#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

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#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

#TBT: Catching Up With Korey Banks

By: Santino Filoso

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For this week’s Throwback Thursday interview, I chatted with former Ottawa Renegade DB Korey Banks. Banks, an eight time CFL All Star, racked up 37 career interceptions, 22 sacks, 14 fumbles, 442 tackles, 7 touchdowns and two Grey Cup rings.

RR: As an American coming to Ottawa, what was your first impression of the city?

KB: It was unreal. It was my first time out of country and I was so excited. I entered the league in 2004 after being cut from the NFL. At first I hated living in a hotel without a vehicle and not really making any money, but I loved the atmosphere, vibe and people in the city. Ottawa was great to me man, I loved everything about it.

In 2005, your second year in the league, you quickly became a fan favourite, leading the league with 10 interceptions. How were you so successful so early in your career?

I actually predicted I’d get 10 picks in pre-season interview. My confidence was high because I knew I almost made it in the NFL and that as a young guy they’d throw the ball at me to test me. By the time QBs knew I could play, I already had 7 or 8 picks. After the season I had a few NFL teams come sniffing but they weren’t offering a lot of money up front and Ottawa put a big offer on the table, so I couldn’t pass it up.

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

I was too young into my career to really understand that part of the business. I didn’t look at it like other people, I just looked at it like there’s an owner and I’m a player and we had a mutual respect. If I saw him I’d say hello but not much else because I knew that to keep my job I had to perform at a high level.

When the Renegades folded in 2006, did you have any idea where you would end up?

I was getting calls from Ticats at the time but in the dispersal draft they traded with Saskatchewan, and I knew I wasn’t going there as they already had guys like Omar Morgan and Eddie Davis. BC really came out of nowhere but it was a good change for me, I went from from shit to sugar, last place to Grey Cup. I wasn’t used to losing and only ever had a losing season when I was in college at Mississippi State. Losing was killing me but the most disappointing thing about the Renegades folding was that us players felt like we were about to turn things around. When Ottawa went under the best players were scooped up but a lot of good friends lost jobs.

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I’m sure every interception is satisfying but did you enjoy picking off certain QBs more than others?

I loved picking off Anthony Calvillo or Ricky Ray, when you got those guys, you knew you were really doing your thing. But now that I think about it, the most satisfying interceptions were when I got Dave Dickenson in practice, because he knew the all angles. Dickenson didn’t have the strongest arm but his ball placement was perfect.

Were you a big trash talker?

Early in career I was, but I did it to get noticed and make a name for myself. Where I’m from that’s how you got noticed. Later on in my career I matured and didn’t need to do it as much. I mean of course I still did it, but I didn’t waste time trashing talking guys I played three times a year. I knew to save it for the playoffs.

How did you pump yourself up before a big game?

I had a routine to do the opposite actually. I listened to slow music because I  had to mellow myself out. I knew the next couple hours would be high pressure with me flying around so basically I had to meditate and get my mind right.

Who was the toughest receiver you ever had to cover?

I played against a lot of great wide receivers. I think I had tough match ups every week, going head to head with guys like Ben Cahoon, Jason Tucker, Milt Stegall, Geroy Simon, Fred Stamps, Nik Lewis, DJ Flick, and Jeremaine Copeland. Week after week they kept coming and I had to come in and set the tempo. Against guys like that you have to stick your fork in the ground, stand strong and make them play your way. If you blink they’ll beat you all day.

During your CFL career you played for Ottawa, BC and Winnipeg, where was the toughest stadium to play in and why?

I wouldn’t say it was the toughest atmosphere, but in Hamilton I only ever made a few plays. After some success against them early in my career with Ottawa, once I went to BC something about that stadium just threw me off a bit. In 10 years I think I only made 5 or 6 big plays there. I’m not saying I played poorly in Hamilton, just that I didn’t have great games there, never really got my mojo going.

Obviously this season things in Winnipeg didn’t work out as you hoped, what happened there and what are your plans for next season?

I don’t know what happened there, I always respected everyone and did what I needed to do. When I came into Winnipeg they gave me a big contract, hyped me up as an impact player and everyone seemed to be on the same page. I had a great camp, picking off 8 passes in practice, was a stand up teammate and always did what I was asked. It boiled down to the fact that Gary Etcheverry had a problem with me, which I never understood since we were working towards the same goal. One day in practice I asked him a question and he just nodded and jogged off without answering me. At the next meeting he starts it off by talking about how players shouldn’t question coaches, etc. etc. This is the same guy who doesn’t use a playbook, he just writes plays on the board and then erases them. As a player you feel uncomfortable as you have nothing to reference when studying. To Etcheverry players are just horses to be run. He’s a total joke and a clown. I’m not denying he’s got a good football mind but the man’s a clown and has no relationship with his players.

When the Bombers started playing games with me, putting me on the IR and stuff, the joke ended up on them as they were on the hook for my salary this season, and with the settlement I got to stay home this year and get paid. The whole experience left a bitter taste in my mouth and made me hate the CFL. Well, actually not the CFL, just Winnipeg, I hope they never win anything again. As for my career I’m done with football.

Did you still keep in touch with any of the other guys you played with in Ottawa?

I still talk to Kyries Hebert, Jason Armstead and I recently met Quincy Coleman for some drinks. I catch up with Brad Banks once in awhile as well.

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Why did you wear #24?

When I first came to Ottawa the equipment manager gave it to me. I got off to a good start using it and everyone in every pro league wearing #24 was balling, so I decided to roll with that.

What piece of football advice would you offer to young players looking to take their game to the next level?

You gotta ask yourself before you think about a career as a football player, do you have anything else to fall back on? Don’t just go into it wanting to be a football player, since you can’t control that. You’ve gotta understand the game and your opponent and then you’ll do well. If you don’t know the game you’re competing on athletics.

