July 11, 2020

A Look At Our Winning History Against Ottawa

Brandon Rutley (21) of the BC Lions and Avery Ellis (98), Michael Wakefield (96) of the Ottawa RedBlacks during the CFL game between the Ottawa RedBlacks and the BC Lions at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. (Photo: Johany Jutras / CFL)

As we in British Columbia continue to flatten the curve, there is a small hint of light at the end of this bizarre COVID-19 tunnel. Through it all, it has been hard to not look at the original 2020 sporting calendar and think about what we would be doing in normal times. The 2020 BC Lions were originally scheduled to host the Ottawa REDBLACKS  Saturday night in game five of the season. And hey, given the wet and cold summer we’ve endured, it’s a good bet the BC Place roof would have been closed.

Moving along. The big storyline here would have been head coach Rick Campbell’s first meeting against the team he led for their first six seasons in the CFL. This quick glance at the schedule also gave us the idea for a little bit of a history project. We went back and tallied up the overall success the Lions have had against Ottawa teams since their first meeting the Rough Riders in 1961.

Although the REDBLACKS are still relatively “new” franchise, the history of pro football in our nation’s capital dates back to the late 19th century. The Ottawa Rough Riders were officially branded in 1898 and won nine Grey Cup titles between 1925 and 1976 before folding after the 1996 campaign. The expansion Ottawa Renegades were born before the 2002 CFL season but would fold themselves after just five rather forgetful years at Frank Clair Stadium. The REDBLACKS have been a success since debuting with Campbell as head coach in 2014, winning a Grey Cup in just their third season of existence and also making the championship game in both 2015 and 2018.

But let’s get back to the Lions’ winning history against all these Ottawa incarnations. When you add it all up, the Lions have an all-time record of 46 wins, 23 losses and two ties. The .667 combined winning percentage is the best amongst all Lions opponents since 1954. After that, they have a .615 all-time mark against Toronto (59-37-2), .557 against Montreal franchises (44-35-1) and a winning percentage of .529 against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (55-39-3). The all-time records against Western opponents aren’t quite as good. For now, though, let’s just take a look at the Ottawa history!

As we would have been preparing to face the REDBLACKS this weekend, Matt Baker looks at the Lions winning history against teams from Ottawa.

Photo: Johany Jutras.


The Rough Riders.. Slow Start, Dominating Finish

Lions all-time record: 31-18-2

Timeline: 1961- 1996

Synopsis: With the West and East Divisions not playing interlocking schedules in the regular season until 1961, the Lions had to wait a few years to face opponents from the other side of the country. Until 1981, they would only face Eastern teams once per year. This all-time matchup is certainly a tale of different eras. The Lions only managed one victory and two ties from 1961-74. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Bobby Ackles’ first year as General Manager in 1975 sparked a change in fortune. From that year until 1990, the Lions won 21 of 24 meetings with the Riders including a stretch of 13 straight wins from 1983-89.

This also speaks to the Rough Riders’ overall fortunes in the 80s and 90s’ where they finished .500 only twice before the franchise fate was sealed in 1996. It was a rough- no pun intended- era for the CFL and losing Ottawa was a sad development. It’s great they once again have a solid franchise. More on that in a bit…

They Almost Met In The Grey Cup In….. We’ll highlight the most recent close call in 1981 where the Lions fell 22-16 at Edmonton in the Western Final, denying us of a Lions-Rough Riders Grey Cup matchup in Montreal. The Eskimos would then take down Ottawa 26-23 to win their third of five consecutive championships.

The Renegades.. Ottawa Honeymoon Shortlived

Lions all-time record: 8-0-0

Timeline: 2002-2005

Synopsis: The Renegades were born as Ottawa’s second CFL franchise in 2002. Former Lions quarterback and league lifer Joe Paopao served as the Renegades head coach for their entire four-year existence. But to say the franchise struggled both on and off the field would be an understatement. The Lions certainly played a role in that, winning all eight meetings between the clubs with all but two of those by double digits. The eighth and final matchup was a 61-27 blowout that gave the Lions their first 10-0 start in franchise history.

The Renegades posted a dismal all-time record of 23-49, never won more than seven games in a single season and never made the playoffs. However, the 2006 dispersal draft of former Renegade players netted the Lions defensive back Korey Banks with the sixth pick. In eight seasons in orange and black, Banks recorded 27 interceptions, earned four CFL All-Star selections and won Grey Cups in 2006 and 2011. Hey, maybe the Renegades weren’t all bad.

They Almost Met In The Grey Cup In…..  We’re sure somebody somewhere had the Lions and Renegades in some video game simulation Grey Cup. Other than that, it never came close.

The REDBLACKS… Best Is Yet To Come?

Lions all-time record (to date): 7-5-0

Timeline: 2014-present

Synopsis: The Campbell-led REDBLACKS became the CFL’s ninth team in 2014 and to date, have to be considered a model for expansion success. But they initially struggled out of the gate, finishing 2016 in their inaugural season. Their most lopsided defeat that year was a 41-3 result at BC Place, a game where Kevin Glenn led the Lions offence with 345 passing yards and three touchdown strikes. Earlier that season, Travis Lulay re-injured his shoulder while diving for a loose ball in a rain-soaked 7-5 Lions win in the clubs’ first meeting in Ottawa.

Ironically, Glenn had been acquired in a draft day deal with the REDBLACKS to give the squad some insurance with Lulay still not cleared to play. The veteran Glenn started every game except that first meeting with the expansion club. These two teams would alternate sweeping each other in the season series from 2014-17, before splitting their games in 2018 and another Lions sweep when they met in back-to-back games last season. This was highlighted by former Lion Odell Willis recording his 100th career sack in the 40-7 victory in Ottawa on September 21st.

They Almost Met In The Grey Cup In….. 2016 when the REDBLACKS won it all in just their third season and the Lions engineered an impressive 12-6 campaign before losing 42-15 at Calgary in the Western Final.

As we would have been preparing to face the REDBLACKS this weekend, Matt Baker looks at the Lions winning history against teams from Ottawa.

Photo: Johany Jutras

The Conclusion

There may have been some tumultuous years, but as someone who is lucky to travel with the Lions to every road game, I can say for sure that the CFL is a better league when Ottawa is part of it. The REDBLACKS brand is a solid one and whenever you go to a game at TD Place Stadium, you just feel like it’s the place to be.

Campbell facing his old team would have been just one of many intriguing dates on the 2020 calendar. We shall soon find out when that opportunity might come. And who knows, maybe there is a Grey Cup meeting in the cards one of these years.

Matt Baker: