darkly now, but at the time the league needed hope and US expansion represented that chance. People don’t mind losing money if there’s hope things will get better, but when there isn’t any hope people cut and run. The CFL creating teams in the US was a bold move and ensured the league survived and I’m proud to have been a part of it.

Which team did you enjoy owning the most? The Rough Riders, Shreveport Pirates, or Renegades? Why?

Every franchise had their positives and I really enjoyed living in Ottawa. It’s a super healthy city with tons of bike trails and I loved going around on my bike. Also, it was an honour to be a part of the Rough Rider’s rich history but as an American, I was proud to actually be writing history from scratch with the Pirates. As someone who grew up watching the CFL, it was fun to go into schools and communities in Shreveport and talk with people to build a fan base from the ground up, creating 11,000 season ticket holders. That first game in the stadium is a night I’ll never forget.

During your time in the CFL the league went through three commissioners, Donald Crump, Larry Smith and Tom Wright. Was there any one of them that you particularly liked or disliked? 

Crump was a super nice guy as was Tom Wright, though we often saw things differently. Larry Smith was great, he took charge in a very tough time and without him and John Tory, the league would’ve folded. Smith saved BC with new owners, kept teams together and helped get the ball rolling with US expansion. Those two guys don’t get a lot of credit but without their behind the scenes commitment, the CFL wouldn’t have made it. Smith takes a lot of flak for US expansion but it only failed because we didn’t have enough patience. US expansion produced a ton of really good players and some great games. It also showed that Canadian players were a lot better than people gave them credit for. Smith was a good leader and did a good job during his time as commissioner.

Do you think US expansion possible in the future?

I think it could work and greatly help the CFL but I don’t think they’re interested with their current success in Canada. If they were to do it, the best way to expand and to protect the league and it rules would be for the CFL to own the American division and maybe do an IPO to raise the capital. I know for certain that people in Shreveport really enjoyed the Canadian game and I think other cities in the US would too. Americans find the CFL way more wide open than the NFL and very interesting and exciting.
All that being said, I think the league’s happy where it’s at. With Buffalo’s ownership settled the NFL isn’t coming to Canada for awhile now so there’s no real external threats. At the moment the CFL is way too financially successful to take a risk like that.

Who was your favourite Rough Rider or Renegade?

There was lots of great players and people who came through both organizations but I always really liked Stephen Jones, because we had the Michigan connection. He was a great guy and a hell of a receiver. Another guy who was a great story is Johnny Scott. He showed up at a walk on try out in Shreveport for the Pirates, despite never having played college ball. He was raw but impressed the coaches enough to make the team as a back up and was starting by his 2nd year. He went on to have a great career and played for the Renegades in 2005. He’s a perfect example of a guy that without US expansion, never would’ve gotten a shot, and to me that kind of underdog story encompasses what the CFL is all about.

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Johnny Scott presenting Condoleezza Rice with a custom Renegades jersey

You were someone who always thought outside the box when running a franchise, especially in the Renegade era. What would you say was your least and most successful promotions?

The most successful would have to be the $99 season ticket promotion, where we gained over 6000 season ticket holders in a single day. It was a huge accomplishment for us as it raised out season ticket holder base to over 10,000 and more importantly, 30% of those who took advantage of the promotion had never been to a Renegades game. It was very successful at attracting new fans. As I mentioned before, Mardi Gras was controversial but not unsuccessful so I’m not sure what I’d say my least successful promotion was.

Do you understand why you are despised by some of Ottawa’s CFL fan base?

If we’re talking about us leaving in 2006, then that’s a fair criticism, but not so much for ’94, I mean, we’d turned things over to Bruce Firestone and been out of there for three years, so in my mind it isn’t fair to put that on us. But look, at the end of the day we didn’t succeed and whenever you fail people will be frustrated and disappointed. I’d rather have people dislike me and hate my guts, wrongly or rightly, because at least it shows they care about their team and are passionate. I always respect passion.

Would you ever feel comfortable attending a Redblacks game at TD Place?

Yeah, I really want to catch a game and nearly came up this year but was just too busy. The stadium looks beautiful and I think it’ll be even better in person. Probably best if I keep a low profile though, I wouldn’t want to cause a scene or upset anyone.

Do you still watch any CFL and if so who do you support? 

I definitely still follow and watch the games that air on ESPN and ESPN 3. If I had to pick a team I’d say Ottawa for sentimental reasons, but otherwise I really like Saskatchewan. I love the green Rider Pride thing they got going on, and the story of a successful small market team with a passionate fan base is a narrative I like. But more than anything I’m happy to look at the big picture and see the league doing well.

What has Jeff Hunt done to make the Ottawa Redblacks so successful and stable compared to previous Ottawa franchises?

