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Despite past fumbles, Ottawa belongs in the CFL

What grand memories there are of Ottawa football.

Those great owners, the flying Gliebermans, father Bernie and son Lonie, who dated the cheerleaders. And Horn Chen, the original international man of mystery who left town and made sure to take the Rough Riders name with him.

And remember those great players, gridiron pillars such as Dexter Manley, the former NFL pass rusher who would eventual become a convicted cocaine user when he returned to the U.S. And, of course, what Ottawa football recollection would be complete without the retelling of the Derrell Robertson story?

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He was the poor soul who played for the Las Vegas Posse and was taken by the Rough Riders in a 1994 dispersal draft. One problem, though. When Ottawa drafted him, it didn't bother doing all the homework. Robertson had been killed in a car crash five months earlier. Newspaper headlines were ever so gentle: Rough Riders draft dead man.

It was a seminal moment in the team's modern-day history.

But now comes stirring news, happy news: Ottawa is likely to return to the Canadian Football League for the 2014 season led by a committed consortium of local businessmen and a renovation/redevelopment plan for Frank Clair Stadium and its surroundings.

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon made the announcement after the city of Ottawa voted overwhelming in favour of the stadium/redevelopment plan. The 2014 target date is dependent on the construction schedules, weather, etc. And given Ottawa's recent football history, what could possibly go wrong?

There was a time, a distant time, when the Rough Riders were a dominant force and a regular East Division playoff entry.

Some CFL fans can still tell you about the last great Canadian quarterback, Russ Jackson, and his teammates Vic Washington, Margene Adkins, Billy Joe Booth and Soupy Campbell. Those were the glory men of the late 1960s. In 1976, Ottawa won its last Grey Cup when former Notre Dame quarterback Tom Clements hit a wide-open Tony Gabriel with less than 30 seconds left on the clock to defeat the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Five years later, Ottawa returned to the Grey Cup and almost upset the mighty Edmonton Eskimos. J.C. Watts was the quarterback; Gabriel was still playing. Edmonton won on a last-ditch field goal thus banishing the Rough Riders to 31 years of bad luck, including the horrifying sequel, The Return of the Gliebermans. (Parental discretion advised.)

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The funny thing was, despite all the clowns and fumbled intentions, Ottawa always seemed a good place to have a CFL team. It had the history and the feel and, given something good to watch, it had fans that cared. Perhaps this time it will all come together – the ownership, the facility, the team. Given how well the news of its impending comeback was received Wednesday, things are off to an encouraging start.

And if the league can keep the mysterious Horn Chen at bay – mysterious because he put the absent in absentee owner - this Ottawa-in-the-CFL thing might just work after all.

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About the Author
Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. He joined the Globe and Mail in 1997 with an extensive sports background having covered Stanley Cup finals, the Grey Cup, Summer and Winter Olympics, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the 1989 Super Bowl riot and the 1989 earthquake World Series. More

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