Hard to believe, eh?
Three apparently legitimate groups are interested in resurrecting CFL football here.
The race was officially cranked up yesterday as the league is rumoured to have accepted expressions of interest from Golden Gate Capital, the early front-runner to earn a franchise to begin play next season, beverage entrepreneur Frank D'Angelo and a group of 8-10 investors fronted by former CFLer Bill Palmer.
Yesterday was the deadline for interested groups to step forward and formally express their intentions and now the league will decide where to go from here.
"It is our hope as a league that some time in the fall we will be able to formally announce a new owner -- one with character, commitment and financial stability -- for the Ottawa-Gatineau region," CFL commissioner Tom Wright said yesterday.
Three legitimate bidders?
Are you kidding?
Compared to what was available when internal fighting and constricting wallets splintered the original Watters ownership group after the 2004 season and left the league no option but a return of the Gliebermen?
Weekends at Bernie's II pretty much bombed like the original, but you have to give Bernie Glieberman this: He opened his wallet when nobody else would.
"I think it's safe to say the league is very encouraged by the quality of the bidders that have stepped forward for Ottawa," said one source.
There's reason for optimism on the part of Ottawa CFL fans at this point, but given the boundless ability of the CFL board of governors to do some ridiculous things (how's that salary cap coming along?) there's always the chance things will get screwed up, somehow.
Maybe once the CFL details what it is going to be asking of the new owners (like a $3.5-million franchise fee) and they actually sit in a room with some of the governors, maybe they'll all go running to the bar for a few of D'Angelo's Steelbacks.
But with things officially moving forward now, there is reason to believe the CFL is as serious as the CFL can get about doing it right here this time.
"I think this time the commissioner and the league as a whole recognize the importance of not just having ownership that is committed and financially strong, but giving the team a real chance to be successful on the field, more so than last time," said one source.
"You can have great ownership, but if the team isn't competitive, it will be tough to sustain momentum. The team's not going to be a Grey Cup contender in the first year, but I think you're going to see a much more competitive team than the Renegades were in their first season."
Just the fact that there is already talk of an expansion draft or asset reallocation -- whatever you want to call it -- would indicate the league finally gets it this time.
The presence of 67's owner Jeff Hunt as part of the Golden Gate bid has given that group instant credibility and addressed the one big downfall that seemed to doom previous ownerships over the last 20 years -- the lack of a credible local voice.
Hunt will have autonomy to run the business side of the operation if Golden Gate, the financial services company based in Southern Ontario, is successful buying the franchise. As part of the deal, he apparently will be given an ownership position in the club and will share in profits, but not be liable for losses.
The Palmer-led group is also intending to resurrect the Rough Riders name if it is successful and apparently beat the Golden Gaters to the punch. One source indicated last night the Golden Gate group was interested in bringing the name back, but perhaps just as the "Riders."
It's believed the Golden Gaters also favour Ottawa's traditional red, white and black colour scheme.
ANTE UP TO CHEN
The Palmer group apparently has a conditional deal to acquire the rights to the Rough Rider name from former owner Horn Chen for $100,000.
Who's to say if somebody else wins the franchise, they couldn't do a better deal given this might be old Horn's last shot at profiting from the glory of the Riders' name?
"It's looking good for Ottawa," said another source. "Unless something shocking happens, there's going to be a solid owner and a reason for fans to really, finally, get excited in a couple of months."
They deserve nothing less from a league that has given them the likes of Chen's men (remember Al Howell?) and the well-intentioned, but ultimately disappointing Bruce Firestone, Brad Watters and, twice, Lonie and Bernie Glieberman.