When CFL fans hear the name Korey Banks, what would you like them to think of or remember?

I’d like them to remember a guy who played the game at a great level. When a new DB breaks into the CFL and has sustained success, not a flash in the pan one year wonder, but success at a high level for a number of years, I’d like them to say “Man that guys reminds me of Korey Banks”. That would truly be satisfying.

Thanks for your time Korey and best of luck to you in the future!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant Photography

It’s a social thing; The man behind @Redblacks, Mat Smith

Having a social media presence is pretty well a requirement for all modern businesses. Few, however, use it to its full potential, actively engaging with fans and customers. In less than a year, Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group’s social media coordinator Mat Smith and the Ottawa Redblacks have established themselves as a model for social media presence in pro sports. Mat was good enough to sit down with us to discuss the job, his path to OSEG and some thoughts on the Redblacks inaugural season.

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@OTTRoughRiders: What is your background? Hometown, school, career?

MS: I come from a military family, so I moved around a lot as kid. Our stops included Israel, Barrie, Virginia, Winnipeg, and we finally ended up in the place I’m proud to call my hometown – Kingston, ON. I grew up playing soccer and football as my two main sports.

I graduated with a degree in Sport Management from Brock University in St. Catharines.

In the first semester of my fourth year, I completed an internship with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment in their community relations department. I was responsible for scheduling, tracking, and attending Raptors player appearances, and assisted in the launch of MLSE’s “Shape Up” – a program that leverages the MLSE athletes to help provide teachers with daily physical activity resources.

After completing my degree, I held positions in Alberta with the Edmonton Oilers/Edmonton Oil Kings and BMO Team of the Week.

How did you end up with OSEG?

Upon returning to Ontario from Alberta, I e-introduced myself to every team in the Ontario Hockey League. Within two weeks, I accepted a position as Project Coordinator with the Ottawa 67’s, where I wore several different hats including social media, media relations, community relations, and sponsorship activation. When the 67’s organization transitioned to OSEG, I was promoted to Digital Media Coordinator.

Biggest surprise working for a professional sports franchise?

The amount of moving parts that go on behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly. I wasn’t exposed to it as much when I worked for the Oilers, so I’ve really learned a lot this season.

Give us a couple of your highlights from this inaugural season.

Too many to count, but here are some notable ones:

First mini-camp in Richmond, Virginia; winning our home opener; selling out seven straight home games (UPDATE: all nine); the nail-biter vs. Saskatchewan; getting to visit every stadium in the CFL; interacting with our players, coaches, staff, and fans on a daily basis.

It’s been a fun ride.

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Mat gives Henry Burris the #ALSIceBucketChallenge treatment

Other than the losses, any lowlights you want to mention?

One lowlight that sticks out to me would be the amount of injuries we’ve had. It was tough to watch guys like Justin Phillips, Thomas DeMarco, and Chevon Walker suffer season-ending injuries.

Tell us about the OSEG social media strategy

The OSEG social media strategy is based around the following five principles:

• Being human
• Engaging
• Accessible
• Establishing relationships
• Being timely

We’re focused on creating a strong sense of community on our social channels. We want our channels to be a place where fans feel appreciated, involved, and excited to be a part of.

How do you personally approach it?

As the one who designed our strategy, I try ensure that we hit all five points as much as possible. I like to add a bit of my own personality to our channels (Seinfeld references, friendly back-and-forth with other teams, etc.), while also trying to take our fans behind-the-scenes as much as possible. I’m also a strong advocate of incorporating fan-generated content into social media because it gives a unique perspective that I wouldn’t necessarily otherwise be able to provide. Following a game or big event, sometimes I’ll stay on Twitter for an hour or two just to engage with fans that I missed.

23,400 Twitter followers, 16,000 Facebook likes, 4,800 Instagram followers. Impressive numbers for a young franchise. What do you like about each of these formats? How are fans/followers different on each?

The numbers are a really accurate representation of how strong our fan base is. What I love about social media is that it’s a two-way conversation. I also get to see and hear the different range of emotions felt by our fans.

For me, Twitter is the best platform – you can share videos, images, gifs, and articles – all in 140 characters. It’s the platform that gives me the chance to reach the largest possible audience AND it’s the best medium to engage with fans. Since information is digested (and lost) so quickly on Twitter, it really forces me to get creative with content, which is the best part! It’s also the platform where I see the broadest range of demographics amongst our followers.

Instagram is definitely the platform that reaches the youngest fan base. I think images, especially in sport, are incredibly powerful. Instagram is a great way to showcase the best moments throughout the year.

Facebook tends to skew to an older demographic, so it’s an effective way of reaching long-time Ottawa football fans who might not be on the previous two platforms. Content tends to last longer on Facebook, so it may warrant one or two posts a day, rather than that 10-15 daily pieces of content that Twitter commands.

What are the things that have really worked so far?

Behind-the-scenes content, engaging with fans about football and non-football related topics, and making our players accessible to fans on all platforms. We’ve also established a team of volunteers that gather fan content on game days. This helps me be in seven or eight different places at once and showcase all aspects of our game day experience. The OSEG staff has also been very helpful all year – a lot of them are on Twitter and share experiences from all different areas of the organization.

Who at OSEG gets the credit for the #RNation hashtag?

To be honest, I believe I first saw the #RNation hashtag used by either @RedblackGade or @OTTRoughRiders.

(According to @RedblackGade, the #RNation term originated on the RenegadeNation.ca forums, but he may have been one of the first to use it on Twitter. All credit to the Redblacks for running with it the way they have, though. Very well executed.)

I thought it was a great way to capture Ottawa’s football history (Rough Riders, Renegades, and now, REDBLACKS). It was also fitting for Ottawa as the Nation’s Capital, “#RNation” = “#OurNation”.

