With general manager Marcel Desjardins being let go by the Ottawa Redblacks on October 25th, some final thoughts (posted earlier this week on Twitter) on why it happened and where the franchise goes from here.
First off, as much as this was absolutely the right decision for the franchise, there’s no celebration here for a guy losing his job. These guys aren’t millionaires and getting fired always sucks.
In the end, it was Desjardins’ decision after the 2018 season not to prioritize replacing the ‘four-headed monster’ of Trevor Harris, William Powell, Greg Ellingson and SirVincent Rogers with suitable talent that did him in. Simply too much talent lost too quickly.
Few teams could be expected to absorb such losses at marquee positions without taking a big step backwards. In Ottawa’s case, it was a massive step. The swagger from the Grey Cup teams gone overnight, and casual fan interest dropped off noticeably.
It’s very odd, looking back, that Desjardins strayed from building his teams around an elite QB. Winning in the CFL is nearly impossible without one, not to mention the recruiting aspect a big name brings.
The Nick Arbuckle signing looked to be a renewed focus on winning, but the subsequent decision to let him go prior to this season felt like a GM that was either second-guessing himself or lost control. Either way, a confidence-killer.
Desjardins can’t really be blamed for the retirements that contributed to this awful season. But the fact remains the roster was already deficient. Too much had to go right for this team to even compete for a playoff spot. That’s not how you build winning programs.
Ottawa football fans absolutely owe a debt to Desjardins for what he accomplished here, but change had to happen – and probably should have happened a season ago. By the sounds of Desjardins on Monday, he was probably ready for a change of scenery too.
The good news is that there are lots of nice pieces to build around with this Redblacks roster, in spite of its shortcomings. But finding an answer at QB and rebuilding the OLine are obviously critical in returning to competitiveness.
My hope for the next Redblacks GM is someone with CFL front office experience, though not necessarily GM experience. There appear to be a number of great candidates out there, which helps. The speculation will be fun to watch.
These are some restless times in #RNation, with the Redblacks on a 4-game losing streak and fans wondering if all their doubts about the 2019 version of the team are already materializing. Redblacks fan @Lordele shares his thoughts on how we may have got here and why no one should be surprised.
By Lordele Greenyer
Let’s be honest: by Day Two of CFL free agency 2019, any objective Redblacks fan pretty much knew where this team was gonna be this year. The success of this season’s team was determined when big names – Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson, William Powell and SirVincent Rogers being the biggest – were not re-signed, and without any substantial names walking back through the doors of TD Place. At the time, General Manager Marcel Desjardins defended the strategy and spoke of prioritizing the re-signing key defensive free agents, which limited the team’s cap flexibility. Some bought it, others not so much. And while the first couple weeks of the season offered some hope, the season has not surprisingly been mostly pitiful.
So this is where we are: Two wins, four losses and not a lot of hope. But how did we get here? Or, WHY did we get here? I’ve got my suspicions…
Strap on your tinfoil hat and join me!
Theory One: Marcel Desjardins actually believes this team will be good
I honestly have a hard time believing this. MD has spent countless seasons evaluating talent and building competitive teams, most recently the championship team in 2016 and two others reaching the Grey Cup in FOUR seasons. Regardless of the strength of the East division, his teams were regularly at the top of standings. And while there have been some mistakes over the years (Eric Rogers 😢), they are far outweighed by a number of strong free agent signings-turned-CFL stars (or at least stars in the making). For Desjardins to suddenly lose his touch with player evaluation and roster composition seems unrealistic. Has to be more to it.
Theory Two: OSEG has tightened the purse strings
This one has been widely speculated on social media and among the fan base since the off-season. And since CFL salaries still aren’t being made public, it probably won’t stop any time soon. Many fans point to the cost of operating Ottawa Fury FC, and their relatively modest attendance (averaging about 4,500 spectators through 10 home games in 2019) as a factor. The 67s have also been suffering somewhat the last few years at the box office, though last season’s playoff run had to help the bottomline.
OSEG cherishes brave people with independent thought.
We believe in our GM & coaches…with good cause given their track record.
Your REDBLACKS have always spent to the CFL salary cap building a TEAM…just spread out a little different than some others. Bring on 2019 🔴⚫️!
I frankly just don’t buy it. My expectation is that Desjardins and the Redblacks have been given the OK to spend to the cap. OSEG CEO Mark Goudie said as much. The organization seems pretty sound financially and has many more outlets for revenue beyond butts in seats. I mean, they even found a sponsor for the 15 minutes the fans spend on the field after games!
Theory Three: Desjardins has his eyes set on 2020
I’m going full tinfoil here, but bear with me.
With a new collective bargaining agreement due before this season, it’s no secret a number of players made a point of signing contracts that would expire at the same time, in hopes of cashing in on an increase in available cap dollars. With the CBA ratified nearly three months after the start of free agency, however, teams and players had to guess at where the cap might land. Many clearly expected a cap increase and the league’s biggest names signed two-, three-, even four-year contracts with big signing bonuses.
Now that we know the big cap increase didn’t materialize (going up only $50,000 from 2018), teams like BC, Edmonton and Winnipeg may be hard pressed to be active in free agency in 2020, because they have a good portion of their money locked up.
In walks Desjardins. He let his big names walk and take big contracts elsewhere, didn’t really make any long-term commitment to any player, let alone bringing in a big contract. So they might be a “cap team”, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have money to spend.
