The rich history of football in
the Ottawa-Gatineau area can be traced as far back as the year of
Confederation, as the earliest game on record played in the region was on
September 16, 1867, when two non-organized clubs, the Rough Riders and the
Senators, clashed on the pitch.
Records vaguely seem to indicate that the Rough Riders were named
for the lumberjacks who rode down the rapids of the Ottawa
River. It must be
assumed that the Senators took their name from the governmental body.
All reference to Ottawa professional football has, for
years, pointed to the Ottawa Rough Riders' franchise. On Tuesday, September 19, 1876, a meeting
was held at the Russell
Hotel to form the
Ottawa Football Club. The club was
initially run by the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association, yet it would be
another twenty-one years before a proper nickname would be chosen. Four days later, on Saturday, September
23, 1876, Ottawa FC, dressed in cerise (moderate red), French grey, and
navy blue colours, played their first game, which was held at Jacques
Cartier Square against the Aylmer Football Club. However, it was not until the following
year (May 12, 1877) that Ottawa
would host its first game against an outside team, when the Britannia
Football Club of Montreal visited the Nation's Capital.
Ottawa College, also known
as St. Joseph's
College, fielded its first team in 1881, thanks to the efforts of Mr. E.
Sullivan, one of the school's students.
He was subsequently named team captain and head coach of the Garnet
On January 4, 1883, the Ontario
Rugby Football Union was formed (ten days before the birth of the Quebec
Rugby Football Union), with the Ottawa Football Club as one of its charter
members. Ottawa FC, also known as
Ottawa City, made it all the way to the first ORFU championship game, after
defeating both Queen's University (18-2) and the Hamilton Tigers (14-9) -
known today as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats - in each of its regular season contests. In the title clash, City was edged 9-7 by
the visiting Toronto Argonauts on Saturday, November 10, 1883. The teams were to meet again the
following year in the ORFU final, but the Argos were declared champions
following Ottawa City's forfeit.
1884 was also the year in which Ottawa College
hosted the first American visiting team to the National Capital, defeating Boston's Harvard
University. Records seem to indicate that the
National Football League's New York Giants, who defeated the Rough Riders in
pre-season exhibition games at Lansdowne Park in 1950 (27-6) and 1951
(41-18), are the only other American visitors to Ottawa.
Ottawa College, playing in the ORFU, was given the opportunity, in
consecutive seasons, to battle for the newly formed Dominion
Championship. After taking
back-to-back ORFU titles in 1885 (by defeating Ottawa
City 21-3) and 1886 (a 13-0
whitewash of the Argos),
the boys were forced to travel to hostile ground to take on the QRFU
champion. Nonetheless, they
prevailed with a 10-5 victory over the Montreal Amateur Athletic
Association team, also known as the Montreal Football Club, at McGill Field
on Saturday, November 5, 1887. The
following year, the clubs met yet again, this time in Ottawa, battling to a scoreless tie. However, after refusing to play the
Argonauts for the national crown in 1889, the ORFU champions bolted from
the league, playing independently until returning to the Ontario circuit in 1892. The club, now known as the University of Ottawa (since 1890), would compile
an impressive record of 30-2-4 in their first twelve years of existence.
The Ottawa AAA's club would join
U of O in the QRFU in 1894. However,
it was the students who would reign supreme that season, capturing the
national title by edging Queen's University 8-7. The lads followed up with crowns in 1896,
1897, 1901, 1903, and 1904, as well as QRFU titles from 1894 to 1899, and
1901 to 1904.
It was on September 9, 1897 that
the Ottawa Football Club were re-christened the
Ottawa Rough Riders, adopting their now-famous red-and-black colour scheme, in honour of the Canadian Regiment
fighting in the Spanish-American War.
The club, which had played in the QRFU, returned to the all-familiar
ORFU in 1898, where it would earn its first title chance since 1885. The Riders went all the way that year by
defeating the U.
of O. 11-1,
preventing a three-peat by its capital city cousins. College had defeated
of Toronto (12-8) and
the Hamilton Tigers (14-10) in the two previous Canadian Rugby Union final. That same season, in 1908, the students
played out of a 3,000-seat grandstand stadium on Nicholas Street for the first
time. The home field was nicknamed
"The Oval", due to its shape, as a bicycle track was included in
The Riders returned to the CRU
final in 1899, but unfortunately, the Kingston Granites closed out the
century by shutting out the Red & Black 8-0 in Toronto.
Redemption time came the following year, as the Riders returned to
the top of the mountain by defeating the Brockville Football Club of the
QRFU by a 17-10 score. They added
another crown two years later, defeating the University of Ottawa,
the defending champions, 5-0.
Following the Riders' final
pre-Grey Cup national championship, the club promptly bolted back to the
league across the river, playing in the Quebec league in 1903. It was there that they would earn another
national championship game berth in 1905, but the University of Toronto
ended those aspirations with an 11-9 win.
That same season, Ottawa
University would join
the Canadian Intercollegiate Rugby Union.