Without giving away too many secrets, what are some of the future plans/strategies for increasing fan interaction on social media?

We’re looking into some cool ways to showcase fan-generated content in-game next season; video board, social wall, interactive fan voting, etc. We’ve provided high-density wireless at TD Place to help facilitate our social community and our bandwith is built to handle future innovations. We’re also further establishing our relationship with Twitter to ensure we have the ability to launch new applications as soon as possible.

Any suggestions?

Any favourite CFL moments growing up?

When I lived in Virginia, I attended a Baltimore Stallions home game at Memorial Stadium – not too many people can say that.

Favourite on-field moment of the season?

Winning our home opener. Everything about that day was perfect – the weather, sold-out crowd, and comeback capped with a game-winning field goal by Brett Maher. I’ll never forget it.

Favourite off-field moment?

The most memorable moment for me was at our pre-season game in Saskatchewan. My parents, Laurie and Bruce (both long-time Southsiders), drove to Regina from Kingston, ON to witness the first REDBLACKS game live. This was also my first time working a professional football game, so spending time with them before the game was really special.

Biggest surprise being around the players and/or on the sidelines?

Our players are really down to earth. I’ve been around some prima donnas in the NHL/NBA and our guys are the complete opposite.

Biggest sideline surprise: It is LOUD down at field level. If anyone tries to say that crowd noise doesn’t affect the game – they’re wrong. I sometimes find it difficult to talk to the person next to me, so I can’t imagine how tough it is to keep 12 players on the same page.

Your favourite element/area of TD Place?

Location – there’s nothing else like it in Canada. It’s a unique arena/stadium combination that’s situated next to one of our country’s most beautiful landmarks. I’m also partial to the Frank Clair statue on the south side. I think it’s cool that he’s always watching over the field.

If you had to choose, which Redblacks jersey would you buy – red, black or white?

My favorite jersey is the black home look, but I’ve already purchased a white road jersey with “Ottawa” and the number 14 on the back.

And since I’m the resident jersey geek, I have to ask: how long before we see a Rough Rider-style throwback jersey?

It’s an idea that’s been discussed internally, but honestly, I’m not sure. I’d also like to see a throwback jersey at some point.

Can you fill us in on what happened with the plaid helmets?

The manufacturer couldn’t design the helmets to the specs we wanted.

Tell us something that totally surprised you about a member of the Redblacks team or coaching staff.

I was completely surprised to find out that Henry Burris is a wine connoisseur. He also owns a restaurant in Calgary called Brooklyn Pizzeria & Taps.

Coolest story you’ve heard from a former Rough Riders or Renegades fan/ticket holder.

My parents said that a fan ran out onto the field at a Rough Riders game, climbed the uprights, and wouldn’t get down until he could speak with Jo-Ann Polak. She actually came down, negotiated with him, and finally got him to climb down from the uprights.

Favourite visiting stadium you’ve been to?

Tough choice, but I have to go with Investors Group Field in Winnipeg. BC Place in Vancouver is a close second.

Advice to anyone wanting to get into pro sports?

Here are the pieces of advice that have really helped me:

• Don’t think any job is below you
• Volunteer and network as much as possible
• Make a list of teams you want to work for and apply to those organizations, regardless of whether or not they’re hiring. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the response.

Anything else you want to share with Redblacks fans?

More than anything, I just want to say thank you. #RNation has been supportive, loud, and so engaged on social media. It makes my job a lot easier when I get to work with such a great fan base on daily basis.

If there’s anything you’d like to see more of on social media, feel free to let me know at @REDBLACKS or @smith_mat.

Thanks again for your time, Mat.

@OTTRoughRiders

(Photos courtesy of Mat Smith)

#TBT: An Interview with Rohan Marley

By: Santino Filoso

Rohan Marley Ottawa Rough Riders 1995. Photo John Bradley

In this week’s Throwback Thursday interview we sit down with Rohan Marley, the former Miami Hurricane and son of the late reggae artist Bob Marley. After leading the Hurricanes with 95 tackles in his senior season, Rohan signed with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1995, playing one season in the CFL.

RR: When did you decide you wanted to play football?
RM: It started as a child when I was watching the Miami Dolphins play during the 1984-1985 NFL Football season.
At Miami you played along guys like Dwayne Johnson and Ray Lewis, how were they as teammates?
It was great to see the desire that they had for winning and it’s evident in their life today that they continue to win.
What made you decide to come to the CFL and why did you choose the Rough Riders?
I was ineligible for NFL draft and while on tour with my brothers, one of my uncle’s friends called the CFL asking for a tryout for me. I came to the tryout not knowing it was a tryout and was selected by the Rough Riders.
What was your first impression of Ottawa and looking back now what are some of the things about the city that have stuck with you through the years?
I thought that it was a nice and green, very friendly city with a good mixture of cultures. I remember the Byward Market and riding my bicycle through the city to practice, as that was my only mode of transportation.
Why did you walk away from the game after only one season?
Every day whether we practiced or played, once I got home I would play soccer. After that I would spend a lot of time reading the Bible and while I was reading the Bible, I found that my passion for the game started to drift away from the team and more towards myself. I lost my passion for tackling. The more I read the Bible, the more I was taken away from the game.
Was there any particular reason you wore #1?
Number two wasn’t available.
Despite your small size (for a LB), you had a reputation as a ferocious hitter. What was the hardest hit you ever laid on someone?
There were many, but one instance that stands out is a game against the Memphis Mad Dogs. I remember hitting the lineman so hard, that I knocked him out and I became discombobulated myself.
Did you like to trash talk opponents or were you more of a quiet player?
I don’t trash talk, I just speak my mind. If you ask me something, I defend myself. I say it like it is.
Were you superstitious and if so what was your pre-game routine?
I used to spend 3 hours in my locker room preparing my mind. There was an orange tribute shirt with my fathers face on it that I would wear every game. I would also write Jah Rastafari on my socks.
How did you pump yourself up before a game?
On the way to the stadium, while riding my bicycle, I would listen to my father’s music to clear my mind and get peace. I would sit in the locker room, facing my locker breathing in and out, taking deep breaths for about 2.5 hours, thinking about the game and my opponents.
Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?
The friends I made.
Do you still keep in touch with any of your old teammates?
Yes.
In 2009 you founded your own coffee brand, what was that process like?
The process has been a huge learning and growing experience. In 1999 when I bought the farm I knew nothing about growing coffee, and from there we’ve gone through so much – changing the farm to organic, taking the coffee from a couple of grocery stores to big distribution deals with Safeway, Albertsons, Krogers, and others. After living in Ethiopia, in 2007, I wanted to have a global coffee company and I believe we are getting there by choosing the right partners and keeping true to our values.
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Ads for your coffee have recently been shown at TD Place, talk about how that came to be.
We have very strong ties to Canada through our partnership with Mother Parkers Coffee & Tea Company – Canada is their home base and that’s where they produce our RealCup single serve capsules and take us into the retail market. Being that I played a year of football in Ottawa for the Rough Riders, and the CEO of the company Brent Toevs is from Canada, Marley Coffee has very strong ties to the region. The partnership came to be because of these relationships and with the help of Mother Parkers.
You’re known for being very involved with charity work, what fuels that desire?
It’s natural to give. I grew up with the habit of giving and wanting to do more.
Would you ever consider coming back to Ottawa and watching a Redblacks game?
 Absolutely. I would love to.
Thank you very much for your time Rohan and best of luck with your future endeavours!

