Rough ride ahead for CFL?

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:31 AM ET

First, a weather report. It was raining again in Vancouver yesterday.

Only this time, on an Ottawa parade.

"I don't believe this team will be on the field until probably 2012," B.C. Lions owner David Braley, who for years people have regarded as the unofficial commissioner of the CFL, told Vancouver radio station CKNW of the conditional franchise awarded the nation's capital. "Maybe 2010 is an outside possibility, but it's very unlikely."

Never mind him. Braley wants two teams to enter the league at once, keeping membership at an even number. He figures the next one should be in Moncton, N.B., where construction has apparently started on a new 6,000-seat stadium.

Hey, Frank Clair Stadium has 20,000 chairs more than that. It just needs $40 million worth of necessities to surround them and we're cookin'.

FRANCHISE FEE $7M

"The (franchise) fee the group will be paying is $7 million," CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said at the neatly constructed press conference to announce that John Ruddy, Roger Greenberg, William Shenkman and Jeff Hunt are the conditional owners.

"Each one of us?" chirped Greenberg, drawing a laugh from a room that had fallen silent, probably shocked that a CFL commissioner would actually divulge such information.

"If we could come out of this with a break even or modest profit, by running it well, I think we'd be happy," Shenkman said off to the side after the formal proceedings, adding that the group needs possession of the facility to make the venture work. "Whether that's a 99-year lease or ownership is irrelevant. But a way that we can control the situation. It's obvious the city doesn't know what to do with this at the moment."

Despite a popular opinion, this is not a land grab, nor is it strictly another development deal. These guys are sports guys.

Ruddy started playing football when he was 10 with the Alta Vista Raiders, in what was then called The Little CFL. He was a running back and a linebacker. He went on to a high school career at St. Pat's, then to suit up as a cornerback for the Carleton Ravens.

"I was way too slow," said Ruddy, who along with the memories has, thanks to those glory days, one artificial knee and another on the way. "But I could really pack a hit."

He also learned the game from a true professor. Ruddy grew up a close neighbour of Frank Clair, who was coaching of the Riders.

"We'd go over to the house and I'd bug him all the time," said Ruddy, president of Trinity Development Group. "Discuss strategies, the opposing teams coming in, what do you think about this player or that player ... I think he just sort of put up with me, because I was a little kid at the time. It was a thrilling experience."

Greenberg, the Minto CEO who many have long believed would/should step forward to own a CFL team in Ottawa, explained why until this point he hadn't.

"First and foremost, I probably wasn't just ready personally to devote the amount of time required that this kind of venture require," he said.

Same for Ruddy.

"I was busy," he said. "I was building a business. But now I have a lot of capable people that work for me, it frees up some time."

A resident of Rothwell Heights in the east end of the city, it was Ruddy who brought the conditional ownership group together.

"My father (John Sr.) has been encouraging me to do this for 20 years," he said. "Unfortunately, he's got Alzheimer's (disease) now, so he doesn't know any better."

Ruddy said if the deal goes through, he'd be in support of his former neighbour's name on the stadium.

"We might have a tag line with it," he said, "but of course."

Shenkman is a billionaire who lives in London and Monaco, but grew up in Ottawa.

OWNS SOCCER TEAM

"I played peewee football," he said of his own career. "The only thing I can remember, because I only made one tackle that I recall, is there was three girls on the sidelines, and they yelled "Yay, Billy. Yay, Shenkman. Yay, Billy Shenkman.

"I remember that to this day."

Sports team ownership runs in his family. Shenkman is the godson of former Riders and Alouettes owner Sam Berger, and the cousin of David Loeb, another Rider owner.

Shenkman is the major shareholder of the Millwall Lions, a soccer team that plays in League One -- third best in England.

"They play in The Den, which seats 22,500," he said. "It's a very nice stadium."

Greenberg, like Shenkman, was an original investor in the Senators. Always more of a player than a watcher, he was in his third or fourth year of university when he attended the 1976 Grey Cup in Toronto with his uncle, former Ottawa mayor Lorry Greenberg.

They sat directly behind former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and decided to leave a little early when it looked like Saskatchewan had the game in the bag. Then Rough Riders tight end Tony Gabriel made the grab that a city still clings to, in memory.

"We ended up on the field as they win, and all of a sudden, as the game is over, everybody was running at us," said Greenberg. "We didn't realize we were right in front of where the Grey Cup was being awarded. It was a great experience."

Some day he hopes to be standing where the coveted mug is presented again. Just when that pursuit begins remains up in the air.


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