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CFL in Ottawa a capital idea, players say

League is eagerly awaiting Redblacks' inaugural season

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Kerry Joseph remembers the game like it was yesterday.

Down 33-10 entering the fourth quarter to the Montreal Alouettes on Canada Day in 2005, the third-year quarterback rallied the Ottawa Renegades to an improbable 39-36 overtime victory at Frank Clair Stadium.

"That one definitely is a good visual in my mind," Joseph said recently.

It would be one of the only highlights in the Renegades' brief four-season existence.

Like the Rough Riders before them, the league's second foray into the nation's capital sputtered due to front-office mismanagement, poor performances on the field and a disillusioned fan base.

'I had a feeling it would come back, No. 1 because it's the capital of Canada. How could you not want to have a football franchise in that city? I felt the opportunity was going to present itself again'

-- Kerry Joseph

The Renegades ceased operations before the 2006 campaign, but a few remnants of the club remain scattered throughout the league with the CFL's third attempt in Ottawa -- this time as the expansion Redblacks -- set to begin play in 2014.

"I had a feeling it would come back, No. 1 because it's the capital of Canada," said Joseph, who spent the last four seasons primarily as a backup with the Edmonton Eskimos. "How could you not want to have a football franchise in that city? I felt the opportunity was going to present itself again."

When reflecting on why the Renegades went under, Joseph pointed to a major disconnect between ownership, management and coaches.

"The communication from the top down, the structure, wasn't there," he said. "If you look at any type of business or any type of enterprise, if it's not structured properly eventually things are going to crumble and that's unfortunately what took place."

The 40-year-old Joseph will always be grateful to the Renegades for giving him the chance to play quarterback, something that wasn't an option during his stint in the NFL.

"They gave me the opportunity that I was looking for and they gave me the reins and said 'Hey this is your football team, go win,"' he said. "I didn't have to look over my shoulder, I just had to go out there and do the best that I could to put us in the win column."

And while the team eventually folded, things worked out for Joseph, who was selected by the Saskatchewan Roughriders with the No. 1 pick in the Renegades dispersal draft before the 2006 season and won the Grey Cup the following year.

"It was a blessing in disguise for myself, as well as for other guys," he said. "At the same time, with that team folding, a lot of guys were out of jobs."

All told, four players who suited up for the Renegades were still on CFL rosters this past season, including defensive back Korey Banks.

"It was my introduction to the CFL. Great city," said Banks, who was taken by the B.C. Lions in the dispersal draft after an all-star season with Ottawa in 2005 that included a league-high 10 interceptions. "They love their football and it's been missing for a while and hopefully the atmosphere comes back, which it should. This time they're there for the long haul."

The other two players who suited up with Ottawa still playing in 2013 were Montreal Alouettes defensive back Kyries Hebert and Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Marc Parenteau.

"I had a three-interception game in the final game at the stadium," said Hebert. "I'll never forget that."

Coaches with ties to the Renegades also remain, including former Edmonton Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed.

Reed, who coached Ottawa's defensive backs for two seasons, said he's glad the CFL is giving another chance to a city that has not seen a team with a winning record since 1979.

"That community deserves a football team. They're a tremendous fan base," said Reed, who was fired by the Eskimos in November. "Walking around that city, being a part of that franchise --tremendously proud moments.

"Our league is better with the Ottawa franchise in place."

Unlike the owners who ran the Rough Riders and Renegades into the ground, the Redblacks are led by local businessmen with strong ties to the community.

The new franchise has started to take shape, with general manager Marcel Desjardins hiring former Calgary Stampeders defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell to be the Redblacks' first head coach and the team selecting veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn with the top pick in the expansion draft.

Lansdowne Park is also undergoing a major revitalization that includes a brand new south side stand at a refurbished Frank Clair Stadium.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 C4

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