What really happened to the Redblacks’ plaid helmets?

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Although Andrew King does a phenomenal job digging into Ottawa mysteries — seriously, check out his blog — the fact of the matter is our nation’s capital is not typically associated with the mysterious.

But there is one incident that has caused many in R-Nation to don tinfoil hats and speculate. It revolves around the case of the plaid helmets teased for the Redblacks’ ‘signature look’ uniforms, but that never actually saw the light of day.

At the time, the exclusion was chalked up to a manufacturing issue, but in the six years since the team has last used their signature jerseys, conspiracy theories at tailgates and QB Clubs have run amok. In a 3DownNation exclusive, OSEG president and CEO Mark Goudie finally sets the record straight.

“I’m surprised it took so long for someone to actually follow up and ask exactly what happened,” he said. “I’ve never had this conversation with anyone before.”

In 2014, Reebok was the CFL uniform supplier and each team was mandated to create a third jersey that broke away from their traditional uniforms and try out new concepts. Some were excellent — Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa and B.C had great looks — while others, like Winnipeg’s and Saskatchewan’s, were terrible.

Given that it was the Redblacks’ inaugural season and they had only just released the first uniforms in franchise history, creating something that was untraditional was a bit of a challenge as the organization attempted to lay a foundation.

“As soon as we’d announced our name, logo and mascot (Big Joe) with a nod back to Ottawa’s logging days, we quickly realized that the lumberjack theme was going to be a hit. The plaid thing really caught fire,” said Goudie. “I think part of the reason R-Nation liked it was because it allowed them to express themselves through their own plaid while still being emotionally connected to each other and the Redblacks.”

“One of the things we strive for as an organization is to try to do things a bit different and to innovate to keep people entertained. Being the first stadium to allow thousands of fans onto the field after games to interact with players is a good example of that.”

“We also let people go in and out of the venue during games — if you want to go grab a beer with a buddy sitting on the opposite side of the stadium at half-time out at one of our Lansdowne site restaurants and then come back in and catch the rest of the game then good for you. We really try to let things happen at TD Place and stay out of the way. Those seem like basic things now but in 2014, it just wasn’t commonplace.”

The Redblacks were also unafraid to try something bold in the design of their new ‘signature look’ uniform.

“Adrian Sciarra was our SVP of Sports Business operations at the time and before joining us had worked for the league office. He mentioned to us that one idea frequently tossed around but never acted on was putting logos on the front of jerseys instead of numbers. He advocated for that and it sounded like a good idea, so we were in. Clearly fans loved it, too, because any time we had stock, it sold out pretty quick.”

That said, it wasn’t always a sure bet that fans would embrace Ottawa’s signature look with a hockey-style logo on the front. Before teams actually started selling jerseys, each organization released pictures online. Fan reaction was mixed on the jerseys but what really sparked a conversation was the plaid helmets.

“Almost everything we’ve done has had a visceral reaction and the signature look reveal was no different. Half loved it, and hated it, but that’s just the way it is with the CFL.”

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant

Although the Redblacks went on to use their signature red jerseys five times over the following two seasons, the plaid helmets never made an appearance, much to the chagrin of some fans.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant

When asked if negative feedback from fans played any part in the helmets disappearing from the uniform, Goudie clearly states that was not the case.

“It honestly had nothing to do with fan expectations or online comments and was 100 percent a manufacturing and quality control problem.”

“The manufacturer we were using to physically produce the helmet sent us one mock up. If we had liked the design and signed off on it, they would’ve been created. But the problem was they couldn’t get the plaid lined up. Basically with a plaid helmet, it’s a two-ply issue. You need to get one side of the helmet lined up with the other side and they couldn’t figure out how to do it properly. We didn’t want to go with something that looked sloppy,” said Goudie.

“Looking back, I’d say more than anything at that time, we were incredibly paranoid we’d look stupid at a time where we were trying to build back credibility into Ottawa’s professional football scene. It seems silly now but we guarded the mock helmet and kept it buried in Adrian’s office filing cabinet, where it still lives.”

Does this mean the plaid helmet is dead? Could a successful prototype mean we will see a plaid helmet in Ottawa’s football future?

“I would never say never, but it would be a whole lot more difficult nowadays,” said Goudie. “Back then, helmets probably cost around $350 each. Now, it’s over $1000, so a full set could put you back as much as $150,000. Furthermore, for safety reasons, the CFL has mandated that teams are only allowed to have one helmet per player. That’s so each is fully custom fitted and recalibrated after every game. We won’t close the door on it entirely. Someday, who knows?”

Plaid lovers should not despair though. The Redblacks will be launching an entirely new set of uniforms for the 2021 season and when asked what R-Nation can expect and whether plaid might enter the equation, Goudie hinted, “Well, we like plaid, R-Nation likes plaid and perhaps we could get back into the plaid game down on the field in some way.”

“We’ll see what Adrian and Marcel have in store for us at TD Place, hopefully soon.”

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).