I am sure more than a few of my readers will be confused by this edition of my blog, since they are probably used to hearing from me about various social issues related to disability advocacy or other serious topics. Truth be told however, I got my start in blogging (before WordPress and before the word “blog” was in active use) writing “Tales from Section G” where I attempted to detail the fan experience of every Ottawa Renegades game. My attempt at sports journalism is good for a chuckle or two but it’s also I think a pretty accurate reflection of what it was like for fans on the roller coaster ride that was the Renegades franchise.
I did not reinstate that effort (and I’m in Section D now with my wife, father in-law, and friends Mike and Karen) when the Ottawa RedBlacks took to the field because I opted for Twitter and Facebook instead. It’s not an intentional secret, but it probably comes as a surprise to some that I’m the owner of the Ottawa RedBlacks Football Fans page and the @RedBlacksCFL account on Twitter, which now has a somewhat astounding 3500 followers. The figure is obviously not up there with Lady Gaga, but given I don’t have the time to keep up with the account on a daily basis, it just means that a lot of people enjoy my pithy style of gameday tweeting (I don’t take any guff from local nasyaers or trolls who support other teams, and I am not afraid to discuss urinal shortages or the shortcomings of visiting fans).
Full disclosure, my wife Julie and I are “all in” for the RedBlacks and with Lansdowne more generally. We loved most of the OSEG plan from the moment it went public, and ended up purchasing a small condo in The Rideau, which overlooks the field (if you are on that side of the building, which we are). It will be ready in November, and since October we’ve been renting in the other Lansdowne condo “The Vibe” so we have experienced a real taste of what life is going to be like around here, and so far it’s just what we hoped it would be.
With that background out of the way, let me get to our opening game of the 2015 regular season, the June 25 victory over Montreal. We had a very busy day at LiveWorkPlay including an early evening commitment so we watched from home, and I can’t lie, we were both extremely anxious. There are (or hopefully we can soon say “were”) a lot of self-defeating Ottawa fans who can’t shake the PTSS (Post-Traumatic Sports Syndrome) of the debacle of ownership and management that gave us the mostly terrible teams on the late-era Rough Riders and the Renegades.
I know it was just a 20-16 season-opening win, but I urge you, turn the page. The entire background I provided here is not irrelevant to what is happening with the Ottawa RedBlacks, it’s directly related to our future as a quality long-term franchise. The team is part of a bigger plan, with local ownership that has a real bank account, and with experienced head office staff that have absolutely nothing to do with Lonie Glieberman or Horn Chen.
I’m no expert myself, but a lot of Ottawa fans are new to the CFL (and that’s great!) and it might have been difficult to understand the challenges facing the RedBlacks in their inaugural season. The short version is that you need quality Canadian players as part of your team, and there is huge demand for the relatively short supply. This was just one of the factors that contributed to a starting season with an offensive line that as a collective was simply inadequate.
The impact of that is often also poorly understood, as evidenced by way too many fans who came to the conclusion that Henry Burris had suddenly and inexplicably become slower and inaccurate overnight. When your offensive line can’t do their job, it’s almost impossible to have a running game. When you can’t have a running game, defenders can ignore that threat and come after your quarterback. This means receivers don’t have time to finish their patterns because the quarterback can’t wait long enough to throw the ball, and you tend to get a pretty ugly result. On top of that, we have to face facts: there’s a reason we have close to 100% new receivers this year. Marcus Henry was pretty reliable in 2014 but there wasn’t a lot to be said for the rest of the receiving squad (understanding there were injury issues as well).
After a seemingly rough pre-season in 2015 and a shaky start to the first half of the game in Montreal, the negativity came quickly, and my urging of PATIENCE was not taken all that well initially. But by the time the game was over it did earn me a free beer from one of the many fans that gladly owned up being a bit quick off the mark in calling for Burris to experience mandatory retirement.
You can obviously read detailed accounts of the game from many expert sportswriters so I’ll leave that to them, but let me leave you with a few quick thoughts about why this opening game victory is worthy of attention and should give impetus to leaving our PTSS Rough Rider and Renegades fears in the past where they belong.
Beyond the obvious that we’ve got exceptional new talent, be it examples like Chris Williams with receiving and kick returns, or SirVincent Rogers sealing off the left side of the line in a style that humbled Montreal pass rushers and run-stoppers alike, there are two more general points that I’d like to emphasize. And I’ll tie it in to our old PTSS issues with hopes that it does support moving on.
Our history against Alouettes comes down to this: they out-coach us and beat us up with their physical play and nasty (dirty?) attitude. We turned the tables on Thursday night, on both counts. I am not sure which is the more impressive accomplishment. It deserves equal billing but let me start with the physical play.
The Montreal dressing room was black and blue last night and they were close to asking Jason Maas to leave the RedBlacks coaching staff to suit up for them at QB. Crompton was pummeled back there, and he’s certainly a tough dude, but his replacement LeFevour is known for his physical play, and he was quickly knocked out of the game too. Never doubt the depth of Montreal football teams, because their last resort Brandon Bridge is no joke and probably has a future in this league. But the way the RedBlacks defense was playing, he might not have lasted an entire game either!
The toughness was not limited to defensive players. It seemed to take some time for him to warm up after the unfortunate end to his season last year with a broken arm on a colossal goal-line collision, but Chevon Walker brought speed and power when it was needed most, sealing the deal in the 4th quarter with some big runs. There has been some questioning of whether he is “the guy” at running back, and he will hopefully continue his great play and put that to rest. If not, we have other talent, but personally I like Chevy and I think with the improvements to the rest of the offense. he’ll shine.
I thought fan support last year was actually quite outstanding, even after we fell out of playoff contention. But there are still a lot of “whiners in waiting.” Maybe they thought football in Ottawa would never work and they want the glory of predicting failure. Maybe they fought against the Lansdowne redevelopment and are still holding out hope that it will some how end up as an ugly piece of pavement again. Whatever is motivating this dwindling group of pessimists, I urge them to consider giving it up and enjoying the exciting game of CFL football in one of the best stadiums in one of the best urban parks in the league. Have some hometown pride and enjoy the success!