Yesterday we went back to the future, but for R-Nation, the bigger news is that for the first time since 1994, Ottawa’s CFL team is headed back to the playoffs.
With the Redblacks coming off a 2-16 expansion season, even the most optimistic members of R-Nation wouldn’t have predicted a playoff spot and a 9-6 record after 17 weeks of play.
Even more impressive than the playoff ticket itself, is how it’s been earned. This isn’t a team like the 1994 Rough Riders who slid into the playoffs riding a 7 game losing streak and on the back of a 4-14 record. No, this Redblacks team has proven itself capable on both sides of the ball, leading the CFL in passing and sacks.
Personally, the playoffs have been a long time coming. I was born in 1989 and since then (not counting this year), Ottawa’s CFL teams have won 65 games and lost 168. I’ve also had to endure the pain of losing my team twice, and went 13 long years without having a team to cheer for.
As someone too young to really remember the Rough Riders (and from what I gather I didn’t miss much in their dying years), I got my first real taste of CFL football in the Renegade era. It wasn’t exactly stunning football but to a teenager who had just started playing high school football, it was an entertaining night out with friends and without parental supervision. Over the course of their four year existence, the Renegades complied a 23-49 record though at the time, what most important to me was that there actually was a team on the field that I could call my own.
While nobody could ever accuse the Renegades of being a consistent team, they were damn entertaining (off-field Gliberman antics aside of course). The problem for them was that when they’d score 30 they’d give up 50. Between the off-field drama and frequent losses there were moments of hope. In their sophomore season, the Renegades managed to finish 7-11 but two losses in the final three weeks of the season kept them out of the playoffs. In 2005, the Renegades stormed out of the gate, sitting at 5-3 after eight weeks of play. Unfortunately, they went on to only win two more games that year and wound up 7-11, again out of the playoffs.
Despite a fourth straight playoff-less season, there was a lot of hope in Renegade Nation that guys like Kerry Jospeh, Josh Ranek, Jason Armstead, Korey Banks, Kai Ellis, D’Wayne Taylor, Obby Khan and Val St. Germain would build off strong seasons and take the team to the next level in 2006.
Of course, that was not to be when the CFL Board of Governors and Commissioner Tom Wright voted to suspend and liquidate the team via a dispersal draft. Saskatchewan’s 2007 Grey Cup win is particularly painful for Ottawa fans as their roster was littered with former Renegades, including that year’s MOP, Kerry Joseph.
After the Renegades left, prospects of Ottawa getting another CFL team seemed near impossible, but in 2008 a group of local businessmen led by Ottawa 67’s owner Jeff Hunt began the process. It took years of careful planning, city council meetings, court battles, placating angry Glebites and the demolition and construction of a new stadium until the impossible became reality.
When the Redblacks finally hit the field in 2014, it was as if a giant hole had been filled in the city. What had once been a massive concrete parking lot adjacent to crumbling, empty stadium without a tenant was now a redeveloped urban park, home one of the CFL’s most beautiful stadiums and a mix of retail stores and restaurants.
After patiently watching the Redblacks inaugural season, 2015 has been a treat for every long suffering member of R-Nation. This season the Redblacks won their first road game in franchise history, broke the BC curse and won on the West Coast and beat the defending Grey Cup champs (in overtime no less). Not to mention the fact that their Hall of Fame QB set the CFL record for most completions in a game and is arguably the leading MOP candidate.
With the Redblacks guaranteed a spot in the playoffs and to finish with a record of at least 9-9 (their best record since 1992), hopes are high in the Nation’s Capital. With three weeks left to go, even a home playoff date isn’t out of the question, something that nobody in the city has experienced since 1983. If you thought the Winnipeg Jets first NHL playoff game was loud, I’m pretty sure R-Nation will blow the North Side roof off when playoff football returns to Lansdowne.
There’s no denying that the past few decades haven’t been kind to CFL fans in Ottawa but that’s what makes our current success so sweet. After suffering the lowest of lows, as we head back to the postseason, dreams of making another run to the Grey Cup are rampant. With the dark days of poor ownership, franchise instabilty and an outdated stadium behind us, R-Nation can finally kick back and let the good times roll. After all, we’ve all been waiting a damn long time for this.