Let’s start with the obvious, any time a list of all-time greats is complied, there’s bound to be discussion.
The all-time Ottawa roster compiled by TSN is actually quite good. They nailed the no-brainers with Russ Jackson, Tony Gabriel, Moe Racine, Gerry Organ, Frank Clair. And didn’t overlook lesser known but equally impactful guys like defensive lineman Loyd Lewis (second-most career sacks in the history of Ottawa football), linebacker Ken Lehmann (four-time all-star, two-time Grey Cup winner) and defensive back Joe Poirier (who never missed a start during a 12-year career that featured three Grey Cup wins.)
But the fault of the list lies where the fault of many sports arguments lie, in recency bias. Everyone naturally tends to lend more credence and importance to things that they’ve witnessed first-hand. Sports fans are no different, plus it’s hard to truly compare the players we watch ply their trade nowadays to often faceless names confined to old record books.
With that said, here’s where I feel the TSN list could be tweaked. Keep in mind, although I’ll be making the case for different players than the ones on TSN’s list, that is not a slight to those I’m arguing against. They are all fantastic players, they just might not be the best in Ottawa’s 131 year history, at least in my opinion.
Bob Simpson/Stephen Jones over Greg Ellingson
This won’t endear me to anyone in the nation’s capital, but Greg Ellingson should not be on the list. I’m aware of his importance to the Redblacks, and there’s no argument he’s one of the main reasons the team made three Grey Cup appearances in four seasons.
And yes, he’s carved himself a place in Ottawa history with his miraculous catch and run on second and 25 in the 2015 East Final. Not to mention his overall body of work, in four seasons Ellingson hauled in 332 passes for 4,866 yards and 30 touchdowns. But frankly, he didn’t spend enough time in Ottawa to merit consideration over two other big names; former Rough Rider receivers Bob Simpson and Stephen Jones.
Let’s begin with Simpson. Although he made the list as a foundational player for his two-way play — Simpson also played defensive back — it truly doesn’t do him justice to not have him included amongst the best receivers in Ottawa’s history. From 1950 to 1962, Simpson played 13 seasons for the Rough Riders, amassing 6,034 receiving yards (third all-time behind Tony Gabriel and Whit Tucker). His 70 total touchdowns are the most in Ottawa history, as are his 65 receiving touchdowns. Simpson also holds the Ottawa record for most receiving yards in a single game, with 258, set on Sept. 29, 1956 against the Toronto Argonauts.
But let’s say you don’t want to list Simpson twice, in that case, Stephen Jones should’ve got the nod over Ellingson. Jones played for the Rough Riders from 1990 to 1994, making 279 catches for 5,108 yards (fifth most in Ottawa history trailing only Gabriel, Tucker, Simpson and Brad Sinopoli) with 34 touchdowns. Jones also has the second most receiving yards in a single game, with 254 coming against the Argos on July 9, 1992. The fact that Jones played in Ottawa at a time when so much off-field turmoil stole the headlines often leads to his greatness being overlooked.
Jim Coode over SirVincent Rogers
My next bone to pick with the list is the selection of SirVincent Rogers at offensive tackle. Like Ellingson, there is no doubt Rogers was an excellent player for the Redblacks. The two-time all-star and 2015 Most Outstanding Lineman played a massive role in protecting Henry Burris’ blindside during the four seasons he spent wearing the red and black. He also participated in two Grey Cups (2015 and 2018). Rogers would likely have a better case for this nomination had he not missed 15 games with injury.
Instead, I would have selected Jim Coode as the other all-time tackle. Coode spent seven seasons in Ottawa (1974 to 1980), named an all-star in 1978 (the same year he was named Most Outstanding Lineman), part of the legendary 1976 Grey Cup winning squad and won the Tom Pate Memorial Award in 1980 for outstanding sportsmanship. Coode is a Hall of Famer and his No. 60 is retired and hangs on the South Side of the stadium, Rogers’ No. 55 does not, and will not. That’s really all that needs to be said.
Nigel Romick over Diontae Spencer
For the special teams slot, TSN selected receiver/returner Diontae Spencer. Spencer was an explosive player during his two seasons in Ottawa, but I find his inclusion as an all-time great special teamer a bit odd. Of course, his Week 19 performance against the Ticats during 2018 in which he set the all-time record for the most combined yards in a regular season game with 496 was incredible. But during his two seasons with the Redblacks, Spencer’s 222 returns resulted in 3,503 yards, an average of 15.7 yards per return. That’s very solid, but does it meet the bar of being an all-time great? I don’t believe so. Not to mention that of those 222 returns, only three resulted in touchdowns.
In Spencer’s place, I would have chosen against the grain. Although returners are sexy and everyone’s favourite special teams players, given that a full third of the Canadian game is special teams, often a team’s success boils down to those depth players who make their living covering kicks.
In Ottawa, one of the best to ever do it is Nigel Romick. An original Redblack, Romick has thrived as a rotational defensive lineman but more importantly, as a core special teamer since being drafted in the third round of the 2014 CFL draft. Romick has 80 career special teams tackles to his credit, more than anyone else who has ever played for the Rough Riders, Renegades or Redblacks. In fact, Romick is 20 special teams tackles ahead of second place in Ottawa history, Kyries Hebert with 60.
Other thoughts on the list:
– Hall of Fame running backs Dave Thelen and Ron Stewart were absolutely the correct calls in the offensive backfield, but it’s a shame to see Alvin “Skip” Walker left off the list. Walker only spent three seasons in Ottawa but rushed for 2,828 yards and 24 touchdowns. Walker also set records for the most touchdowns in a season (18), has the second most yards in a season (1,431) and is one of four players in Ottawa history to rush for 200-plus yards in a game (203 against Calgary in 1982).
– Not sure how Bruno Bitkowski isn’t considered one of the best offensive lineman in Ottawa history. The 11-year veteran played 140 games for the Rough Riders, winning two Grey Cups and was named rookie of the year in 1951. Ottawa boasts a rich history of stellar offensive linemen and the group on TSN’s list is good, but I would have found a spot for Bitkowski.
– Finally, even if no Ottawa Renegade made the list, running back Josh Ranek, linebacker Kyries Hebert and defensive back Korey Banks could have been in the discussion if the franchise had not folded in 2006.