They’ve got a lot going for them. First off it’s a great group of local owners with a great new stadium and they’re building slow and steady, which is the right way to do it. Also seems like they’ve found the right balance between attracting families and young people. Hunt’s got a ton of experience running sports teams so that helps as well. Ownership’s got the right stadium deal and doesn’t have to rely only on ticket sales revenue, instead they’ve got money coming in from the condos, stores, restaurants, cinema and other things around the stadium. With so many revenue streams they’re built for long term success. Lansdowne was a challenge when I owned the team but now it’s re-done and incredible. The brilliant development of the site makes all the difference in creating a positive attitude in the community.

If you could say one thing to Ottawa’s football fans, what would your message be?

I’m really proud to be part of the CFL and to have owned the two Ottawa franchises. It was a great experience and I’m glad we helped the league thrive during it’s most difficult time. For better or worse I’m proud of my actions and had fun at the games. People need to remember that it’s okay to be different once in awhile.

Thank you for your time.

– Santino (@RedBlackGade)

*All images via Google

#TBT Interview with former Rough Rider Quinn Magnuson

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Quinn Magnuson is a former CFL offensive lineman and current co-host of Saskatchewan’s ‘Game Day With Wray’ pregame radio show. In addition to being a great follow on Twitter (and the brilliant mind behind the #CFLTwitterAwards), Quinn suited up for the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1995. That was a bad team. We asked Quinn to share some of his memories with Defend the R.

Tell us a bit about your broadcasting background.
I went to Washington State University on a Football scholarship in 1989 and entered the Edward R Murrow School of Communications for Broadcast Journalism. Education started there as I ran the radio station (KUGR FM). When I left WSU there wasn’t much for radio jobs so I didn’t really get back into broadcasting until 2009 doing some ‘Rider coverage but then was asked to do the ‘Rider Pregame this year full-time for CKOM CJME in Saskatchewan.

I see it has been a passion since at least your university days. What do you love about it?
I love the fans and how passonate they get. Its funny, weird, encouraging, hopeful, sad all at once. These fans, especially Roughrider fans, are the best but they can also be the worst. They are over-zealous and react too quickly sometimes, but hey that’s part of the game. I love being on the air each week and giving the “player’s persepective” too. People need to know what goes through a players head each day / week / game.

How was your first season as co-host on “Game Day With Wray”? Highlights/memorable moments?
Great first season. Started out slow and had to get my chops back, but by the end of the year I was feeling very comfortable. Wray and Chris Cuthbert and Dale iSaac made my job easier as they are professionals that help you along the way. I think the highlight was working with Chris Cuthbert and picking his brain when we had a chance to talk. Absolute gentlemen and such a font of sports knowledge. Also, just having access to so much more info that the average person can’t get.

What else have you been up to since your playing days ended?
Reitred in 1997, went BACK to university and got a degree this time LOL. Taught high school and coached HS ball from 2000-2006. Then left teaching and entered the private sector by owning my own company. Sold that company in 2010 as I was offered a job working at BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada) & been here ever since. Also, have two kids – 14 and 12 – and I have coached them in everything from hockey to soccer to football to basketball. Curently my son is a pretty solid football player at the 12-year old level. He will be better than I was (if he wants to).

How would you characterize yourself as a player? And who were the people/athletes you looked up to or modelled yourself after?
I was a player that maybe didn’t take the game as seriously as I should have. I was talented and had God-given skill and ability. But I didn’t work as hard as I should have and probably could’ve played NFL or been more of a contributor in the CFL. I was a phenomenal long snapper though and that’s probably why I lasted as long as I did in the CFL. I regret not working harder and doing some of the things that other players did (watch more film, spend more time with coaches, etc.). Growing up I modelled myself after the bad boys of football. Brian Bosworth and Tony Mandarich were two players I loved coming out of high school. I wanted to be Tony Mandarich. I went on a recruiting trip to MSU and met Tony. I was hooked and absolutely had to make PRO.

As well, on a personal level, my Uncle Keith Magnuson, former Blackhawks Defenseman (1969-80) was an absolute role model for me both in life and even after his death in 2003. I believe it was his guidance that helped me through high school and college. Even got me an interview with the Bears in 1993 (didn’t make it though).

You spent the 1995 season with the Ottawa Rough Riders. It was the last season of the CFL’s US experiment, on a 3-15 football team and with a franchise that was just about ready to shut its doors forever. Must have been a hoot!
Ottawa was NOT fun. It was a struggle to go to practice every day knowing how bad we were and how much a lot of players didn’t care to be there. We had talent but no “TEAM”. There were a lot of transactions every week LOL

As a player, did the off-field stuff affect you much?
Absolutely!! We were supposed to receive game cheques within 24 hours of the final whistle and we were often lined up outside the offices waiting for extra hours only to have the doors locked and told to come back tomorrow. It was terrible.