#TBT: An Interview with Mike Abou-Mechrek

By: Santino Filoso

Mike Abou-Mechrek Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Today we sit down with former Ottawa Renegades offensive lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek. Drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1999 and quickly going on to establish himself as a reliable starter throughout his 10 year career, Mike played in Ottawa from 2002-2004 before winning a Grey Cup with Saskatchewan in 2007.

RR: You played for the Renegades from 2002-2004, what are some of your favourite memories of that time?

MBM: Ask any of the players, coaches, GMs, or front office staff, anybody at all who was a part of that Renegade family, and they’ll tell you that their favourite memory of Ottawa was the people. We came together as a family like no other team that I was on in my 20 years playing the game. I’m still good friends with some of those guys and even our children are best friends . We forged a bond that couldn’t have been built anywhere except on an expansion team in a foreign city, lead by Coach Pao Pao, Kani Kuahi and their beautiful wives Dottie and Gay who brought all of us “Renegades” together.

Why did you choose to sign in Ottawa as a free agent?

Playing with Winnipeg was great and I had just finished my 3rd season in the CFL and 2nd as a starter, but I felt that being on an expansion team would give me more job security so that I could grow and get better as a football player. That, combined with the fact that I’m from Toronto and wanted to be closer to home without being too close, made it an easy choice. Ottawa is a beautiful city that I may still retire in and live there again one day.

What kind of challenges does an expansion team face that a normal team wouldn’t?

Football is the ultimate team sport and expansion teams are just a bunch of “Renegades” thrown together on a roster – they aren’t a team. The X’s and O’s are the same as everyone else but the guys don’t know each other yet.

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

I went back to Winnipeg in 2005 so I didn’t see the entire circus but I will say that the first act was enough for me.

Who was the toughest defensive player you were lined up against?

I’d say there were three: Joe Fleming, Johnny Scott and Cameron Wake

Did you have a favourite (or least favourite) stadium to play in?

Yeah, the Rogers Centre. I’ve won a high school city championship, a Vanier Cup, and a Grey Cup in the it, plus it’s in my home town, so you’d think I’d love the place but I don’t. It feels like you are playing in someone’s back yard: no fans, no atmosphere, no passion.

What was your typical pre-game meal?

Half a chicken with two cups of pasta and a big salad….which I would throw up before every game.

Run blocking > pass blocking?

Of course, you shouldn’t even need to ask

Mike Abou-Mechrek Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Describe your perfect day off while living in Ottawa.

Bike ride from Barrhaven down to the Byward Market, stopping at the Canal Ritz for a rest and refreshment. That’s the best drive/ride there is in Ottawa in my opinion.

Once I was feeling refreshed I’d continue down to the market , maybe hit up a used book store, eat some delicious Lebanese cuisine and find another patio. Later on someone would have to come pick me up and take me home because all that bike riding and refreshing makes one tired.

Who was the funniest guy you ever played with?

Marc Parenteau

Is the a special reason why you wore #67?

Many reasons. First off it’s the last year the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Cup. Secondly it’s slimming; the 6 gives the number the girth that a big man like me needs but the 7 brings the eyes in to the waist line, the number really accentuates my V shaped body haha. The worst and final reason is that it’s two away from 69 (me and you baby).

Now that you’ve retired, what are you doing for work?

I’m a Certified Financial Planner, which is what I originally wanted to be when I grew up, football just got in the way. In fact, I started my career in finance while playing in Ottawa, I was sure they would cut me and wanted to be ready to move on once they did. Thankfully I’ve never been cut.

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

Abou

Do you still keep in touch with any former teammates, and if so, who?

Alex Gauthier, Marc Parenteau, George Hudson and Val St’Germain are some of my best friends, our wives all get along and our kids are the same age. It was such a blessing to come to Ottawa and meet such good people. I also keep in touch with Greg Bearman too, but he doesn’t have a wife and kids. I chat with Gay Kuahi on Facebook at least once a week.

What piece of advice would you offer any high school or university lineman looking to go pro?

