Talk about an instant success.
The Ottawa RedBlacks have yet to take the field during their inaugural CFL season and they're already in first place. Can a Grey Cup be far off?
Realistically, yes, because the team's lofty status is due to a first-week bye and some dreadful performances by their CFL East brethren. Regardless, the RedBlacks enter their first regular-season game with some big advantages over the last Ottawa football team to grace a CFL field.
While surpassing the Ottawa Renegades' first-season record -- 4-14 -- isn't a given, the franchise will almost surely be more stable and future brighter than it was for their short-lived predecessors. After all, it shouldn't be a major challenge to top the Renegades' four-year lifespan.
Though the bar is set relatively low, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in the nation's capital, at least as far as football goes. Here are 10 reasons why you can go ahead and paint a RedBlacks logo on your garage door without replacing it in two years:
1. A Glieberman-free zone: The ownership team put together by Jeff Hunt is miles ahead of the underfunded original owners led by Brad Watters and galaxies ahead of the tragicomedy run by the Gliebermans. The RedBlacks ownership has shown impeccable judgment so far -- with the exception of the team's name -- and hasn't even considered staging a wet T-shirt contest. In addition, they've broken with Ottawa football tradition by drafting only living players. Comparing the two owners is like comparing Rob Ford with the Queen. (The Gliebermans are Ford, if you're wondering.)
2. Henry Burris vs. Dan Crowley: Back in 2002, the Renegades were forced to start their first season with career backup Dan Crowley. The RedBlacks open the season with future Hall of Famer Henry Burris, who still has something left in the tank at the age of 39. Burris gives the RedBlacks instant credibility. Crowley gave the Renegades instant indigestion.
3. Anyone feel a draft? Learning from its mistakes, the CFL decided on a draft process that didn't guarantee failure this time around. For example, the Renegades had to choose from everyone's third-string quarterback -- in other words, guys adept at holding clipboards not footballs. The RedBlacks were offered first and second-stringers. Being given a head start on a negotiation list and the Canadian draft will also help down the road.
4. Cap in hand: The CFL had a salary cap back in the Renegades' day. The only problem was that nobody enforced it. In fact, the Renegades were one of the few teams that actually obeyed it back then, putting them at a rather large disadvantage when it came to luring free agents. The Renegades never could have signed a Henry Burris, that's for sure.
5. Smile for the cameras: Thanks to the new $200-million deal with TSN, the Renegades start off about a million dollars richer than they expected. Thanks in part to TSN, the league's profile is also way ahead of where it was a decade ago. That will help spread the word and lure ticket buyers. In addition, there's a perfect symmetry when Rod Black calls their games.
6. Patience, patience: Back when the Renegades were born, the league wasn't anywhere near as healthy as it is now, which might explain why it jumped at an expansion fee. History has shown the Renegades weren't really set for the long run. And by long run, we mean two years. This time around, commissioner Mark Cohon delayed the team's birth to ensure that all its linebackers were in a row.
7. Home, sweeter home: Not to knock old Frank Clair Stadium, but the cracks were already starting to shown when the Renegades were born -- literally. The place was a dump. The RedBlacks will have a huge advantage in breaking in a brand new stadium that will attract ticket-buyers rather than scare them off.
8. Qu'est-ce c'est Rouge et Noir? Back in 2002, the Renegades pretty much ignored the fact that a substantial part of the region's population spoke French. The RedBlacks have embraced the French community and will even have their games broadcast on French radio. There may even be poutine at the snack bar. Though there was a bit of a blip with the hijacking of a French-Canadian hero's name for its mascot, the team should benefit from this.
9. Big Joe vs. Ruffy the Beaver: Though rodents aren't necessarily the worst choice for a team mascot -- witness Gainer the Gopher -- the Renegades' fluffy sideline stalker wouldn't fare well in a battle against the RedBlacks' Big Joe/Grand Jos. When in doubt, go with the guy carrying an axe.
10. What's in a name? It's been months since Hunt shocked -- and dazed -- the sporting world by calling the team the RedBlacks. Apparently, BlackReds just didn't sound right. To date, no one has threatened to fire-bomb the team's head office in protest, which in itself is a major accomplishment. In fact, some fans claim to actually like it. If you can survive a name as bizarre as this one, you're on your way.