No question defence has been this team’s biggest strength the last couple years. And while individual accolades are great, defensive players seem to get paid when the team wins. Conversely, it’s harder to demand big, long-term deals when the team hasn’t had a great season. Should the season play out that way, MD will be better positioned to re-sign key parts of the defence to reasonable deals.
Now, putting these two concepts together, Desjardins would have the ability and flexibility at season’s end to not only re-sign those key parts of the defence (at perhaps a more reasonable cost) to contract extensions and apply signing bonus dollars to the 2019 salary cap.
Putting a couple hundred thousand dollars to work in this way could allow the Redblacks to be major players in 2020 free agency, while also better allowing them to keep guys like Brad Sinopoli, Lewis Ward and our growing list of defensive studs.
So is it worth it to write-off 2019 for the sake of 2020 or beyond? I’m not sure, but this is my best guess at how – and why – we got here.
After thinking about it for a couple years, spending a few months putting concepts together and a little bit of teasing on social media, I’m happy to announce the launch of Defend the R gear on Teespring!
Put together a little FAQ to capture how I got here.
What gave you this idea?
I’ve always been fascinated by and drawn to fan base-specific and ultra-local stuff that teams do. Whether it’s a chant, a saying or an inside joke, this stuff is the glue that keeps a fan base together. In the case of Ottawa football, we’ve got over 140 years of history that deserves remembering, celebrating or mocking, as the case may be. So not only is this a way to capture my own memories, but hopefully a way to encourage any and all in #RNation to share their own bit of history.
Is any of this stuff licensed by the team or league?
So, doesn’t this take away money that could otherwise be going to the Redblacks directly?
I’m glad you asked. This is a very fair question and one I thought long and hard about. Let me start by saying I’m the kind of guy who would rather go up to the ticket window and pay full price for a ticket than buy from a scalper. I’ve happily bought an almost unhealthy amount of Redblacks gear since the team returned to the CFL. I’m a season-ticket holder that (currently) lives five hours out of town. Supporting the franchise matters to me in a big way.
So this little online t-shirt shop is not about taking anything away, but filling in the gaps. It’s giving the die-hard fans something that’s a little more personal; capturing those parts of Ottawa football that aren’t necessarily mainstream, have been forgotten or frankly just aren’t suitable for licensing.
Okaaaaay…. What else you got?
Well, besides this being a fun and creative venture, I will also be donating a significant portion of the proceeds to a great Ottawa charity. Not exactly sure who that will be at this point, but lots of worthy organizations I’d be happy to support in this small way.
Men’s and women’s sizes available?
Yep. And sizes S-4XL for most t-shirts.
I see Teespring is a US-based site. Any issues shipping to Canada?
Products are fulfilled in the US, but they absolutely ship to Canada. Just select Canada from the Shipping Info drop-down on the product page.
You can expect a new design every couple weeks throughout the CFL season.
Are you open to suggestions? Can you arrange for custom orders?
Absolutely! Whether that’s improvements to existing designs or ideas for new ones, the goal is to have a collection of memories that speak to and accurately represent Ottawa football fans. And Teespring doesn’t need big numbers on this stuff, so a small run of custom tees can be done. Hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or email if you want to discuss.
Alright, so with all that out of the way, I bring you the inaugural lineup of Defend the R t-shirts on Teespring!
The oft-maligned and ridiculed “better half” of the Ottawa football fan base. It’s all in good fun. But not really. Show your North Side pride with the ‘We The North Side’ tee.
Go to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and tell us which of these four tees you like best by Retweeting/sharing our post(s). Winner will be randomly selected and will receive their choice of Defend the R t-shirt, shipped to your door. Open to Canada and US entrants only. Winner will be announced Friday, July 19, 2019 during the Redblacks-Bombers game.
Good luck and thanks for your support!
Thanks for reading! Follow us on Twitter at @DefendTheR.
Editor’s note: Our friend, fellow CFL fan (Saskatchewan, but try not to hold it against him) and favourite uniform concept designer Nelson Hackewich was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and experiences at this year’s Grey Cup Festival in Edmonton. This is the second of two recaps on all the great stuff the festival had to offer. (here’s the first) Thanks Nelson! Super jealous!
Better late than never, right?
Grey Cup Saturday
Saturday started with the traditional Calgary pancake breakfast and the Grey Cup parade. A little underwhelmed watching the parade, so when the ‘Rider contingent walks by, I step off the sidewalk and join the parade!
After the parade, we all head over to the TSN booth to see the live hits of Grey Cup Saturday. While stopping inside to warm up we bumped into the legend, Pinball Clemons. And of course made the TSN coverage.
It was a short day at the Nissan Street Fest as we prepare notes and dig up dirt on both teams for the game tomorrow. Here’s what was seen, heard and researched:
The Stampeders were not to fond of the playing surface today at Commonwealth Stadium. Bo Levi Mitchell considered the turf to that of Ottawa’s in last year’s Grey Cup and Eric Rogers saying “If the game was today, we wouldn’t be able to wear cleats out there.”
When the Redblacks players were asked about the conditions of the turf, most said they were used to it, as they play on a similar surface at home.
Calgary will already make history tomorrow, playing in a team-record third Grey Cup in a row. Last teams to play in three GCs in a row? Montreal 2008-10, Hamilton 1984-86, Edmonton 1977-82, Montreal 1977-79.
The Redblacks are playing in a Grey Cup for the third time in the last four years, a first for any Ottawa club since the late ’60s (1966, ’68 & ’69).
