Really, just what did Gliebermen do wrong?

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Oh, no. Say it ain't so. Here's your first Grey Cup (week) prediction: Guaranteed, there will be an outpouring of negativity from most football fans in this city -- plus many of the deep thinkers in the national media here for the Big Game - to today's revelation that Bernie Glieberman and his son Lonie appear to be keen on buying into the Renegades.

They will say that the Gliebermen are horrible, interfering owners. They will say that means the circus is coming back to town. They will say this is bad, bad news. And they will be dead wrong.

The most popular misconception of the Rough Riders final years is that the Gliebermen were responsible for the death of the franchise. So what did they do wrong. Before you groan, just what did they do wrong?

Fact is, they were easily the best owners Ottawa's football team had in the '90s, maybe even dating further back. They had lots of money and they really, truly cared. Some of their intentions were misguided, but they were dedicated to winning.

They bought the Riders for $1, and assumed almost $1 million in debt, late in the 1991 season, when the team was being run by the league after being abandoned by the previous local ownership group. Under the Gliebermen rule, the team posted a 9-9 record in 1992, the first and only time the Riders had finished up at the .500 mark since 1979.

They moved forward, lowering ticket prices in 1993. Crowds exceeded 25,000 in response. But the football team fell to 4-14 as some poor decisions were made, and, with a feeling of hopelessness that did not come about overnight, the Gliebermen decided to join U.S. expansion and start up a team in Shreveport.

Upon departure, they took five Riders with them, players who were from Louisiana and would help market the new team. They left behind all the equipment, and if you don't think that's a significant value, just ask Brad Watters and the current Renegades ownership who were alarmed at start-up costs three years ago.

The Gliebermen didn't have to leave it behind, it belonged to them, but they did. And how appreciative Bruce Firestone must have been. Had he needed to buy new stuff, that likely would have been another in the bucket full of unpaid bills he collected in 1994, when he owned the team, raised ticket prices, then bankrupted it all in one year.

To the rescue rode Horn Chen. What a beauty, eh? He paid the team's freight, all right. He just never bothered to attend even one of its games. A season and a bit into that charade, Chen deserted the Rough Riders.

This time, the league could not find another owner, and the Riders folded following the 1996 campaign.

The Gliebermen weren't gangsters or anything. They just made some errors. They fired GM Dan Rambo on the eve of the 1993 season. That turned out to be a mistake.

That year, everything went wrong.

They finally wanted out of Ottawa because the city was charging them about $30,000 a game in rent more than Shreveport was going to, and -- while building a beautiful ball park that now barely attracts flies -- did nothing to upgrade the decaying football stadium. They could have lived with that, but they felt the fans were turning on them when, after news leaked out in the Sun that they were interested in bringing Mike Ditka in to coach the team, public response was overwhelming mysteriously negative.

"They don't like the idea of us spending millions to hire Mike Ditka?" the Gliebermen asked themselves. Something is wrong here. (When they left Ottawa, they were sued by the city for monies owed. They countersued, for monies owed. The Gliebermen won a six-figure arbitration ruling, a story that never did get much play).

MAN, OH MANLEY

Of course, the root of the problem can be traced to the Dexter Manley experiment. The Gliebermen brought in the former NFL great because they thought he could still sack quarterbacks as well as sell tickets. They were half right. Fans flocked to see Dexter play -- until the coaching staff determined he couldn't.

The Gliebermen overruled in Dexter's second stint, when the team was 1-7. But at that point, they also requested the coaching staff bring back running back Reggie Barnes and linebacker Brian Bonner, two popular players who were cut at training camp.

Something had to be done to stop the ship from sinking. The moves didn't work -- coaches quit when they were told to play Manley ahead of better players -- and the team finished the season with 10 more losses than wins.

But the Riders finished a similar 4-14 in the Firestone year, and were 3-15 in each of the Chen seasons.

"In business, you make good decisions and you make bad decisions, and we made some bad decisions," says Lonie. "The Dexter thing didn't work out. But at least we took the risks. Everything we did, we did trying to win the Grey Cup. That was our single goal."

Lonie is 10 years older and wiser now. Bernie still has a lot of money. And their passion for the league and desire to build a successful team is as strong as ever.

They want to climb aboard a team that's current ownership is being pulled in opposite directions? It is so -- and that's good news.


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