'Must-win' season for Renegades

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

The last time Ottawa won the Grey Cup was 1976. Tom Clements passed to Tony Gabriel in the final minute for a 23-20 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Nov. 28, 1976.

That's 29 years ago.

Since then, Ottawa has spent a lot of seasons as either last in the league or not even in the league at all.

Which is one thing.

Through a significant number of those seasons, when there were seasons, Ottawa was cursed by ownership which chased as many fans away as the product on the field. One of the most maligned of those owners over the years were The Glieberguys.

They're back!

And there's even some evidence, if you can believe it, that Lonie and his dad Bernie are being welcomed back.

When the announcement was made there was an interesting poll on the canoe.ca website. Q: Are you optimistic that the Glieberman family can turn around the Ottawa Renegades on and off the field?

While there were 32% who responded in the don't know or don't care categories, 36% voted yes and 32% voted no.

The story of the possibility of the "Glieberguys" returning to Ottawa broke during Grey Cup week in the nation's capital. At the time, it was considered a horror story. Remember, Ottawa fans blamed the Gliebermans for the folding of the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1996.

When they took over 51% of the team with season-ticket sales at 4,300, there did seem to be something of a forgive - if not forget - attitude in Ottawa going into the season.

"This is the only business I've entered in which I haven't been successful," Bernie Glieberman told the Ottawa press conference at the end of May when it was made official.

"Very fortunately - over the last several years - my business has been very, very, very successful and I felt I could afford to set the record straight. We're buying this team for the long term."

Son Lonie, who ran the day-to-day operations and will do so again, admitted he "felt guilty" about what happened in the first go-round, and asked fans for a second chance.

Maybe Lonie has grown up in the last 11 years.

"I'll take reponsibility for the things we did wrong when we were there ... Dexter Manley and anything else," he told Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun.

One of the first moves was to appoint Forrest Gregg, 71, as vice-president. The former Green Bay Packer has been out of football for more than a decade. That set off some early warning lights.

In the end, though, it usually comes down to the team on the field. But this is a team which went 5-13 last year and were clearly unstable in the off-season.

Joe Paopao wasn't even sure if he was still the head coach. At least he had experience in a similar situation. He was the head coach of the B.C. Lions in 1996 when Nelson Skalbania was the owner, when the league took over and when David Braley finally was recruited to take over the ownership of the Wet Coast team.

Paopao has declared this a 'must-win' season. Friends of his call it a 'no-win' season. Paopao says to have success, the one thing his team has to do is "win within our own division."

With the exception of next week's home opener against the Montreal Alouettes, the Renegades don't have a game against Eastern opposition until they play the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Aug. 6.

Winning tomorrow's lidlifter against the Eskimos, however, would go a long way. In Ottawa, the day after the game, there will be a one-day only season ticket sale for $99 a set. A win in Edmonton might inspire significantly more sales.

Ottawa drew an announced crowd of 12,666 for their home pre-season game against the Montreal Alouettes last week. By comparison, the Eskimos drew 37,246, Saskatchewan 25,771, Winnipeg 28,013, Hamilton 24,582, British Columbia 23,789 and Montreal the usual capacity 20,202. Toronto, playing their home game in Halifax, drew a sellout 11,000 with ticket prices higher than any game other than the Grey Cup. An attendance figure was not announced for Calgary's home opener played in a downpour.


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