Don’t look to go pro, just work hard at whatever you are going to do, or else it isn’t worth doing. If you focus on something you love to do the “pros” will find you. I was quite a fat, shy kid with low self esteem and football gave me a vehicle where my size finally was an advantage – as I WAS athletic. All the faster smaller kids who used to call me names and then run away in the school yard had nowhere to run to on the gridiron.

O-line coaches in junior ball have their work cut out for them because quite simply the kids aren’t strong enough to do things ‘right’. Trusting a coach is the best thing any athlete can do, especially when you are learning to play o-line. Everyone knows what the QB or RB has to do but no one knows what the O-line does or why they do it until they play the position. It’s quite humbling learning a game you thought you knew all over again.

For those looking to get better at football, or anything else: trust your coach/mentor, come up with a plan, and then do what you said you were going to do. The single best piece of advice I ever got (and it didn’t pertain to football at the time) was SHUT UP AND WORK.

Thank you very much Mike for a hell of an interview! Take care and we hope to see you in Ottawa again soon!

@RedBlackGade

#TBT: An Interview with Matt Kellett

By: Santino Filoso

Matt Kellett Ottawa Renegades kicker 2005. Photo Scott Grant

Today we sit down with Regina native, Matt Kellet, the former Ottawa Renegade kicker/punter. Though he was only in Ottawa for a single season, Kellet played in the CFL from 1999-2005 on four different teams (Edmonton, BC, Montreal and Ottawa), playing in the Grey Cup  in his hometown with Montreal in 2003.

RR: Growing up did you always know you wanted to be a kicker?

MK: I didn’t actually start playing football until half way through grade 11.  My rugby/wrestling coach was also my home room teacher and after watching a football game I noticed all the kicks were very short, so I asked if they were doing that purposely. He had mentioned that , no, they just didn’t have a guy who could do it. Since he was also the head football coach at the time, he suggested I should come out and give it try.  I wasn’t even thinking of football as a sporting option before then.

How did you adjust to kicking in the CFL’s wild weather and what were the most difficult conditions for you to kick in?

I grew up in Regina (or at least spent my high school years there having moved all over the country prior to that) so wild weather was just normal for me.  Taylor Field, now called Mosaic Stadium, was relatively easy because 90% of the time the winds would come from the south of Regina which meant you only had 1/2 the game to worry about it.  One of the hardest places to kick was in the old Ivor Wynn stadium because both endzones were open, which played games with your ball during FG attempts. The cold was maybe more of a factor than the wind, because you couldn’t get great compression on the ball, thus the ball didn’t fly as far.

Did you have to change the technique used when attempting a long field goal as opposed to a shorter one?

Early in my career, I really struggled learning to “trust my swing” and thus I struggled with short FG’s, because of the angles that the CFL field creates.  As you mature as a kicker you learn to trust your ball flight and it doesn’t matter where you are on the field, all kicks are straight kicks.

Is there any difference between placekicking and kickoffs?

Nope,  on kickoffs you are coached to kick to a spot, outside the numbers and as deep as possible.  Place kicking/FG’s you are kicking to a spot also but with a Pass or Fail grade.

Throughout your CFL career you played in every stadium, was there one that posed more problems to you as a kicker than others?

Hahaha to be completely honest the most problematic stadium for me was BC Place.  I struggled with “failure” early in my career and mentally could not shake the “what if’s” even though it was my home stadium. For 2 years I felt more comfortable on the road in visiting stadiums. Once I left BC and moved to the Alouettes the most problematic stadium was Ottawa, because of Gerald Vaughn, he was a beast off the corner and affected many kicks.

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

That most, though not all, are great athletes.  They are just put into positions where they don’t look like athletes, ie, making open field tackles.  When you look at open field tackles in general, lots of players miss them, but when I kicker does , people “poke fun” the attempt.

Were you a very superstitious guy? 

Not at all, I was coached very early to not stress about things you can’t control (weather, for example). What it is , is what it is.

Looking back on your time in Ottawa, what stays with you the most?

My first game against Montreal, that team that traded me, on Canada Day.  I went 4 for 4 with the game tying and game winning FG in overtime. The coaches were under such an amazing amount stress from the ownership, but they stayed true to themselves and their team.  Coach Paopao and his staff should be very proud of how they conducted themselves and coached our team that year.

Over the course of your career you made 11 tackles, what’s it feel like to be the last man back when a returner with a head full of steam comes barrelling at you?

I think my time playing rugby paid off.  I  loved to run down field in college and tackle and hit people, but again was coached early in my CFL career to play my position and be the last guy back.

Now that you’re retired, what are you doing for work?

I’ve recently opened two franchised fitness studios, Orangetheory Fitness, here in Calgary with my business partner Mike McDonald.  Since leaving football I have been a personal trainer and wellness director in fitness facilities in Calgary.

What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of your CFL career?

Bouncing back after two nightmare seasons in BC, having people write me off (rightfully so), being cut and invited to tryout in Montreal, and finally being able to rebound into the kicker/ player I knew I could be, all thanks to Don Matthews!

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

Through social media I have fitness connections with a few, and some of my old teammates are my best friends from college so of course I still do with them.

Have you ever thought about getting into coaching? 

I love coaching. I coach personal trainers and have coached my boys on their hockey and soccer teams, and have also helped out kickers at the University of Saskatchewan.  I think when my boys are older and possibly playing football will I get involved in football again.

Have you had a chance to come back to Ottawa and take in a Redblacks game yet?

Not yet but I think that would be an amazing time, to see the new stadium and hang out with some of the best fans around.  I say that because they have continued to support every attempt at a team in Ottawa. The year I spent in Ottawa I think it rained 8 out of 9 games, and I mean it down poured, but there was always a consistently large group of fans out to cheer the team on.  I really hope that the Redblacks are here to stay so that the fan base can TRULY get behind them and watch the team grow and develop. I think that’s all a true fan really wants and what Ottawa deserves.