This will be the fourth time Calgary and Ottawa have met in a Grey Cup, with Ottawa winning in 1968 and 2016, while Calgary won in 1948.
Dave Dickenson is looking for his first Grey Cup as a head coach, and trying to avoid becoming the first head coach since 1956 to lose three Grey Cups in a row.
Rick Campbell looks to get his second Grey Cup. He would become the 20th head coach to win multiple championships.
Teams head to head:
Calgary holds a 7-1-2 regular season edge over Ottawa since 2014; Ottawa has the 2016 GC win, however.
The last time these teams met in the Grey Cup, they combined for 852 passing yards – by far the most in Grey Cup history (#2, 777 yards in ’89)
Calgary outscored Ottawa 51-17 – with the gap (+34) made up of points off of Turnovers primarily (26 of Calgary’s 51 points).
Trevor Harris did not complete either game and has passing totals of 135 and 93 yards with 3 INTs and 0 TD passes.
Bo Levi Mitchell passed for 251 and 166 yards with 3 TDs, 3 gains of 30+ yards and one INT.
Don Jackson rushed for 186 yards (Max 102) on 30 carries for one TD. William Powell had 140 yards.
Grey Cup Sunday
Game day was full of generally a pro-Ottawa crowd, with CFL fans in sight from morning breakfast across the street at the hotel to the train to the stadium.
Arriving at the stadium at about 1:30pm (three-and-a-half hours before kickoff), we took in some of the tailgate parties, then headed into the stadium to walk about.
Two hours prior to kickoff it was a balmy 2° and the field conditions looked absolutely perfect. The Redblacks took the field for warm-up to a thunderous ovation, while it seemed the Stamps were only backed by those from Calgary and some die-hard western Canadian types who dislike our current prime minister.
The Reklaws belted out “Long Live the Night” and with an iconic Snowbirds fly-over, Grey Cup 106 was under way!
The game wasn’t much to write home about until Terry Williams had a record 97-yard punt return touchdown on a now slippery Commonwealth Stadium field, sending Stamps fans into a frenzy. If you watch the highlights, the most impressive part of the return (besides his speed on ice) is the fact he almost fell on his own. No doubt an absolute game-changer.
In the end, Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stamps got the monkey off their back, outlasting the Redblacks to win the Grey Cup.
Overall, Edmonton knows how to throw a party! From the street festival, to the $300k+ 50/50 jackpot, to meeting old friends and making new ones, there was tons of great CFL and Grey Cup buzz all week long, as it should be.
Can’t wait for Grey Cup 107. See you next year, Calgary!
Editor’s note: Our friend, fellow CFL fan (Saskatchewan, but try not to hold it against him) and favourite uniform concept designer Nelson Hackewich was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and experiences at this year’s Grey Cup Festival in Edmonton. This is the first of a couple recaps on all the great stuff the festival has to offer. Thanks Nelson! Super jealous!
It was a lengthy eight-hour drive through the frosted Canadian prairie from Regina to Edmonton, which gave me a lot of time to think about who to cheer for this Sunday in the 106th Grey Cup. People will tell you, “you’re from the west how can you not cheer for the west?”, or “the cup has to stay in the east!” But, over the course of the drive, I’ve come up with a few reasons which determined that, although I primarily bleed green, for one weekend in November, I’ll cheer for the Ottawa Redblacks.
Reason #1: Rick Campbell. He’s just a darn decent dude! Back when CFL Week was in Regina, I bumped into Rick almost daily in the Tim Hortons line at Evraz place, where we talked football and his love for Saturday Night Live. Plus, he is linked to not only the Riders, but the Eskimos through his father, the great Hugh Campbell.
Reason #2: The increasingly popular CFL adage of ABC – Anyone But Calgary. I think Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson hit the nail on the head in his West Final post game comments when he told reporters that Canada doesn’t like seeing them in the Grey Cup.
Anyway, onto the festivities!
Grey Cup Thursday
Edmonton has definitely come alive as the hotbed of Canadian football. Everywhere you look it’s decorated businesses, “Grey Cup” food and drink specials and the like. The city is roaring and ready to go! Everywhere you go people are dressed in all 10 CFL team (including the Atlantic Schooners) jerseys and apparel. Bars and restaurants are full and on American thanksgiving, where the NFL generally holds the spotlight, it was almost non-existent as the conversation turned to who is going to win on Sunday. I even heard a conversation about the Las Vegas Posse and Shreveport Pirates.
A smaller crowd strolled the street fest today taking in activations from Shaw (where you could sit in a Redblacks locker stall donning Brad Sinopoli’s jersey and equipment), get some s’mores compliments of TSN, or “Take a Kick at the Can” and see if you can last 8 seconds on a giant can of Twisted Tea (Mechanical bull style). Our night was capped at the outdoor street stage where Winnipeg’s The Watchmen played all their hits! Daniel Greaves (lead vocals) came out in a retro Bombers sweater and opened by stating “I wish the Bombers were here” and closed by asking the crowd “Who are we cheering for on sunday” with a primarily pro-Ottawa response.
Team hospitality rooms open up Friday with the highly anticipated announcement of the Atlantic Canada franchise team name, the CFL fan state of the league, a dip into the Shaw conference center to check out more fan fest activities, performances by Maestro Fresh Wes and Canadian supergroup Toque, capped off by a stop in Riderville and back to the stage to catch The Strumbellas.
