OTTAWA - After all the frustration, and 5 1/2 years of ridiculous delays from Friends of Lansdowne and others, it’s not surprising Jeff Hunt didn’t jump up and down when city council finally gave its final approval Wednesday to spruce up Lansdowne Park.
On a perfect morning for fall football, clouds hovering above with a breeze whipping around the autumn leaves, it became official: The CFL will return to Ottawa, along with a professional soccer franchise.
And Lansdowne Park will become much more than a cesspool of asphalt. It will become a destination, a centre of attention with synergy and energy — something we can be proud of.
“I compare it to the Memorial Cup when a win happens in a second,” said Hunt, one of the partners in the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which persevered and finally delivered on its promise to bring the CFL back. “This is different. It happened over a 5 1/2-year period. This started to sink in last week. But when it’s so long coming, I can’t get that feeling of euphoria. I’m enjoying this moment and this event. But I didn’t have that one moment that’s the pop-the-champagne moment.”
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon was all smiles, shaking hands and accepting accepting congratulations.
“It’s a go. The CFL is coming back to the nation’s capital. To say this is a happy day would be an understatement,” said Cohon, who noted he was wearing the same suit he put on in 2008 when the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group was tentatively awarded a CFL franchise. “It’s been 100 years for the Grey Cup ... and there’s no better way to bring in the next 100 years.
“We’ve got a train going across the country and fans ask, ‘when are we getting football back in Ottawa?’ There was a hole in our heart and now that hole has been filled.”
While OSEG partner John Ruddy was on hand at Wednesday’s meeting, Roger Greenberg, who has played such a huge part in the bid moving forward, was unable to be there due to a previous commitment. He certainly was there in spirit.
“Roger said it’s the end of the beginning for us. It’s taken 5 1/2 years to get to the end of the beginning,” said Hunt. “(Thursday) we start a new journey.
“(Wednesday’s) vote changes the future of the city for football. It’s great to get to the point when we’re finding out we have certainty to be part of the CFL again.”
Hunt said there were several factors bogging down any chance of success in previous attempts to kick-start the CFL in Ottawa.
“The CFL can succeed in Ottawa,” he said. “The facility was a huge obstacle, the bench seating was inadequate, then there were the washrooms and concessions and a dilapidated sound system. Stack all of those up and you wonder why there was anybody there to see (the football team).”
There were also issues with the way the team was marketed and presented.
“In the previous incarnation, the Renegades, they went after a distinct population – the 25-to 35-year-old males. The Mardi Gras crowd,” said Hunt. “It wasn’t about moms and children. If we can’t get moms to come to a football game, we’re in trouble. You can still have that 25- to 35-year-old age group. And you can have moms and children. They can co-exist.”
There will also be greater attention paid to outlying areas. Gatineau and the Ottawa Valley, this means the franchise won’t ignore you this time around.
What happened Wednesday is not just good news for the football community; it’s a huge step in the right direction for the fabric of this community.
The referees and armchair quarterbacks have stopped throwing their penalty flags. It’s time to get this thing going. Finally.