Thank you very much for your time Matt and best of luck in your future endeavours. Be sure to let us know whenever you make a trip to Ottawa so we can welcome you back in style!

@RedBlackGade

#TBT: An Interview with Gord Weber

By: Santino Filoso

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Today we sit down with Ottawa native and former Rough Rider linebacker Gord Weber. Weber was drafted in the 7th round after an award winning CIS career (CIS First Team All Canadian twice) where he was a QQIFC All-Star and the QQIFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1989 with the Ottawa GeeGees. Gord played for the Rough Riders from 1990 until 1994.

RR: Growing up in Ottawa, did you get a chance to take in a lot of games at Lansdowne?

 GW: I used to deliver the Ottawa Citizen newspaper just to get free tickets.  Back then if you had a paper route you got into the end zone section for free. Being a 12 year old it was scary because after every field goal or extra point there used to be fights for the footballs that went over the fence.

How did it feel to be drafted by your hometown team, did you have any indication before the draft that Ottawa might take you?

It was an honour to be drafted by my hometown team, growing up my mother went to all my games and being drafted by Ottawa meant she could continue to watch every game. Not to mention the fact that I was able to keep my friends from high school and university that were from Ottawa.

During your time in Ottawa the team changed the logo on the helmets from the traditional white R to the double flaming Rs. Which did you prefer?

The original R is the one and only Rough Riders logo in my opinion.  End of story and no doubt about it

You managed to get to the playoffs every season you played, how is playoff football different from the regular season?

In a small league of 8 teams you are never counted out.  Much like this year’s Redblacks team you are never out till the season is over.  When playoffs come it’s a new season and you just need to be on a hot streak (not that we ever had one in the playoffs) and from there you never know what can happen. Over the years there have been many sub 500 teams went on to win the Grey Cup.

Who was your funniest teammate?

With a team of 50 players there were always characters… but I have to say that Jeff Brazwell was up there, some of the stuff that came out of his mouth was gold, he knew how to keep the team laughing and loose.

What was the hardest hit you ever laid on someone? 

Man there was a lot that a have given, and I took a few as well.  I loved to blow people up on special teams, nothing like running down the field 40 yards at full speed and launching yourself into a wall of people.  I remember Carl Coultier when he was playing for BC and it was his first game as a long snapper and this was when you were able to take runs at the long snapper.  So all game I kept chirping him saying “Don’t f*ck up or you’ll get cut!”.  He kept his head down too long and I must’ve ear holed him a few times.  In pop warner football I put a few QB’s out.  Big hits come when you’re not looking, so when you blind side someone it’s always fun.

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Did you have a favorite (or least favorite) stadium to play in?

Well you have to always love playing in your hometown.  But I will tell you I am glad I never played for Hamilton, that was the worst stadium ever.  They repainted the logo every year so it was like a ice rink and the walls were only 10 yards away from sidelines of the field.  It was the dirtiest field too, I don’t think they cleaned once since they put the turf in, so when you got turf burn by the time you got to the sidelines, your burn was already starting to ooze pus.

Were you a superstitious player, as in did you have any specific pre-game rituals?

Before games I always watched a VCR tape of the NFL’s hardest hits, and when I got dressed I always did everything right to left; right sock, then left sock, right shoe then left shoe…etc.

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

Well, I’m proud that I was able to play a game I loved and make a little money, even though I tore my ACL twice and had to walk away from the game, it’s an achievement that many cannot say they accomplished.  Also, I’m proud of the work I was able to do in the Ottawa community speaking with kids and adults about being positive in life and being the best you can be.

Have you been to any Redblacks games this season?

Yes actually, I’m a photographer and shoot for the CFL so I have been to them all. You can see my work at www.gordweber.com.  Be warned what you see at my website cannot be unseen, haha

North or South Side?

 Always South

What are you doing for work nowadays?

I’m a photographer in the Ottawa area and specialize in Fitness, Glamour and Commercial Photography.  I love what I do, so I can’t really say that I work.  This year alone, I’ve travelled to Mexico, Dominican Republic, Revelstoke (BC) and through Ontario to photograph beautiful people.  If you’re doing something you love and it’s fun then you can’t call it work.

 Why did you choose to get into photography?

 I didn’t choose it, it kind of chose me. I picked up a camera 10 years ago and just couldn’t put it down.  I begged people to allow me to photograph them and attended sports games and other events just to shoot.  All of a sudden people started asking me to do their pictures, weddings, events, etc.  At first I did it for fun, but then I started getting too many requests, so I started charging a fee.  It was a great way to make some extra cash while I was working in the wine business.  Eventually I was able to make more and took the leap to making it my career.

How does your playing experience make you a better sports photographer?

Well as I say to my students when I teach photography workshops, if you understand your subject you’re able to put yourself in the best location to get the shot.  My CFL career has been asset because I understand the game and the behaviour of the athletes which in turn makes me have a higher quality shot ratio than many.

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Do you still keep in touch with any of your old teammates? 

Because Ottawa was my hometown, I always had my friends that I grew up with.  Also playing on a team that went through players like water it was tough to have a really close bond.  Over the 5 years I was part of the Rough Riders, only 5 others played with me throughout the entire time.  The turnover on the team was crazy, so I didn’t stay in touch with too many guys. That being said there’s a few that are still in the Ottawa area that I still see and talk to once in awhile.

Thanks for your time Gord!

@RedBlackGade

#TBT: Interview with Jerome Haywood

By: Santino Filoso

For today’s Throwback Thursday interview we sit down with former Ottawa Renegade defensive lineman Jerome Haywood. A stalwart at San Diego state, Haywood started 46 consecutive games before being signed by the Renegades in 2002 as an undrafted free agent. During his time in Ottawa Haywood was a ferocious run stuffer at nose tackle where he consistently faced double and even triple teams despite standing only 5’8″.