Grey Cup Friday
After a quick autograph signing with Saskatchewan WR Namann Roosevelt and Argos WR SJ Green, Canadian hip hop legend Maestro Fresh Wes, Dressed in a special edition Eskimos Damon Allen jersey custom made for the 2018 Grey Cup, got our day going belting out “Let your backbone slide”. Taking shots at current Canadian rap superstar Drake, saying “I’ve been doing this since he’s been on Degrassi” was classic. Wes was followed up by Canadian super group and cover band Toque, featuring Todd Kerns (Age of Electric) Brent Fitz (Slah, Myles Kenedy, Alice Cooper) and Cory Churko (Shania Twain, Live), who played nothing but hits from Loverboy, Streetheart, Chilliwack, and Queen City Kids. True Canadiana and very fitting for the Grey Cup festival.
From there a dip into the Atlantic Kitchen Party for the 10th franchise name unveiling. Seriously, is anyone shocked? There were rumblings early in the week from a few of my media contacts in the league that it would be such. If the Schooners weren’t called the Schooners, it would be crushing not only to the people that host the Atlantic Schooners Kitchen Party year after year, but all of the people that have dreamt of this moment for so long. The font they chose was an interesting “UA Falcon”, which is primarily used by Under Armour teams. Using a white font on a grey stormy background also leaves a lot to be desired. Will they be black and grey? Will they be black and gold?
The night was capped by visits to the #RNation Party, where we bumped into the lovely Redblacks Cheer team, Winnipeg RB Andrew Harris and Ottawa mascot Big Joe (and his forearms). Then a short walk down street fest to Riderville, where we saw performances by the BC Felions dance team, the Alouettes Cheer team and Rider Cheer team.
Saturday, we take in the Grey Cup parade, team walkthroughs at Commonwealth Stadium, a tour of the Oilers beautiful Rogers Arena, and cap the night with a performance by Tim Hicks. Can’t wait!
With training camp in the books and the 2017 Canadian Football League season on the horizon, general manager Marcel Desjardins, head coach Rick Campbell and the Ottawa Redblacks had the difficult task of paring down the roster to the league-mandated maximum of 46 (not including injuries, plus 10 practise roster spots) over the weekend.
Here’s the team that will storm the field at TD Place on Friday, June 23rd:
DB – Defensive Back
21 Berger, Adam 🇨🇦
20 Bolduc, Jean-Philippe 🇨🇦
46 Carrington, Lloyd
19 Claiborne, Imoan
4 Gavins, Jerrell
24 Jefferson, A.J.
15 Johnson, Keelan
6 Pruneau, Antoine 🇨🇦
9 Rose, Jonathan
32 Taylor, Nicholas
33 West, Dan 🇨🇦
Definitely the biggest question mark coming into the 2017 season. While there are a few returning vets (Gavins, Pruneau) and the addition of former Toronto Argonaut standout Jefferson, the fact is this is an inexperienced group. And while that may be a fairly regular occurrence in the CFL, it nonetheless means dealing with the uncertainty that comes with young players and CFL rookies. That said, D-Block 2017 looks to be a very talented and athletic group, led by coach (and DB guru) Ike Charlton.
After defensive backs, the defensive line is probably the next biggest question mark for the Grey Cup champs. The group remains a strong one, with high-end Canadian talent in Gascon-Nadon, Williams and Evans, but the fact remains Ottawa had difficulty getting to the opposing quarterback for most of the 2016 season. It appears the plan is to rotate seven or eight of these big boys with regularity, at least for the first few weeks of the season.
K – Kicker
3 Maher, Brett
39 Medeiros, Zack 🇨🇦
Maher returns to Ottawa following a strong 2016 season in Hamilton and a brief stint on the Cleveland Browns roster. Medeiros has had a strong camp by all accounts and has performed well in preseason games. Dare we say the kicking positions seem (knock on wood) somewhat solidified?
LB – Linebacker
22 Bass, Khalil
10 Bryant, Serderius
42 Omara, Ron 🇨🇦
44 Reed, Taylor
The Redblacks had some challenges at LB in 2016, with a fair amount of turnover, including adding ‘Tank’ Reed at mid-season and having Gavins (admirably) jump into the position from his normal DB spot(s). Bass was one of the most sought-after free agents available this offseason. This group looks strong.
LS – Long Snapper
52 Doll, Tanner 🇨🇦
50 Bourassa, Louis-Philippe 🇨🇦
Doll was solid in 2016, and 2017 draft pick Bourassa looks to be a versatile back-up that can contribute on special teams.
OL – Offensive Line
53 Albright, Matthew 🇨🇦
68 Draheim, Tommie
63 Gott, Jon 🇨🇦
64 Johnson, Evan 🇨🇦
58 Lauzon-Séguin, Jason 🇨🇦
66 MacMillan, Nolan 🇨🇦
56 Mateas, Alex 🇨🇦
55 Rogers, SirVincent
59 Silas, Jake
With the return of Jake Silas this week, the Redblacks offensive line is essentially the same strong group from 2016. While J’Michael Deane is gone, 2017 first-round pick Evan Johnson will look to make his way into the rotation. Most importantly, guard SirVincent Rogers looks fully recovered from season-ending ankle injury.
QB – Quarterback
7 Harris, Trevor
14 Lindley, Ryan
5 Tate, Drew
For the first time in his pro career, Harris will be the undisputed starting QB. And while he has put up excellent numbers the last two seasons with extended time as fill-in starter, being “the guy” is a different kind of pressure. How Harris responds will be a – if not the – major storyline of the Redblacks season.
