Top 5 reasons to have CFL back in Ottawa

Doug Hess of the Rough Riders catches a pass during a game in 1996. (File photo)

Doug Hess of the Rough Riders catches a pass during a game in 1996. (File photo)

TIM BAINES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:53 PM ET

OTTAWA - Football is coming back to Ottawa.

And if you’re a football fan or even thinking about plunking your posterior into a seat in either the brand spanking new north-side or south-side stands, you don’t need to remember Russ Jackson or Tony Gabriel or Soupy Campbell to get excited about the return of the CFL in 2014.

With plenty of help from Gord Bunke, the Rough Riders director of marketing and communications from 1982-87, a longtime co-ordinator of the team’s quarterback clubs and a fan dating back more than 60 years, here are five pretty good reasons to beat the drum and join the Ottawa CFL parade:

1. Football is the best game in the world.

“The first game I ever saw was in 1951,” said Bunke, who stood in front of Ottawa city council and gave an impassioned speech on what the CFL and the Rough Riders meant to this community. “I came down from Renfrew for a pre-season game. I was eight years old. I remember thinking that I didn’t know there were human beings that were that big. From that day on, my blood turned red, white and black. It’s the only sport designed so if every player on offence does his job to perfection, you should score and the defence is there to try and spoil that.” Sure, there is some individualism in football. You need a pretty good quarterback, a running back and a receiver or two, you need some guys to block and others to defend and tackle. But if a couple of parts aren’t working, a team can’t have success. The game brings people together, united in their passion and support for a team.

2. The tradition and rich history of the CFL in Ottawa.

“I have such good memories,” said Bunke. “The Jacksons, the Stewarts, the Tuckers, the Jay Roberts, the Reggie Barnes ... these were people that were so dedicated to the game .. it was such a great time.” Bunke fondly remembers the glory years. “We had really good crowds in 1975 when they signed (Tom) Clements and (Condredge) Holloway. That was a magic year. We averaged 27,999 fans. On the final game of the year, Nov. 3, we had 32,000 and change and we whipped Montreal’s ass.” The team’s season would end in the East final on a controversial punt return for a TD by the Als’ Johnny Rodgers. Yep, there were a couple of clips that weren’t called. “In 1976, it was the first time we topped 14,000 season tickets,” said Bunke. “When we won the Grey Cup (on that Clements to Gabriel TD pass), the city went crazy. There were flags flying and horns honking.” The Rough Riders won nine Grey Cups.

3. The excitement of having a pro football team to call our own ... again.

“To me, it wasn’t the Gliebermans or Horn Chen that killed the team,” said Bunke. “The beginning of the end was when Paul Robson came in and gutted the team.” There is optimism that this group of owners, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment group of Roger Greenberg, Bill Shenkman, John Ruddy, Jeff Hunt and John Pugh, will do it right. They’re local and are conscious of their responsibility. It hurt when we lost the Rough Riders and stung again when the Renegades drifted off into the sunset. “For the first time since Allan Waters, we’ve got solid, deep-pocketed owners,” said Bunke. “It will work. They stood up to the league and said they needed a fair system that they couldn’t be getting the 45th best player off a 44-man roster (in the expansion draft).”

4. The game-day experience.

South-siders forged an identity of their own. They were loud, boisterous ... and they loved their football. The north-side was quieter, but they had their moments, too. Even with smaller crowds, it was a great experience at Frank Clair Stadium. Memories linger of hundreds and hundreds of fans crossing the bridge toward Lansdowne. There’s something about sitting bundled up, sipping on a cold beer, even if snow is blowing into your face. You get caught up in the moment and accept the climate as part of the experience. It will only get better with shops, restaurants and greenspace part of the Lansdowne vision. You can bet the experience will be energized. I wish we were more like the U.S., where the tailgate experience was an integral part of the day.

5. The quarterback clubs ... and the characters.

Ah, the memories. Held at such establishments as Gentle Annie’s, the Branscombe Motor Inn and the Duke of Clyde, the quarterback clubs were football heaven for Riders fans. The final quarterback club of the year on the Friday after Grey Cup was a bonanza, especially for the 50-50 draws which benefited charities across the area. There were the characters ... Momma Bear, Miss Lillian ... the clubs were classic because of people like that. “When I started, I was a guest with The General, then I took over,” said Bunke. “Everybody had nicknames. It was an amazing experience. Ah, the stories ... It was an adult quarterback club. It really wasn’t meant for children. There was never a dull moment. Most of the stories, I can’t tell here.”

tim.baines@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @timcbaines

 


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