An Oral History of Redblack Returners

Despite being the CFL’s youngest team by a couple of Paul McCallum careers, the Ottawa Redblacks already boast a storied history of kick returners. That’s mainly due to the fact that over the course of their 42 game existence, nobody (as of this post being published) has a) scored a return touchdown or b) looked more than merely okay at returning kicks.

Instead of looking for excuses or predicting how new Special Teams co-ordinator Bob Dyce will fix Ottawa’s broken return game, we here at 3DN have gathered a small group, representative of R-Nation as a whole, to collect their thoughts on the select club of men who, on 3rd and long, have jogged out on field for the Redblacks, caught the pigskin and looked up to find themselves surrounded by the opposing team, without a friendly jersey in sight.


*Disclaimer: These stereotypes may or may not hit close to home*

Face Painted Southsider: Thanks for having us today, we’d all rather be tailgating, but that’s life eh?

Guy Watching For Free From the Hill Behind the East End Zone: I wasn’t going to show up, but when you mentioned you’d be giving us a travel allowance to get here, how could I look a gift horse in the mouth?


Retired Northsider Who’s Sat Quietly Through Three Franchises: Is all that racket really necessary kid? We’re trying to talk here! Anyways, back onto the task at hand. They sure don’t make returners like they used. I remember guys Mike Nelms and Tyrone Thurman from the Rough Riders and Jason Armstead from the Renegades, those boys were real returners. They knew how to make someone miss, and more importantly, they actually scored and flipped field position once in awhile.

Hill Guy: Do you mean to imply that we’ve never scored a kick return touchdown? I thought I just missed those from my vantage point up on the hill, it can be hard to see the far end zone sometimes.

Face Painted Southsider: If you’re having a hard time seeing and afraid you might miss something, you could do this crazy thing called buying a ticket.


North Side Retiree: Would you cut it out? I already asked nicely. Hey funny enough, that’s exactly what I used to think when I saw Chevon Walker returning kicks. Have you ever seen anyone run straight into his blockers’ backs so many times?

Hill Guy: He was consistent though, I’ll give him that. The ball always got to the 20 yard line, and not an inch further.

Southsider: You wanna talk consistent? Give me Jamill Smith, you probably can’t see him from your vantage point, him being so short and all, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him drop a punt. Plus, have you ever seen such a small guy bounce back up after so many huge hits?

North Side Retiree: I like Smith and was happy when they brought him back last year. It’s as I continuously tell the people in my section, he’s always just half a dozen blocks away from springing one.


Hill Guy: What did you guys think about Roy Finch?


Hill Guy: Or about Tim Maypray?


Hill Guy: Jock Sanders?

Southsider: Who?

North Side Retiree: Those three might not have been very memorable, but at least they weren’t memorable for the wrong reasons. If I ever seen Brandon McDonald returning another punt, it’ll be too soon.

Hill Guy: FUM-BLE!

Southsider: Aw c’mon guys, it’s not his fault. The coaches set him up to fail, who uses a starting DB as a kick returner?

North Side Retiree: Hmph, you might be on to something there but that doesn’t change the fact that McDonald + a punt return = a break backing fumble that led to TDs against

Southsider: Speaking of DBs who shouldn’t be returning punts, do you guys remember when we used Jovon Johnson a few times?

Hill Guy: Oh man, that was painful to watch. Like seeing your old dog trying to chase a ball. You just have to shake your head and remember the glory days. Johnson can still cover but he’s not making anyone miss in an open field.

Southsider: The biggest return game disappointment has to be Chris Williams. Offensively, he did everything he was supposed to last year, but return wise, NEXT!

North Side Retiree: I went on a safari in Kenya once, and the look on Williams’ face as he caught the ball reminded me of a baby gazelle grazing peaceful and then looking up to see a herd of elephants galloping at it full speed. No wonder he always just ducked, slipped or stepped out of bounds as soon as he secured the ball.

Hill Guy: Yep, can’t hold the fact that he clearly doesn’t have a death wish against him.


North Side Retiree: JESUS kid, give it up already, we’re having a conversation here.

Southsider: At least things will be different this year, that new coach we got is going to fix everything.

Hill Guy: What makes you so sure?

Southsider: Well he comes from Saskatchewan right? And out there it’s super flat, so his blockers couldn’t disappear and hide and he always made sure they were in the right places. Now we have that expertise.

Hill Guy: You might be onto something there.

Southsider: Something has been nagging at me this whole conversation…

North Side Retiree: What’s that?

Face Painted Southsider: If a punt is returned for a touchdown, but nobody on the North Side cheers, does it still count?



Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).