RB/FB – Running Back/Fullback
25 Gillanders, Brendan 🇨🇦
45 Gosselin, Anthony 🇨🇦
81 Lavoie, Patrick 🇨🇦
23 Madu Jr., Mossis
29 Powell, William
Powell was a force for Ottawa in the back-half of 2015, including a team-best performance in the Grey Cup loss. After missing all of 2016 with an Achilles injury, WiPo is healthy and looked strong in his limited preseason reps. Lavoie is the incumbent FB and should continue to be that 6th/7th receiving option for Harris.
The Redblacks got a lot younger at receiver this offseason, and many believe they have a chance to be even better than the 2016 crew. Lofty, considering they are coming off a second straight year where four receivers topped 1,000 yards. Shaw (1,004 yards for Toronto last year) & Spencer (706 yards in just 12 games with the Argos) are the big free agent additions, while Criner put up 446 yards in the final eight games of the year, including playoffs, once Chris Williams was lost for the year. Add these three to what we’ve come to expect from The Buds (Ellingson & Sinopoli), and the 2017 Redblacks receiving corps is setting up to challenge the league’s best. Is FIVE 1,000-yard receivers a possibility?
While there are always question marks, there’s little question the Redblacks have improved depth at most positions. Barring significant injury, a healthy Redblacks squad should contend for first in the East Division.
By the way, here’s the Redblacks practise roster for Week 1:
27 Baltimore, Sherrod (DB)
31 Brown, Kevin (LB)
17 Collins, Danny (QB)
98 Ellis, Avery (DL)
80 Hartley, Austen (WR) 🇨🇦
35 Jackson, Kevin (LB) 🇨🇦
57 Lofton, Eric (OL) 89 Rhymes, Dominique (WR)
69 Schmidt, Ryan (OL) 28 Tindal, Corey (DB)
PR UPDATE (6/22): Preseason standout WR Daje Johnson has been added to the practise roster, replacing OL Ryan Schmidt. Johnson will wear number 13.
I really don’t have anything to offer that hasn’t already been said about the Redblacks Grey Cup win. So instead of rehashing/celebrating what happened, I’m going to look ahead a bit. The Redblacks have a pile of pending free agents as do most other teams in the CFL. There are quarterback and management questions in other cities, and a team or two will be using the next few weeks to begin their march on Ottawa and the 2017 Grey Cup. I won’t get too deep into Redblacks 2017 roster projects – there are too many moving parts at this point. But here’s a look at the current situation as well as my view of some other situations in other cities.
The CFL’s Big List of Free Agents now out, we can certainly look at the team’s offseason challenges.
This means there is much work to be done, but it’s the best kind of work – keeping a champion together and making it better. Not everyone will get to stay, however.
Sadly, Chris Williams is likely in the “won’t be back” category. He’ll be rehabbing his knee well into next summer and may be back just before his 30th birthday. That isn’t a great combo, especially considering that his last contract was likely in the $200k+ neighbourhood. Williams has his detractors, but his world-class speed kept defenders on their heels and opened up the field for his teammates. Losing him for 2017 will be doubly unfortunate because Trevor Harris has the arm to take full advantage of Williams’ talents.
The list of must-sign players is fairly long. Ernest Jackson, Mitchell White, Abdul Kanneh and Nolan MacMillan would be hard to replace. Tank Reed is the LB the Redblacks need – his presence boosted Damaso Muñoz. And #RNation needs to be concerned about John Boyett’s return – we never really heard much about his knee injury and now he’s looking at free agency. There are rumblings that Abdul Kanneh will be looking south, and now we hear that the team has released Cleyon Laing so he can look south as well. If I could, I would bring them both back. Laing proved his worth, collapsing pockets from the inside and making lots of room. As I hoped, he even played some DE and it proved an experiment worth continuing.
I somehow doubt we’ll see Aston Whiteside back. He never really recovered from his knee injury. Its hard to see from here whether the Redblacks rushed him back or whether the knee didn’t respond to treatment or whether he actually got reinjured. The Redblacks so-far fruitless search for its next speed rushing DE continues. But…given the way the Redblacks DLine performed in the Grey Cup, I’m inclined to think the team should stop trying to slot in an unproven speed DE and go with muscle. I saw some devastating power rushes from Laing and Connor Williams from the DE position, showing that Clydesdales can get the same result as a racehorse.
Meanwhile, fan favourite Antoine Pruneau is also a pending free agent. Without knowing enough about Montreal’s FS situation, must think that he’s a guy they’d love to sign. Pruneau gave an interview following the Grey Cup parade that made me think he is thinking about options other than returning to Ottawa. I have no quote that signals this, its was just a feeling. Jeff Richards (rumoured to have several opportunities in the NFL) may be a more consistent FS, but it is hard to deny that even without his passport, Pruneau is a big contributor and the Redblacks would be well-served to try to get him back.
Lots of potential for moving parts on the offensive line. J’Michael Deane and Nolan MacMillan are each pending free agents. MacMillan is a very good veteran presence. Deane had a lot of penalty issues this season. Jason Lauzon-Séguin is a legit starter at G and showed he can play OT. Backup Matthew Albright absolutely seems ready to start at G. Jake Silas has proven to be a solid RT, SirV is locked in for another 2 seasons as one of the league’s premier LTs. Tommie Draheim got better into the playoffs and the Grey Cup but is not a strong starter. The long-range plan was for John Gott to switch to G and have Alex Mateas take his place at centre. I don’t see that happening, possibly ever.
