The Man Behind the Mask

Jimmy Fata is a lot of things to a lot of people. To his family, he’s a devoted dad. To his colleges, he’s an experienced fire fighter and supervisor. To NCAFA players he’s an amateur referee. To the Kanata Knights, he’s their head coach. And to R-Nation, he’s Zipperface, one of the most recognizable faces in any TD Place crowd.

Although the Zipperface getup has only been around since the Redblacks’ inaugural season, the 51 year-old Fata has been taking in games from Lansdowne’s stands since the early ’70s. His earliest memories including watching Ottawa legends like Tony Gabriel, Jerry Organ, Tom Clements and Condredge Holloway. He was around during the dark demise of the Rough Riders and briefly again during the Renegade era.

“At first, I was really excited about the Renegades, but after awhile there just wasn’t away way I could support that ownership group. Plus, it’s not like there was a ton of talent on the field either.”

With the return of pro football to the nation’s capital in 2014, Fata felt confident things would be different given the local connections of the OSEG group. That’s (in part), why he felt the need to take his fandom to the next level.

To Fata, the Zipperface ensemble is so much more than just an intricate face paint job. Though he concedes not everyone will understand the full meaning of his costume, as he explains it, “When you put the ice blue contacts, bloody red underside flesh, big teeth and Redblacks toque together, it’s like I’m unzipping a crazy Redblacks fan that’s buried deep inside of me.”

As for how long it takes him to get ready for a game, Fata’s got it down to a science. “In the beginning, it took a solid hour, mostly because I really used to struggle with the contact lenses as I don’t normally wear them. Nowadays I spend half an hour to get the Zipperface makeup on. To be honest, it’s simple; a zipper put on with liquid silicone, red and black paint, contact lenses and a hat!”

Despite sitting on the South Side for more than 20 years, Fata’s current season tickets are on the North Side field level. But he’s quick to stress that at heart, he’s still a Southsider. “The main reason I switched is because you really can’t beat the field level view. Not only are you right on top of the action, it’s easy to chirp the opposing team.”

Originally, Fata wasn’t sure if Zipperface would become an every game thing, but given the overwhelming positive response he got, keeping it going was a no brainer. “Everybody loves Zipperface. Fans around me at the stadium constantly stop and ask for pictures, OSEG loves it and even the players let me know how cool they think it is.”

Zipperface has even been a hit at home, with Fata’s son Colby and his nephew Matteo both donning similar looks for a few games. “I think it brings the team good luck because the first time Colby wore the Zipperface makeup was  the same game Ellingson sent us to the Grey Cup on 2nd and 25.

While Zipperface can be found at every home game, Fata has also taken the getup on the road. “I go down to Hammer every year and wear it as I’ve got buddies down there and of course I had it on for the Grey Cup in Toronto last season. The cherry on top of winning was celebrating at the players’ afterparty and getting to hoist and drink out of the Grey Cup.”

In spite of the fact that this year’s Redblacks team has struggled to a 1-5-1 record out of the gate, Fata is confident that they’ll right the ship and be playing for their second consecutive championship at home in November. And even if they aren’t, you can bet Zipperface will still be prominent throughout Grey Cup week.

“To me, it’s all about promoting R-Nation and the Redblacks. OSEG does things right and Ottawa’s got the best fans in the league. That’s why I’m proud to be counted among them.”

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).