Photo and blog by Brock Parks
The Ottawa Redblacks defeated the Calgary Stampeders 39-33 in overtime to win the Canadian Football League (CFL) Grey Cup on Nov. 27.
This win, regarded by major sports analysists as one of the biggest Grey Cup upsets in CFL history, was the first major championship won by an Ottawa professional football team in 40 years.
The Redblacks returned to Ottawa with their prize on Nov. 29 and paraded down Bank Street with 40,000 Ottawa faithful in tow.
What is most significant about these events is that just four years ago, there was no football team for Ottawa fans to support, much less one that anyone imagined would win the Grey Cup in just their third year in the league.
While I am not from Ottawa, I was lucky enough to go to the Eastern Conference Final and see first-hand the experience of the self-titled ‘R-Nation’—a legion of passionate fans who have waited years for the return of football to their city and the collective pride that lives along with it.
Fans whose love for their team reflects years of pride for their city, much more than just a three-year-old franchise.
“It’s big, we truly love playing here. The guys love playing at home in front of the fans,” Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell said about the role the team plays in civic pride and how important the city is to the team.
Campbell added there is an emotional connection between the players and the city and the emotion and pride they all felt as they moved along the parade route.
For many of the players and the coaching staff, this was an impactful moment that reinforces the connection between Ottawa and its football team.
The underdog nature of the team only strengthened fan support all season long and appealed to those, like myself, who love to root for the little guy.
Both the Stampeders and the Redblacks finished first in their respective conferences, though Calgary held a 15-2-1 record, while Ottawa was 8-9-1. Heading into the final, the Stampeders were expected to walk all over Ottawa.
Redblacks wide receiver Brad Sinopoli described these expectations as justified after the Stampeders’ season, but said he did not use them as motivation for his Grey Cup performance though some teammates likely did.
“The thing that [the team] understood around [the room] was that internally, [if] we understand the guys that we have and how good we can be, that’s all that matters,” Sinopoli said.
A former Stampeder, Sinopoli stressed the importance of confidence and discipline—both skills he learned during his time in Calgary and how useful lessons from Stampeders general manager and former head coach John Hufnagel were in the final game.
Sinopoli said he hopes that many of the Redblacks’ players entering free agency this March will be resigned by the club, so the team can work towards repeating as champions when Ottawa hosts the Grey Cup in 2017.
Campbell is confident that the 2016 coaching staff will remain intact but acknowledged that other teams may have interest in picking up their sideline staff.
In the back office, Ottawa general manager Marcel Desjardins prioritized resigning many of the Redblacks core players like Ernest Jackson, Antoine Pruneau, and Abdul Kanneh, while also remaining aware of what is going one at other organizations around the league.
Both Campbell and Desjardins neglected to comment on the return of Henry Burris for next season, or if the team will focus more on Trevor Harris’ future as the possible starter for the Reblacks next season.
While it is not clear yet who the 2017 Ottawa Redblacks team will exactly consist of, what is clear is that their fans will be loud and loyal, and the city will be ready to support them and hope to see them defend their title at home next November.