The makeup of the 2017 OL hinges on whether MacMillan can be signed and whether management wants to keep Deane. I have my thoughts on how this should play out, but will save them for another column. I will say that Deane is possibly expendable which is unfortunate for a guy who may want to stay (he owns a house here).
It’s hard to say whether we’ll see FA RB William Powell back – if he’s willing to sign for not a ton of money upfront, then he’d certainly be worth bringing into camp and let him compete with Mossis Madu. Travon Van, who was a good insurance policy in 2016, likely isn’t a priority to re-sign.
Just a couple of special teams observations at this point. First, I spent a lot of Twitter characters questioning the removal of Kevin Malcolm from long snapper duties – he’s exceptionally good at delivering hard clean spirals to the punter. The team replaced him mid-season with Tanner Doll, who was immediately visible in ways that long snappers aren’t supposed to be. He improved as he went along, but most importantly, he showed why the team made the switch in the first place. Doll is a special teams coverage demon, not easy to do coming out of the snap.
Elsewhere across the CFL
Have to question what Chris Jones thinks he’s doing in Saskatchewan with the Darian Durant negotiations. Durant is a fan favourite, a very solid performer and there really isn’t a better QB on the market. Maybe Chris Jones is the genius he was supposed to be and he’s trying to save the team some needed cap space, or maybe he has a strong-armed rabbit to pull out of the proverbial hat. Or maybe he’s unnecessarily playing hardball with a QB who isn’t his guy. We’ll see.
Then there’s Toronto. Word is that co-owner Larry Tanenbaum wants to appoint a football management layer between ownership and the team GM. It makes sense, and it’s an approach he sees working (I guess) with the Maple Leafs. Who will it be? A lot of the CFL’s grownups are either locked into great jobs or on the verge of taking on fewer responsibilities rather than more. I saw a suggestion that Eric Tillman could be the guy, and that makes sense. I’m not convinced of Tillman’s football genius, but I’m convinced that he’s the type of person who will be hired for that job.
In Winnipeg, a team that seems on the cusp of greatness just let its fans breathe a sigh of relief by re-signing Coach Michael O’Shea. Now, the team may be doing some serious soul-searching on whether they have a QB whose trajectory matches the rest of the team. If Saskatchewan loses Durant, he could be enough to propel Winnipeg to true contention in 2017.
The potential for stability on the Alouettes in 2017 should scare the rest of the East and help re-ignite fan interest in Montreal. Hamilton and Ottawa had it pretty easy in 2016 sharing a division with two teams in a bad downward spiral. A Montreal comeback will make the East much more of a horserace, although whether it would be enough to avoid a western crossover in 2017 remains to be seen. Look for Montreal’s new GM and the coaching staff to assemble and ready an offence that can take advantage of its young QBs. Either Rakeem Cato or Vernon Adams could emerge out of training camp as a legit dynamic playmaking QB and make the Als offence a nice complement to the team’s already good defence.
That’s it for now, I’ve tried to avoid talking about teams or situations where I don’t have information or a decent opinion, though I guess that’s really up to you to judge. I’ll check in again as teams sign more of their pending free agents. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter at @CrankyClair.
All the best, and Merry Christmas.
Cranky Frank Clair
Most photos courtesy of Scott Grant Photography. Follow on Twitter at @CFLPhotoArchive.
It has been pure joy to read the many articles, blog entries, Facebook posts and Tweets capturing Ottawa’s first Grey Cup victory in 40 years. Nearly two weeks have passed and it still feels a bit dream-like. For a city and fanbase not used to having nice things, it has definitely been an adjustment period.
Not often does a championship carry so much weight for a city and have such deep an impact on the families that support the team, with fans spanning two, three, even four generations. It is equal parts elation, relief and vindication for a city that too often gets a bad rap.
Thanks to all of you in #RNation for sharing your experiences, celebrations and memories. It’s been a real pleasure.
With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to try and capture my Grey Cup experience in photos rather than words (well, maybe just a few words). Hope you enjoy.
(Photos mostly courtesy my bro)
Grey Cup & poutine. #Canadianity
Sigh of relief. And now, gametime. Time to put the phones away…
…until late in the 4th quarter.
An onside kick away from sealing it and… oh crap.
Put the phones away again!!!
After an emotional night, the after-party was subdued but delicious!
After midnight on the walk back downtown to catch a cab. All’s quiet, but a final reminder of what this team just accomplished.
Best day ever.
Two days later, celebrating with the rest of Ottawa:
And while the awarding of the 105th Grey Cup may be pretty much a done deal, the pressure is definitely on the Redblacks to make it something special, befitting of the country’s sesquicentennial.
(I had to look that up).
Some elements to consider:
Half-time show: Securing a big name half time act is key and you have to think there will be pressure to go Canadian. Lots of very talented Canadians doing great things in music, but this could be tough. Could they get someone like Drake to do it? Are groups like the Sam Roberts Band or Sheepdogs a big enough draw? Kardinal Offishall featuring Neil Young or Anne Murray?
Stadium upgrades: It’s always nice to show off a little when hosting friends from out of town, so why not throw a few extra bucks into TD Place? An east-end scoreboard would be amazing. Some work on the North Side concessions would be welcome, too.
Alumni: Bring in as many as you can find to as many events as possible. Renegades included. And we need lots of quality Russ Jackson time. Would be an opportune time to have a statue of the legend made.
