When Rick Lemay isn’t cheering on the Redblacks at TD Place, he’s just your typical 36 year guy from Ottawa; married with kids and holding down a stable job. But if you ran into him on the street, unless you were family or a friend, you might not call him Rick at all. That’s because most strangers only know Rick by his alter ego, Mr. Shoe Beer.
If you’ve been to a Redblacks game and sat on the South Side, chances are that around the eleven minute mark of the third quarter, you’ve probably heard the delighted roar of Section UU cheering on the face of their section, Mr. Shoe Beer, as he pours a tallboy into a shoe and chugs it.
To understand where Mr. Shoe Beer came from, you need to first understand a bit more about Lemay. A die-hard CFL fan since the age of 13, Lemay has been cheering on Ottawa’s CFL teams since the days of the Rough Riders flaming RR logo and continuing right through to the Renegade era. In fact, that’s when Mr. Shoe Beer was born.
Growing up, Lemay was always the class clown. The enjoyment he got from making others smile and laugh is still with him today, as Lemay always goes out of his way to crack a joke whenever he notices a co-worker having a bad day.
In 2005, that zest for life is what lead Lemay to try something different to fire up an otherwise listless crowd watching the Renegades get blown out yet again. Dared by one his buddies to get the crowd going, Lemay’s friend told him he’d buy the next round of beers if Lemay drank it out of his shoe. Without a second thought, Lemay agreed, and Mr. Shoe Beer was born.
Though the Renegades went the way of the Rough Riders, when OSEG brought CFL football back to the Nation’s Capital in 2014, Lemay knew that Mr. Shoe Beer would be back as well.
Gathering a large group of childhood friends, Lemay and company bought season tickets in Section UU because it was approximately where they sat back in the Renegade era and one of the few sections on the South Side that actually had 27 tickets together. Not to mention that Lemay’s group would never consider sitting on the North Side. As he puts it “In my experience, people on the South Side have always been die-hard fans; they make a lot of noise and have supported our antics since Day One. We dance, sing and cheer without worrying what anyone thinks of us or that someone will tell us to sit down and shut up. My friends and I plan on being in Section UU until we can’t walk up the stairs anymore”.
To say that Mr. Shoe Beer has been embraced by Section UU would be an understatement. People sit on the edge of their seat when Mr. Shoe Beer does thing, once per game and always during the first TV time out after the 11 minute mark of the 3rd quarter. Every time he chugs a beer out of his shoe, Lemay is blown away by the number of people filming, cheering and who later come up to him for pictures.
As for the specifics, Mr. Shoe Beer learned early in his career that pouring beer into a shoe causes it to foam up pretty good, which is why he prefers using Bud Light, because for whatever reason it foams less other brands. That being said, on special occasions he opts to treat himself with a Keith’s.
When it comes to the shoe itself, Lemay likes to change it up. After using a couple of different ones in 2014, this season Mr. Shoe Beer is using a new leather interior shoe. “We’re 4-2 so I’ll keep going with this one for awhile” he says.
While Mr. Shoe Beer performs at every home game, Lemay and his creative director (Pat Bergeron) always try to keep things fresh, coming up with a different theme or scenario each time. In the past, Lemay has done skits on the history of Ottawa’s CFL teams, introduced a Miss Shoe Beer, incorporated a magic show, had guest Shoe Beer drinkers (like ShoeBaca) and even got the LumberJoes help last week.
The support that Mr. Shoe has received is extremely gratifying to Lemay. “At the end of last year we literally had people asking if our group was renewing in Section UU because they wanted to be near us” says Lemay. “What makes the CFL unique is the atmosphere in stadium, so if we can inspire people around us to have a good time, let their hair down and dance and cheer, that’s what it’s all about.”
And it’s not just those in the stadium that support Lemay either. While his wife, aka Mrs. Shoe Beer, doesn’t want to be associated with some aspects of Mr. Shoe Beer, she has long since grown accustomed to his festive behaviour and Lemay knows he has her backing. “She knows I’m a joker and like most women she thinks the idea of chugging a beer out of a shoe is gross, but deep down she supports me, especially when I can leverage the attention for a good cause”.
Speaking of which, perhaps the thing that Lemay is most pleased about is how he’s been able to use the success and buzz around Mr. Shoe Beer to benefit others. Last season Lemay did a charity Shoe Beer, passing around a bucket to collect donations for a charity of his choice. While nobody was obligated to participate, Mr. Shoe Beer raised more than $600 from Section UU and it’s neighbours for a trust fund dedicated to the son of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the solider killed last October at the National War Memorial. This year’s charity of choice is 3rd and 1 Football, an organization dedicated to giving underprivileged kids in Ottawa the opportunity to play football by helping with equipment and registration costs.
When not collecting money for charity or chugging beer out of a shoe, Lemay can be found after every Ottawa first down, standing up, shouting “Move those sticks” five times, and waving his in arms in the direction the offence is marching; a now stadium wide practice but one that also originated in Section UU.
With Ottawa’s CFL team now in the hands of stable local owners, Lemay foresees Mr. Shoe Beer sticking around long term. “As long as we have a team and the support of those around us in Section UU, Mr. Shoe Beer will continue to do his thing and encourage others to dance as if nobody’s watching.”
*Images via Mr. Shoe Beer’s collection