Crowley was the erstwhile Edmonton Eskimos third-stringer who ended up becoming the Ottawa Renegades starter in 2002 after CFL teams wrongheadedly allowed each team to withhold two quarterbacks from the expansion draft. The terms of the expansion draft were about as favourable as the terms of some of the loans Lenny Dykstra has taken out. It hurt the second team's efforts to establish credibility, although it was just one reason among many.
Anyway, it's a decent jumping-off point now that Ottawa's W.C.E. has voted to allow negotiations for redeveloping Lansdowne Park to begin. One feeling is that the energy spent on Ottawa's stadium debate will look more ineffectual than the current city council did on Wednesday if it doesn't yield a competitive team. A couple general points about what it will take, among other things, for this to work:
- The expansion draft. Commissioner Mark Cohon cited the rebirth of the Montréal Alouettes in a press release earlier this week, but the thing is, Montréal got an established team (the former Baltimore Stallions) that was competitive right off the hop. The terms of the expansion draft should reflect that the overall growth of an underdog league trumps Edmonton or Winnipeg's depth chart. There is no obvious, less direct way to break that to Westerners. The league also said in 2006 it would "place an emphasis on assisting Ottawa to field a competitive team upon its return."
The Renegades were only able to select 16 established CFLers in 2002. It left Ottawa deficient at the most important position. It was wrongheaded.
The league won't, but it should consider letting Ottawa go in the Canadian college draft a year early. Many CIS athletes return to school for another season after being drafted. Something could be arranged to loan players drafted from U.S. schools to other teams.
- A fresh face in the GM's chair. The face of the team's front office is going to have to some cred in the capital. One name that comes to mind is TSN analyst Jock Climie has the smarts, the gift of gab and roots in the city, having grown up the city and practised law. It's tempting to think of the ex-Rider (and Queen's Golden Gael) having some involvement with the new team. It wouldn't have to be Climie per se, but someone personable and with ties to the city could help keep the media onside.
- Two sides to the river. The last team acted like the 300,000 francophone residents in Ottawa-Gatineau, without whom this would not be the fourth-largest city in Canada, didn't exist. That's pretty glaring, given the rise of amateur and pro football in Québec since the mid-1990s.
- Hit the hustings — hard. Football has grown by leaps and bounds in Eastern Ontario since 1996 — more amateur leagues, high schools fielding teams after decades without football or having never had a team before. Ottawa and Kingston, two hours away, both have solid amateur football communities.
Ottawa teams who are not the Senators seem to struggle to market outside the city proper and that myopia needs to be avoided. Riders 3.0 needs to have employees out and visible at high school and junior games in order to help with their branding. It could be something as simple as hosting the spring high school all-star showcase at the new stadium — trick one team out in home black and the other in road whites, or passing out team tuques and scarves when the National Capital Amateur Football Association (NCAFA) has its championship day in November.
Jeff Hunt's Ottawa 67's have a good relationship with minor hockey in the region. That gives hope something similar can exist with the football team.
- Avoid the same ol', same ol'. Trading on Ronnie Stewart and Russ Jackson's legend, et al., as awesome as those cats were back in the day, isn't going to bring out the under-35 crowd. Only three-down football devotees have heard of those Canadian football gods, which is partly the CFL's fault for neglecting its own history for so many years.
Relying on history isn't the way to sell tickets; it's going to rise or fall based on the on-field product. Never underestimate grey power, especially in Eastern Ontario, whose population is on average older than the rest of country. It will take more than appealing to nostalgia, especially for people who weren't born when Tony Gabriel got open on "Rob I, 34 Flag" to make that catch in '76.
(There does not appear to be a YouTube clip of that play. But check out this local car commercial featuring the great tight end and say that doesn't put you in a mood for football!)
(Don't worry, soccer should have its day in Ottawa eventually. It takes time.)