Parliament Hill: Do something really cool there. Maybe a good start or end for the Grey Cup parade.
Another Trudeau Kick-Off? I’m not a huge fan of mixing sports & politics, but those Pierre Trudeau kick-offs are a great slice of Canadiana. Great opportunity to re-kindle the memories and give Justin some air time. So camera-shy, that one.
There will be plenty of time to discuss these and other ideas for making Grey Cup 105 the best event it can be. But before we look too far forward, let’s take a quick peek back at Ottawa’s history as Grey Cup hosts.
1925 Grey Cup
In the 12th Grey Cup game, played on Dec. 5th, your Ottawa Senators Football Club defeated the Winnipeg Tammany Tigers 24-1 in front of 6,900 rowdy Ottawans at Lansdowne Park. This would also be Ottawa’s first Grey Cup championship. Huzzah!
1939 Grey Cup
Played on Dec. 9th, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers edged the home town Ottawa Rough Riders 8-7 in the 27th edition. The home team was robbed, no doubt.
1940 Grey Cup
Bit of an asterisk here, as the 28th Grey Cup was a two-game total points series between the Toronto Balmy Beach Beachers (terrible name) and the Ottawa Rough Riders. Games were played Nov. 30th (Toronto’s Varsity Stadium) and Dec. 7th (Lansdowne Park). The Riders took both ends of the series – by scores of 8-2 and 12-5 – to win Ottawa’s third Grey Cup.
1967 Grey Cup
It would be 27 long years before Ottawa would again host the Grey Cup. Played on Dec. 2nd, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat the heck out of Saskatchewan 24-1. 31,358 showed up to watch.
1988 Grey Cup
Ottawa waited another 21 years for their next opportunity to play host. The 76th edition of the Grey Cup was played on Nov. 27th, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers edging the BC Lions 22-21. Our friends at Wikipedia capture the storylines nicely:
This was the first Grey Cup game between two teams from west of Ontario, and the first to be won by a team which had only a .500 season.
2004 Grey Cup
This event was essentially the swan song for the Ottawa Renegades franchise. During Grey Cup week, the Ottawa Sun broke the story that Brad Watters’ ownership group was working on selling the three-year-old franchise to the father-son-ownership-group-that-shall-not-be-named.
The game took place on Nov. 21st, with the Damon Allen-led Toronto Argonauts defeating the Lions 27-19.
I was fortunate enough to attend this game. My first Grey Cup, in fact. Couple of blurry memories:
While I had my ticket on me, no one ever asked to see it nor was it ever scanned. Honour system, I guess.
Shortly after Allen took the field for the first time, I made sure to yell out “Ho-bart!” Yep, I’m that awesome.
Metal benches on the South Side upper deck weren’t ideal on a chilly night. Not that I really had a chance to get cold with so many people rammed into each row. More like seat suggestions, really. Very sardine can-like.
Getting to the bathroom at halftime was probably the worst experience of my life. Missed all of the Tragically Hip and about the first eight minutes of the 3rd quarter.
What will Grey Cup 105 (Presented by Shaw) have in store for Ottawa? No doubt a home game would be music to #RNation’s ears.
Every fan base has them, those die-hards who stick with their team through thick and thin. But in most cities, those fans aren’t as well organized or as close as one group in Ottawa. Back before every single fan base in every single sport gave themselves the “Nation” moniker, there was Renegade Nation.
In 2002, six years after the historic Rough Riders franchise folded leaving a gaping hole at Lansdowne Park and in the hearts of their fans, the Renegades returned CFL football to Ottawa. During the CFL’s absence, internet use exploded and across the country online forums like the 13th Man (http://www.13thman.com/) sprung up for CFL fans to preview games, play armchair GM, debate player personnel moves and plan tailgates. Tired of being left out in the cold, a couple of passionate fans, Phil Tanguay JF Fournier, Glen Handley and Shane Johns decided to take matters into their own hands. After a chance meeting at an early season game, Renegade Nation was born.
For Handley, you could say that the foundation of Renegade Nation was the consummation of a lifetime of supporting Ottawa football. It began with a childhood summer boating trip from Kingston up the Rideau River to Ottawa. “We were floating along, and just after passing Dow’s Lake I saw a huge building, full of people. I asked my mother what it was and she replied that it was where the Ottawa football team played. At that moment, an enormous roar bellowed from the stadium. I was awestruck and the sound of those fans sent a chill through me that I still feel to this day.” From that moment onwards, Handley has been obsessed with Ottawa’s CFL teams. Despite living in Oshawa, he never missed a Rough Riders game, (normally watching on TV but sometimes in person when the opportunity presented itself) and eventually moved to Ottawa for school, mainly because of the team. Unfortunately, shortly after he relocated to the capital, the Rough Riders folded. When football returned in 2002, Handley was as passionate as ever and quickly bought season tickets.
After it’s inception, it didn’t take long for a Renegade Nation flag (featuring their beloved mascot Skully) and tents to become fixtures behind the South Side stands in Lansdowne’s parking lot on game day, often appearing 10 hours before kick off. As word spread, groups of 20-30 people were regularly tailgating with members of Renegade Nation. Soon, their tailgates featured drop ins by Renegade staff members, players and coaches.
