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”.
So what are you waiting for? Head over to http://r-nation.ca/ and join today!
P.S. A huge thank you to all members of Renegade Nation who made this story possible