Ownership was notoriously cheap towards the end. Hope you didn’t miss a paycheque?
Never missed a cheque but getting them was tough.

There were some good players on that team – Danny Barrett, Mike Richardson… Just not enough of them?
Danny was a great leader and treated the OL well, Mike (whom I player with in WPG too) was great but once again no team chemistry and he struggled as did everyone else. John Kropke was a good player. Irv Daymond too. But players who were in their twilight and too many young players. Bad chemistry.

Any impressions/memories of Rohan Marley?
Rohan was funny but lacked professionalism. He was riding the popularity of his family name. He was, if anything, more of a distraction to the team that became a circus. In fact, in 1995 the CFL was a three-ring circus. Everywhere we went media wanted to talk to Ro. And he wasn’t even a star.

How about Andre Ware?
No comment.

And were those Rough Rider jerseys horrible, or what?
Yup still got mine. Ugly color combo and the gold helmets with the voyaguer on the side. C’mon Man!

Do you still keep in touch with any of the players or coaches from that team?
Im still friends with Dave Black and I Facebook Mike Richardson occasionally. But all in all there wasn’t much cmamaraderie. Tough when it was dog-eat-dog.

What are your memories of the city, specifically?
People didn’t care about the Riders. Any other city if you go to a bar, you get past the lineup , ppl buy you drinks, you get free meals here and there. Ottawa had no clue who we were and didn’t care. Bouncers would laugh when we said we played for the Riders. Sad really. Loved the city itself, beautiful but lacked sports sophistication at the time. Of course the entire league struggled at that point.

What do you remember about playing in some of those American cities, like Memphis or Shreveport?
Ugly, cheap stadiums. Poor crowds. HATED IT. Long travel schedules. The Amercian experiment was a pure MONEY grab by the league and its owners. It was a one million dollar expansion fee that was used to just keep the league afloat. It was the worst thing to ever happen to the CFL. BUT at the same time, the best thing as it made Canadian football fans realize how much they loved their game, and how they wanted to keep it CANADIAN!!! When Baltimore won the Grey Cup, that was the end.

Did you ever see American expansion working then?
I think had they kept it to one or two teams (east and west) it could’ve grown but they added too many too soon and in small-town markets. Also they should’ve kept the teams in the northern states.

What about now?
NOPE. League is strong. Leave it alone.

In addition to Ottawa, you played in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan & Montreal. Can you briefly share a thought on each stop?
Winnipeg – awesome town to play in. They love the Bombers. But the team has been mired in mediocrity for too long. I like Wade Miller there and things will turn around.

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Montreal – got there when the team moved from Balitimre (1996) and there was bad blood between the US players and the Canadians because they had to cut league all-stars to fill the Canadian quota. Once we got through the first few games we were good. Great city. Good organization. Still love Jim Popp.

Regina – when I was there (which was short) the team was terrible. Mostly because of management and coaching. Players were good but the team lacked cohesiveness. And at that time the fans weren’t as enamoured with the team like they are now. LOL

Winnipeg was the best to play and live though. Montreal was expensive and fans took three more years to really come around (i.e. Calvillo’s entrance).

Your late uncle Keith was an all-star with the Blackhawks in the 60s & 70s. Besides the fact that it’s really cool, what kind of impact did that have on you as a budding athlete with pro aspirations?
As mentioned earlier, it was Keith that made me want to play professional sports. He was a great leader and uncle, and always supported me in whatever I did. He was and still is a great influence in my life. Even moreso posthumously, as I want to represent the Magnuson name the way he did.

Before we go, what was your impression of the Ottawa Redblacks after their first season? Roster, coaching, etc.
I think they have something there. But you need to give it a couple of years and also bring in role players, locker room guys who will help the team gel quickly. Football is about trusting the guy next to you. Ottawa has a good coaching staff and players to build off of. But after game 8 they stopped believing they could win and it was “next year country” after that. Tons of potential.

Are you as confident as we are that the team is here for the long-haul this time?
I think the ownership has done a great job and judging by the sell-outs and fan support it should. I think the message form the start has been, “bear with us, well get there” and that’s a good thing. Don’t set expectations too high in Year One. Next year its 9-9. I would love to see the team there forever. It’s a good market with solid university teams in the area, and they need to start drafting players from the University of Ottawa and Carleton, just like the ‘Riders do with U of S and Regina U.

Anything else you’d like to share that I may not have thought to ask?
Our “home locker room” at Frank Clair was the worst I’d seen in pro football or college for that matter. It reminded me of the scenes from Major League when they are using an outboard motor for their cold tubs. LOL. Good guys worked there though. 🙂

Thanks for your time, Quinn. Some great memories and insight.

Be sure to give Quinn a follow on Twitter – @QMags65

by @OTTRoughRiders