Along with the Southsiders (with whom they are closely aligned), Renegade Nation was a visible fan presence the Renegades sorely needed. “We had a pretty symbiotic relationship with the team”, recalls Shane Johns. “We helped them generate buzz, gave some great visuals to TSN, and they treated us well”. While not overly rowdy, Renegade Nation always managed to express themselves. In fact, an unnamed member made it a point to moon the opponent’s team bus each week as the visitors arrived at the stadium. “That got a huge laugh out of Pinball Clemons when the Argos came in” remembers Johns.
One of Renegade Nation’s proudest moments came in 2005, when two players were fined following an on field scuffle. Members of Renegade Nation believed that the Ottawa players were merely sticking up for their teammates and so a hat was passed around to raise money to help pay the fines. They collected more than $300 and with the help of a local reporter, managed to get access to the team locker room to turn the money over to the players. One of the players being fined, Jerome Haywood, was overcome with emotion and had tears in his eyes when he found out what the money was for. “For us, it was just part of supporting the team”, says Johns.
But perhaps the online forum’s true value was only fully realized when Ottawa lost it’s CFL team for the second time. “That announcement in April 2006 was like a collective punch to the gut” says Dennis Prouse, “yet the Nation hung together. We used this board, and the friendships we built, to encourage each other, keep the spirit of football alive, and ultimately strategize and help out with the efforts to secure another franchise and revitalize Lansdowne Park. I can’t tell you how proud I am of everything Nation members did in terms of writing letters, doing media interviews, appearing at public meetings, and anything else we could think of to bring the CFL back to Ottawa. Those were some dark times, but we never lost hope, and I like to believe that the spirit of Renegade Nation played a significant role in the establishment of the REDBLACKS and the building of TD Place.”
The friendships built during the Renegade era are what helped so many members cope during those dark days. “From 2006 to 2009 or so, things were bleak. We would all constantly check the board to see if there was any news. Everyone was bummed about losing our team, but we had each other to bitch to and that was something. By 2010 we had a feeling we’d get our team back but with the endless delays our patience was really tested. Then one day it finally happened. All of us have been through a lot together. We’ve had get togethers at Gee Gee games, and one year we even did a Christmas dinner that had 30 guys show up!” says Cam McFayden, another long time member. “With over 100 registered members, during the lean years we probably had a group of 10-15 guys who still posted regularly”.
The beauty of an online forum is that it truly allows anyone to be included. Take the case of Solar Max, Renegade Nation’s lone West Coast member and currently the Redblacks furthest living season ticket holder, as confirmed by Jeff Hunt himself. Max’s grandfather and father were both season ticket holders in Ottawa during the ‘60s and ‘70s and Max grew up watching his father being able to park anywhere he wanted at Lansdowne on game days due to the huge R decal on his windshield. Living so far from Ottawa, Max had no idea that the private Renegade Nation forum even existed until 2005. As he puts it: “In 2005, the Grey Cup was held in Vancouver and while I’d been to Grey Cups in other cities, I hadn’t done one near where I lived in a long while. I decided to volunteer to pick up various Ottawa fans and dignitaries at Vancouver airport attending Greg Cup”.
One of those Ottawa fans he gave a ride to just happened to be Glen Handley. During the ride they got to talking and when questioned by Glen about the numerous Ottawa logos plastered on his car, Max replied that he was the only Ottawa fan he knew in BC. That’s when Max received his invitation and membership to Renegade Nation.
“I was over the moon to discover a world of people like me that lived, breathed, ate and slept Ottawa football” he says. “I had a duplicate of our Renegade Nation flag with Skully made, and I took it to every CFL stadium in 2006 after our team was murdered by Tom Wright and the CFL’s Board of Governors, in order to show other cities and fans that we of Renegade Nation, we die-hard Ottawa fans would not be forgotten, or shoved aside.”
While Ottawa might not have had a team between 2006-2013, that never stopped members of Renegade Nation from attending the Grey Cup. Every year a group of members coordinate their accommodation and which events they attend to always ensure that Ottawa was well represented at the country’s biggest party.
When football finally returned to Ottawa last season, many in Renegade Nation felt it was time to rebrand, in order to stay modern and relevant. Some in the group felt that Renegade Nation was too outdated and clung to the past, so after some discussion someone proposed the name R-Nation. “The R is to represent the Rough Riders, Renegades, and Redblacks and it also sounds like ‘Our Nation’ which has a great feel to it” explains Handley. “The main thing was incorporating the R since it’s been such a great logo for us”.
After voting to rebrand as R-Nation, members of the group began using the hashtag on twitter, especially when tweeting at the team. “We wanted Ottawa’s fan base to have a good nickname” says Santino Filoso, “Redblacks Nation doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue the same way R-Nation does”. Much to OSEG’s credit, they took the ball and ran with it, quickly adopting and using the moniker on their various social media platforms.
Another key change Renegade Nation made was to move from a private forum, where membership was only granted by invitation or word of mouth, to an open public forum, accessible to anyone at all willing to talk Ottawa football. Though everyone is now welcome (including fans of opposing teams), spamming and trolling with not be tolerated, meaning first time offenders will be permanently banned.
With a recent overhaul of their website and new members joining every day, things have never been better for members of R-Nation. When not chatting online, members meet up on game days, tailgating however they can. With no on site tailgating currently allowed at Lansdowne, the group has been forced to get creative, using Carleton’s parking lot this past season, despite run ins with campus security. “It’s unfortunate that tailgating in the shadow of TD Place isn’t currently an option” says Handley, “but I’m confident that with a little bit of patience we’ll figure something out”.