On September 13, 1907, the Rough
Riders, after having merged with the Ottawa St. Patrick's, joined the
Interprovincial Rugby Football Union, along with the Montreal Football Club
(QRFU), as well as with the ORFU's Toronto
Argonauts and Hamilton Tigers. The
clubs were to be known popularly as the "Big Four". It was also in 1907, under coach Father
William Stanton, that the Garnet and Grey would capture their first
national university title, by defeating the University of Toronto
on the road for the Canadian Intercollegiate Rugby Football Union
crown. It would be the school's last
until taking the Canadian Intermediate Championship in 1939.
On Saturday, December 11, 1909,
following an invitation from the New York Herald Newspaper, the Tigers and
the IRFU-champion Riders played an exhibition game of Canadian Football in New York City's Van
Courtland Park. The Tigers took the
game 11-6 before 15,000 screaming fans.
It was the first Canadian rugby football game played in the United States
by top-level clubs.
Neither of the clubs had
qualified for the inaugural Grey Cup game, which had been played the
previous Saturday (in which the University
of Toronto defeated Toronto's Parkdale Canoe Club 26-6). Ironically, Albert Henry George, the
fourth Earl of Grey and the Governor-General of Canada, who had donated the
trophy, would not witness this or any of the championship contests that
would bear his name.
Two more Ottawa-based ORFU clubs
would see the light of day; unfortunately neither would have a lasting
impact. In 1914, the Ottawa St.
Patrick's, unaffiliated with the previous namesake, would last but one
season, finishing with a 1-3 record after defeating the Toronto Rowing
& Athletic Association club in their finale, 10-2. Five years later, following the return of
the game after a three-year hiatus due to the Great War, the Ottawa
Capitals had a slightly better run, finishing at 2-2, but would fold after
the 1919 campaign.
The Ottawa Rough Riders changed
their nickname to the Senators following a merger with the St. Bridges Club
in 1925. It was that same year that Ottawans would celebrate their first Grey Cup
championship, as the Senators defeated Winnipeg Tammany Tigers 24-1. They successfully defended their crown
the following year, capping off a glorious season with a 10-7 victory over
of Toronto. Apparently, superstition was not an issue
as the Sens reverted back to the Rough Rider
nickname in time for the 1927 season.
1927 would also mark the return of the University of Ottawa
football program, after sitting idle from 1913 to 1926.
After two failed attempts in the
Grey Cup game (1936 and 1939), it would not be until 1940, the only season
in which a two-game, total point series determined the champion,
that the Rough Riders would return to the Canadian football
summit. They would repeat six more
times (1951, 1960, 1968, 1969, 1973, and 1976), coming up bridesmaids on
four other occasions (1941, 1948, 1966, and 1981).
In 1942, the Big Four suspended
operations during the Second World War.
As some of the clubs went on hiatus, the Rough Riders would join the
fledgling Ottawa Civil Service Football League, a three-team circuit that included
the Ottawa Civil Service and the Ottawa Royal Canadian Air Force, the
eventual champs (who defeated the Riders 9-0 in the final). The following season, following the
demise of the OCSFL, the Ottawa Combines were formed, joining the ORFU for
one single season. The Ottawa Trojans
would step in for the 1944 campaign, again as the only pro game in
town. After a one-year hiatus in
1945, the season in which the Rough Riders and the IRFU would return, the
Trojans would play two more seasons in the circuit before calling it a day
following the 1947 campaign, compiling an overall record of 9-17-1.
The City of Ottawa
Park, on five
separate occasions, have hosted a Grey Cup championship game. The first three, on December 5, 1925,
December 9, 1939, and December 7, 1940 (Game 2), was by virtue of being one
of the two finalists, in an era before the game was contested on a
pre-determined "neutral" site.
Park became that
neutral site on December 2, 1967, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats dominated the
Saskatchewan Roughriders by a 24-1 score.
And in one of the closest Grey Cups ever contested, the Winnipeg
Blue Bombers edged the B.C. Lions 22-21 on November 27, 1988.
Little did people know that the
Rough Riders would only have eight more years left, as the club ceased operations
following the 1996 season.
professional football fans in the nation's capital were given a breath of
fresh air on Wednesday, October 17, 2001, as a group, led
by sports entrepreneur Brad Watters, were awarded a Canadian Football
League franchise for the city of Ottawa. Lansdowne Park
will again be the site of Earl Grey's famous game, as the city was also
awarded the 2004 title game on the same day. Six days later, Eric Tillman was given
the reigns as the club's first general manager, and on November 17, former
Rider quarterback Joe Paopao was named the
franchise's first head coach. Ten
days later, running back Sam Zanders, who had
played with the Toronto Argonauts the previous season, would become the
first club's player as he was signed as a free agent on November 27.
Finally, following a
name-the-team contest, the Ottawa Renegades Football Club was born, winning
out over other contenders, such as Rivermen and
Beavers. The famed mammal would not
be shut out, as Ruffy the Beaver would become the
club's official mascot.