The curse of the coin: explaining the Redblacks record at TD Place

In four short seasons, the Ottawa Redblacks have accomplished a lot.

On the field, they’ve won their division twice, made the playoffs three times, been to the Grey Cup twice and won a championship. Off of it, they’ve cultivated the league’s youngest fan base while simultaneously welcoming die-hard fans from the Rough Rider and Renegade eras back into the fold. They’ve also sold out nearly every home game in team history and developed a business model so successful that it will serve as the prototype for future expansion franchises.

Still, for all the organization’s early feats, there’s one glaring hurdle they have struggled to overcome; regularly winning at home in front of sold-out crowds. And if the 2018 Ottawa Redblacks intend to continue making post-season appearances and vying for Grey Cup championships, they’ll need to find ways to win at home.

The longer one studies the Redblacks’ lack of success at TD Place, the more puzzling it becomes. Across all of sport, playing at home is universally acknowledged as a positive, with a friendly sold-out crowd’s fervour often credited with spurring the home side to victory. No one in the country would dispute the claim that R-Nation is among the CFL’s rowdiest fanbases, and the team sells out almost every game. Yet for whatever reason, Ottawa has struggled to turn that energy into on-field results.

Given the incredible game day atmosphere generated by the fans at TD Place, it’s mind-boggling that in 40 home games (including regular season and playoff games), the Redblacks have managed just 16 wins. Of those, only six wins have come in the last two seasons.

But that’s not to suggest the games haven’t been entertaining, because, since 2015, the Redblacks have lost 11 games at home by a single score (seven points or less) and only lost four times by 10-plus points. Even if Ottawa’s failed to win the majority of their home contests, R-Nation hasn’t been subject to blow out losses. The fact of the matter is they’ve still been in nearly every game.

Plus, some of the most iconic moments in franchise’s history have come at TD Place. Jasper Simmons’ game-sealing interception gave the team it’s inaugural win, Greg Ellingson’s miraculous touchdown on second and 25 sent Ottawa back to the Grey Cup for the first time since 1981 and Kienan LaFrance ran roughshod over the Eskimos in the snow to seal another Grey Cup appearance.

More often than not, for the Redblacks, the difference between a win and a loss has come down to coming out on the wrong side of a play or two. The numbers back that claim up, as in the franchise’s 40 home games, the Redblacks have scored 1,013 points while conceding 1,023 against.

Taking all of the above into account, it almost begs the question: is TD Place cursed?

Before you scoff at the notion, thanks to an insider tip and a bit of investigation, the question isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

Let’s set the scene. It’s late May 2014 and Lansdowne is a beehive of activity. Construction crews race around the site, working overtime to ensure TD Place is ready for the inaugural home opener.

The time had come to lay the field and Scott Bradley, a passionate member of R-Nation, suggested in a letter to OSEG President Jeff Hunt that it might be a good idea to bury a 1976 Canadian silver dollar at centre field. He hoped it would bring luck to the team in the same way a loonie frozen into the ice at the 2002 Olympic Winter games helped the Canadian men’s and women’s hockey teams win gold.

Hunt agreed, thinking it was a perfect way to tie Ottawa’s storied CFL history to the present. After all, R-Nation had been re-living that 1976 Tony Gabriel catch for 40 years.

The day before the turf was set to be installed, OSEG put together a small ceremony for the embedding of the coin into the asphalt. They invited Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Watson, former Rough Rider and CFL legend Gerry Organ, Bradley and a few photographers to cover the event.

At the time Hunt said

“Whenever we win a close game in the dying minutes of play I’m sure a lot fans will remember the Tom Clements to Tony Gabriel pass that won the ’76 Grey Cup for Ottawa and the karma of the coin embedded under the turf.”

Before the coin was fully covered, those present had a chance to take numerous photographs. Then, Bradley began to bury it. But that’s when a simple action might have reversed any good that may have ever come from placing the coin there to begin with.

After being buried, one of the photographers present decided that they didn’t have enough pictures and asked for the coin to be removed for one last shot. Despite objections from some of those present that it would be bad karma to now take it out, the coin was indeed fully removed.

So, there you have it. While it might be a long shot to blame an overzealous photographer for the Redblacks’ poor record at TD Place, it’s a good a reason as any to explain their home woes. At this point, R-Nation can only hope that four seasons of close losses is enough remittance and that there’s not still more to come.

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).