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RR: As a Californian coming up to Ottawa, what was your first impression of the city?
JH: Besides the airport, the first place in Ottawa that I saw was Kemptville where we had training camp. I definitely started having second thoughts about playing in Canada when I saw the small airport and then Kemptville . I thought Ottawa was like Kemptville for about a week and a half until we had a day off during training camp and I finally got a chance to go into the city.
You played for the Renegades from 2002-2006, what are some of your favorite memories of that time?
I remember the epic Canada Day game in 2005  as it was a good time from start to finish. I loved our red jerseys. Training camp in 2005 was great as well because we had such a great coaching staff that year.  To be honest I loved every minute while I was in Ottawa. I remember hanging out at the deli across the street from the stadium with players and coaches, just bonding and having a great time.
Looking at your CFL stats I noticed that you had 3 rushing attempts for the Renegades in 2004, were those goal-line carries?
One goal line carry and two middle of the field carries. I played fullback on our goal line package and I loved it. I’m not one for the spot light, I just like to kick ass. Making holes for the running back was awesome. The time I got the ball on the goal line sucked because I didn’t punch it in.
A lot of people blame the Renegades ownership for being a distraction to the team, did you ever feel that way?
I wouldn’t blame it all on ownership and I’m sure that they wouldn’t blame the players and coaches. In my personal opinion I think our lack of success was with the players.  We played in plenty of games that we were right in it until the end but found a way to smoke it off. I don’t believe that as a whole we had the mental toughness that you need to be successful. In our last year we were headed in that direction with a solid group of guys but then the team folded. Unfortunately winning doesn’t happen overnight and you have to have a strong foundation to be good. Coach Etch (Gary Etcheverry) always said “It is what it is.”
When the Renegades folded in 2006, did you have any idea where you would end up and what was the general mood of the players upon learning that Ottawa would be disbanded?
I had no clue where I was going but I knew that I would be picked up by someone. That time really sucked  because a lot of good players lost jobs. I couldn’t believe that a team would fold after just 4 years, especially one in the Nation’s Capital. I’m happy that football is finally back in Ottawa!
You have 31 career sacks, is there one that was more satisfying than the others?
I don’t remember the exact one but the sacks that I will always cherish are the sacks against Anthony Calvillo. I can say that I hit that man maybe 6-9 times a game but I have sacked him maybe 6-8 times in my career.  He was definitely a hard one to sack because he would get rid of the ball right as he was being hit and he would get back up and do it again. But I would say that all of my sacks against him stand out.
Who was the biggest trash talker you ever played against?
I don’t remember one person that I actually played against but Adriano Belli was always talking to the teams that I played with. For me it was fun because I always played harder when I would hear him running his mouth. My first 2 years in the league I talked a lot of trash but only having 9 teams in the league it was kind of hard to keep talking because you end up seeing other  players on the field, or out at the bar after the game, and sometimes even on your team the following week.
Did you have any pre-game superstitions?
I wasn’t too bad with my superstitions. I would always have a bag of peanut M&M’s the night before the game. I would also take an Epsom salt bath the night before as well. I always wore the same clothes under my jersey for the year. My warm-up for the game was something that I’d done since college. I would jog around the field before the game and spend my time stretching and sizing up whose ass I was going to kick.
What was the hardest hit you ever made on someone?
John Avery got a good hit from me but I really didn’t do much. We were playing Toronto and it was a run play. I was holding my gap and I saw the hand off to Avery so I waited for him to commit to a gap. He decided to run to the gap right next to me because for some reason it was open. Once I saw him commit I spun from my gap to the gap that he was running to and when I came out of my spin he was running full speed and ran into me. He bounced off to me to the turf and landed on his back. His exact words to me were “Damn Haywood I’ve never been hit that hard.” It was a big collision and I felt it but I’m happy that I was the hammer and not the nail.
Describe your perfect off day while living in Ottawa.
My perfect day was simple. I wanted to be in apartment with my wife (girlfriend at the time) relaxing after I worked out and sat in the cold tub at the facility. I’m a laid back kind of guy.
Throughout your CFL career you played for Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton, what was the toughest stadium to play at?
The toughest place for me to play was Saskatchewan. The fans love their Riders and I heard it all. I’ve never been called a fat ass until I was there, good times!
Now that you´ve been out of the league for a few years, what are you doing for work?
Right now I’m a PE Teacher/Athletic Director at a school for at-risk youth. I’m also working on becoming a personal trainer. I love the game of football and now its about time for me to start working my way back in it somehow, maybe as a strength coach or something like that.
Do you still keep in touch with a lot of your former teammates? If so, who?
I do! Derrick Ford is a close friend of mine as well as Tony White and Kai Ellis. I still talk to Coach Pao Pao from time to time. Facebook keeps a lot of us connected.
Any plans to head back to Ottawa to catch a Redblacks game?
I sure do! I hope that it will be a lot sooner than later too. I have to deal with some immigration stuff and I will be up there so my wife can visit her family and I can see the new team. I might even ask for a job hahaha.
Every player has a nickname or two, what was yours?
I’ve had a few but the one that I go by is Rome, Romey, Romey Rome. I’ve also been called Tank and the Plug.
What was the best piece of football advice you ever received?
I don’t know the single best piece because I received a lot over the years. I can’t remember who told me but one that stuck with me was “Don’t be complacent because there is always someone better than you out there so you better work hard.” I think in 2005 I was complacent and I should have lost my job because I was out played by a rookie but I wasn’t let go because I was durable and the coaches knew what I could do. Trust me, that after that I told myself I would not let that happen again ever in my life.
Jerome Haywood Ottawa Renegades 2005. Photo F. Scott Grant
Thanks for your time Jerome, and a hell of an interview too! Best of luck in the future and we can’t wait to see you back visiting Ottawa!

