That empty feeling

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

I spent last week chasing a ghost that I'm not sure is capable of haunting anyone.

And part of me wonders if my own indifference played a miniscule role in its demise.

The Renegades -- a franchise I barely acknowledged both in its existence and absence -- should be playing right now. The CFL season is in full swing, but you'd hardly know it in the Nation's Capital.

Like many others in Ottawa, the CFL just wasn't my thing.

I could appreciate the core group of fans' dedication, and the players' willingness to work hard both on the field and in the community, but the game itself couldn't captivate my attention.

This doesn't make me unpatriotic or narrow-minded. It makes me human.

So I wondered how I would feel if I visited Frank Clair Stadium in the midst of this so-called ''mothballed'' season.

Would I feel anything at all?

There was only one way to find out.

Frank Clair Stadium currently serves as a behemoth mausoleum to Ottawa's broken dreams of Canadian football. Peering through the rusted chain-link fence near Gate 1 is to gaze upon the epitome of depression.

The turf is gone. It sits, rolled in a haphazard pile, covered in plastic beside the end zone. The field itself now resembles cracked asphalt. It's like a parking lot with an observational theatre.

After some exploration, I discovered an unlocked door. Naturally I was going in.

UTTERLY BIZARRE

It was utterly bizarre to be in a building that less than two years ago had hosted a Grey Cup, when currently the only species being entertained are pigeons. Their droppings litter the bleached-out seats. The birds are the only sign of activity, but even they were strangely silent during my visit.

Ironically, the one indication of human life exists in the luxury boxes. Typically a hangout for the subdued supporters, the walls of the boxes remain littered with 'Gades memorabilia and photographs.

The mementos give off a feeling of an artifact exhibit as you look through the glass -- a perfect snapshot frozen in time.

The televisions and fridges remain connected, and condensation clouds the window of the coolers. Someone could have just as easily been in these rooms a minute ago.

Part of me wonders who's been in here, and if they have happy memories of times spent at the stadium. I wonder if they remember the 'Gades with happiness, or if they even remember at all.

Say what you want about poor ownership and thoughtless decision-making -- fans and foes alike of the 'Gades have since their demise began -- but indifference plays an obvious role.

Relentless supporters of Ottawa football, such as former Rough Rider Mark Kosmos, remain as a voice of cautious optimism, staunch in the belief that the CFL can work here:

''I really do believe it can work. Ottawa is big enough and there could be 30,000 good fans filling the stands,'' Kosmos said. ''I remember the days when I played, and people used to come in from their cottages. They don't lose interest because the team is gone.''

The interest may remain, but when cynicism takes over, it can eat away at the small fan base that does exist. Supporters can only take so much heartache and abuse before they'll throw in the towel.

And Ottawa doesn't have enough CFL fans willing to be masochists for another subpar owner.

Are there enough potential fans willing to support a better owner, and the patience to wait out yet another team's growing pains?

Kosmos tends to think so.

''It's about having the right people with the right intentions,'' he said. ''If this team had ownership like the Sens, not only would they be successful, they'd be very successful.''

Unfortunately, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has already said ''Thanks, but no thanks'' to Ottawa football. And any reasonable facsimile of him has yet to be found.

DIFFICULT TIMES

Surely the life of an Ottawa football fan is a difficult one. Sitting in that cavernous stadium with no sense of optimism, I began to understand their sorrow in a deeper sense than I previously had.

But indifference combined with cynicism is a powerful brew.

What can be done to sway the uninterested masses that I am unfortunately a part of? It's a question for which I haven't an answer.

In the meantime, I'm left to wonder how long it would take for the remaining 'Gades fans to give up the ghost.


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