Ottawa Rough Riders

Ottawa Rough Riders
Ottawa Rough Riders
Ottawa Rough Riders helmet Ottawa Rough Riders logo

Founded 1876
Folded 1996
Based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Home field Frank Clair Stadium
League Canadian Football League
Division East Division
Colours Black and red
Grey Cup wins 1925, 1926, 1940,
1951, 1960, 1968,
1969, 1973, 1976
Uniform CFL OTT Jersey 1996.png

The Ottawa Rough Riders were a Canadian Football League team based in Ottawa, Ontario, founded in 1876. One of the oldest and longest lived professional sports teams in North America, the Rough Riders won the Grey Cup championship nine times. Their most dominant era was the 1960s and 1970s, a period in which they won five Grey Cups. The team's fortunes waned in the 1980s and 1990s and they ultimately ceased operations following the 1996 season. Five years later, a new CFL team known as the Ottawa Renegades was founded, though this was suspended indefinitely in 2006; as of 2010 a new Ottawa Canadian Football League team has been announced.


Team facts

Founded: 1876
Folded: 1996
Formerly known as: Ottawa Football Club 1876 to 1897, Ottawa Senators 1925 to 1930.
Home stadium: Frank Clair Stadium, formerly called Lansdowne Park until 1993
Uniform colours: Black, red, and white
Helmet design: Black background with a face of a Rough Rider with a log driver's (rough rider's) pike in the background.
Eastern regular season championships: 15—1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1978
Grey Cup finals appearances: 15—1925 (won), 1926 (won), 1936 (lost), 1939 (lost), 1940 (won), 1941 (lost), 1948 (lost), 1951 (won), 1960 (won), 1966 (lost), 1968 (won), 1969 (won), 1973 (won), 1976 (won), 1981 (lost)
Other Canadian championships: 3 – 1898, 1900, 1902


The Ottawa Rough Riders playing the Toronto Argonauts in 1924

The Ottawa Football Club was organized on Wednesday, September 20, 1876 where they won the first game they played on September 23 against the Aylmer Club at Jacques-Cartier Square. The team's colours were cerise, grey, and navy blue. The club adopted the name Ottawa Rough Riders on Friday, September 9, 1898 as well as changing the team colours to red and black. Since then, red and black have been Ottawa's traditional sporting colours. Although in later years the name was said to derive from logging, the team based its colours on Teddy Roosevelt's regiment in the Spanish-American War, which, with the date of the renaming, suggests that the name also comes from the war. The team did change its nickname to Ottawa Senators from 1925 to 1930.[1]

For much of the team's history it played in the same league as the Saskatchewan Roughriders, confusing many, and also attracting general ridicule to the CFL for being a league with only eight or nine teams but two of them being named "rough riders" (although spelled differently). The teams had historically belonged to separate leagues ('unions'), which were not truly merged until the late 1950s. When the CFL was formed they were allowed to keep their long-standing nicknames. On four occasions, the two teams met in the Grey Cup.

Ottawa's first Canadian championship came in 1898. The Ottawa Football Club transferred from the Quebec Union to the Ontario League that season. The Riders defeated the Hamilton Tigers 15–8 for the Ontario championship, then defeated Toronto Varsity, the Intercollegiate champions 7–3 and defeated Ottawa College 11–1 to win the Canadian championship. In those days, Ottawa athletes played in multiple sports and the Riders had athletes famous in other sports, such as Harvey Pulford and Frank McGee.[2] The Riders and Ottawa College were the Canadian champions for the next several years, with the Riders defeating Brockville 17–10 in 1900, and defeating Ottawa College 5–0 in 1902, College being the 1901 Canadian champions.[2] The Riders moved back to the Quebec Union, winning the 1903 Quebec championship, in a year where there was no playoff for the Canadian title. In 1905, Ottawa won the Quebec title, only to lose to the Toronto Varsity team 11–9 in the Canadian championship.[2]

The club absorbed the Ottawa St. Pats when the Riders helped found the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union in 1907. The Riders would win the IRFU championship in 1909 over the Hamilton Tigers, but lost in the Canadian final in Toronto to Toronto Varsity.[2] The Riders declined and became uncompetitive during the 1910s, attributed to the First World War, and the lure of salaries in professional ice hockey meaning athletes chose hockey over football in Ottawa.[2]

During the decline of the Riders, another Ottawa team, Ottawa St. Brigids, was on an ascent. St. Brigids, which played in the Ottawa City league, and later the Ontario league, was developing top talent. In 1923, St. Brigids and the Riders merged, with St. Brigids manager Jim McCaffery becoming the manager of the Riders. McCaffery would be a member of the Riders executive for several decades.[2] The team won the Grey Cup in 1925 and 1926, a time when they were known as the Ottawa Senators. In 1925, the Riders defeated three-time defending champion Queen's in the Eastern semi-final. The Riders then defeated Winnipeg 24–1 in the championship, held in Ottawa, and defeated Toronto Varsity 10–7 in Toronto in 1926.[2] The team was led by top players such as Eddie Emerson, Joe Tubman, Joe Miller, Jess Ketchum, Jack Pritchard, Harold Starr and Don Young.[2]