#TBT: An Interview with Ken Evraire

By: Santino Filoso

In this week´s Throwback Thursday Interview, we sit down with Ken Evraire, a former SB (slotback) for the Ottawa Rough Riders. A star receiver with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, Ken was drafted by Saskatchewan in the 1988 draft, but traded to Ottawa before the season started. After 9 seasons in the CFL with 4 different teams, Ken retired and started a broadcasting career in Ottawa.

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RR: Coming out of  Wildfrid Laurier University you were drafted by  Saskatchewan, how surprised were you to start the season with Ottawa?

KE:  I was quite surprised when I was traded to Ottawa. I was drafted by the Saskatchewan Roughriders as a DB despite my being a 2-time All-Canadian receiver at WLU. I learned a lot as a DB during my rookie training camp which was key to my success as a receiver in Ottawa. With that said, my agent and I had worked hard to be traded to the Toronto Argonauts. Roughrider GM Bill Baker called me into his office one day and told me to say hello to Wayne Giardino (GM of the Ottawa Rough Riders) and not Bob O’Billovich of the Toronto Argo as thought it would be.  In hindsight, everything worked out for me and becoming an Ottawa Rough Rider was a great highlight of my career.

Speaking of Wilfrid Laurier, can you walk us through that fabled 106 yard Yates Cup play?

We faced a very strong Western Mustangs team led by a boatload of all-stars, guys like Blake Marshall, Pierre Verscheval, Irv Daymond, Matt Janes, Kyle Hall, etc. Western made a concerted effort to take away our play action vertical passing game. I always played on the right side but the coach decided to move me to the left. Rather than facing Kyle Hall I lined up against Marius Locke. We called a 3 step pass play that hinged on a signal I relayed to QB Mike Wilson. I had a feeling Marius would be aggressive so I signaled for a slant and go. Locke bit on the slant and Wilson threw a perfect pass. I scored what was the go ahead TD but we lost thanks to a last second TD scored by Blake Marshall.

Growing up were you a Rough Rider fan and did you get a chance to see a lot of games at Lansdowne?

I was very much a Rough Rider fan thanks in large part to the time I spent at the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club. The Rough Rider players took time out to visit us at the club so I immediately identified with them. Then, thanks to the donation of Rough Rider tickets I was able to go to games with my family. My dad always made sure we arrived before the pre-game warm ups so we could watch the players prepare and watch how they carried themselves as they prepared.  Once the game ended, we would jump on to the field to meet the players. QB Rick Cassata gave me his chinstrap which was a very big deal for a kid back then.

Over your career you had the opportunity to play with a number of  talented QBs, I know it may be tough to say but who did you most enjoy catching passes from?

Damon Allen…there is no argument. Damon’s passes would land in your hands like he handed it to you. He was so athletic and thanks to his baseball background he had great touch. He always knew when to put some heat on the pass or when to drop it in over the top with a soft touch.

Did you have a favourite (or least favourite) stadium to play in?

I never enjoyed playing in Calgary. With the change of elevation you would feel great in warm ups and then your legs would just die when you came back out to play the game. Plus, you had to walk up this long ramp to get back to the locker room. Not fun! Winnipeg ranks a very close second.

Who was the biggest trash talker you ever played against?

The biggest trash talker that I played against was actually a group of players. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had the best LB core (James West, Tyrone Hill, Paul Randolph, Greg Battle) and they talked trash from the first play right through to the end of the game. I had a lot of respect for them because they played hard. Intimidation was a big part of their game and they were good at it.

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

When I look back on my career I´m most proud of the people I met (teammates and fans). When you are in the moment you compete to win and you are measured by your performance on the field. Yet the time spent with great teammates, laughing so hard you think your lungs are going to explode, growing up as a young man and experiencing the human connection that transcends the game on the field will always mean a lot to me.

When your cousin Chris Evraire entered the CFL, what kind of advice did you give him?

I simply told him that he was good enough to play pro ball. Yes, there are some great athletes and they come from some very significant football programs but at the end of the day it’s all about competing and about who wants to succeed more.

After your football career ended you settled in Ottawa and got  into broadcasting with A-Channel, what was the most difficult transition in going from playing sports to talking about them?

I think letting go of the game was the greatest challenge for me. In my heart, I wanted to play forever, but my body was telling me it was time to let the game go. With that said, I was quite fortunate in working with so many great people at A-Channel. They were the next great team I was honored to have been a part of.

Since retiring you’ve gotten into coaching. How would you describe yourself as a coach?

I coach athletes “up”. My focus is to prepare the athlete for success in the moment and prepare them for the next level of competition they will face once they move on. If you coach up then the winning takes care of itself. You may not win the championship but you play a key role in cultivating better athletes and even greater people.

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What are you currently doing for work?

I am a leadership and team building coach. I created the  “The I in Team” and the  “360 Degree Circle of Influence” programs which are based on my  “coaching up” approach to leadership and team building.

Will you be out at any Redblacks games this summer?

I will be at the Redblacks games with my wife and kids just as my dad had brought my mom, sisters and brother to games. We will show up early to watch warm ups and cheer the team on through thhick and thin.

What do think of the Redblacks new uniforms, do you prefer the home or away ones?

I like both uniforms but if I had to make a choice I think the black jerseys and black pants are intimidating! Kind of reminds me of the black jerseys the Rough Riders wore in the 90s.

Give me one reason why you think the Redblacks can be competitive in their inaugural season.

I think the team will be competitive thanks to their great coaching and scouting staff. Coach Campbell understands the value of the Canadian athlete and the need to find players (be they Canadian or American) who are up to the challenge of being competitive. Winning is a state of mind! What the team thinks and believes before the ball is kicked off will be important. The players will be able to draw on what is a great football legacy and a great fan base in Ottawa.

Thank you very much for your time Ken, and see you at Lansdowne!

@RedBlackGade