The Riders went back into a decline after the championships. Again, another Ottawa team, the Ottawa Rangers, was developing talent and enjoying success, winning the Quebec title. The Riders absorbed the Rangers in 1933, getting Rangers stars Andy Tommy, Arnie Morrison and "Fat Quinn'. That same year the Riders added more talent, bringing in American imports "Windy" O'Neil and Lorne Johnson.[2] In 1935, the Riders added an American, Roy Berry, who would be mysterious about his origins. The Riders defeated the Toronto Argonauts in the final two games of the Big Four schedule to deny Toronto the Big Four championship, and the Argonauts protested that Berry was not who he said he was. In fact, it turned out that Berry was Bohn Hilliard who had played professional baseball, making him ineligible for Canadian football, and he had kept his identity a secret from Ottawa officials.[2]

In 1936, the Riders won the Big Four title defeating the Hamilton Tigers 3–2. The team progressed to the Eastern final against the Sarnia Imperials. The Imperials won the game 26–20 in a frozen battle held at Toronto's Varsity Stadium. Since there was no western challenge that year, the Imperials became Canadian champions.[2] The Riders would next win the Big Four and Eastern title in 1939, but lose to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 8–7 in the Grey Cup game, held in Ottawa.[2] In 1940, the Riders would win the Big Four and Eastern titles, defeating Toronto Balmy Beach. The win over Balmy Beach carried the Canadian title, as the west refused the Canadian Rugby Union code.[2]

The Big Four went out of existence during the Second World War, but the Riders were able to field a club in the Eastern Rugby Football Union, along with Balmy Beach, Montreal and the Argonauts. The Riders won the 1942 ERFU title over the Argonauts, but again lost to the Blue Bombers in the Canadian final, 18–16 at Varsity Stadium.[2]

The ERFU folded and the Riders continued in the Ottawa City league until 1945 when the Big Four was restarted. During the Riders' time in the Ottawa City league, another team from Ottawa, the Trojans won the Ontario title, and in 1948 the Trojans were absorbed into the Riders.[2][3]

The Rough Riders were pioneers in international play in the 1950s. In 1950 and 1951, Ottawa hosted the New York Giants in exhibition games;[4] the Giants won both times, and NFL-CFL matches would not be attempted again until 1959. In the first season of the CFL, the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made history when they played the first regular season CFL game at Philadelphia's Franklin Field on August 23, 1958. This was the only time that two Canadian football teams would play a regular-season game on American soil. Hamilton defeated Ottawa, 13–7. (The Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders played an exhibition game in Portland, Oregon in 1992, and several CFL games with at least one Canadian team occurred in the United States during the CFL USA era.)

The 1960s and 1970s were the Rough Riders' glory years. With coach and general manager Frank Clair at the helm along with players Russ Jackson, Whit Tucker, Ron Stewart, Tom Clements, and Tony Gabriel, the Riders were one of the CFL's best teams, winning the Grey Cup five times in that span and including their last victory in 1976, where Tony Gabriel made the game-winning touchdown catch in the end zone in a 23–20 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Rough Riders' very last appearance in the Grey Cup game was 1981 against the heavily favoured Edmonton Eskimos. The game started out as a shocker when the Riders jumped out to a 20–1 halftime lead over the Eskimos. But a controversial double interference call against Riders receiver Tony Gabriel in the second half proved to be costly, as the Eskimos, led by backup quarterback Tom Wilkinson, came from behind to beat the Riders 26–23 on a game-winning field goal by kicker Dave Cutler.

Throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s, despite having two even (0.500) records (8–8 in 1983 and 9–9 in 1992) along with hosting the 1988 Grey Cup, the Riders struggled with losing seasons, poor ownership, mismanagement, and decreased fan support. In 1988, Jo-Anne Polak was named the co-General Manager of the Rough Riders. She became the first woman in CFL history to be appointed to an executive post.[5] The bottom fell out in 1992, when then-owner Bernard Glieberman began making noise about moving the Rough Riders out of Canada, and to the United States. The CFL, obviously, did not take kindly to Glieberman's suggestion, but allowed him to split the Rough Riders apart into a Canadian franchise (which he would sell off, and which would retain the Rough Riders name and history) and an American franchise that Glieberman would own, known as the Shreveport Pirates (this arrangement is similar to the arrangement made by Art Modell and the Cleveland Browns). Neither team played well. In 1995, Ottawa management drafted Derrell Robertson, who had died the previous December.[6][7] Falling attendance ultimately led to the team folding in 1996.

Football fans in Ottawa lived without CFL football for the next five years until 2002, when the city regained a CFL team, this one called the Renegades. Although there was sentiment toward resurrecting the Rough Riders name, the final owner of the previous franchise expected payment for the rights to it; the new franchise declined the request, and went with a 'fresh' name for the new team. Since the suspension of the Renegades for the 2006 season, and the tentative awarding of a new franchise for 2013,[8] owner Jeff Hunt now owns the rights to the Rough Riders name, but would have to seek permission from the Saskatchewan Roughriders to use the name.



Players of note

Retired numbers

11 Ron Stewart
12 Russ Jackson
26 Whit Tucker
40 Bruno Bitkowski
60 Jim Coode
62 Moe Racine
70 Bobby Simpson
71 Gerry Organ
72 Tony Golab
77 Tony Gabriel


Head coaches

  • Tom Clancy (1904–1911)
  • Doc Galvin (1912)
  • Reverend Father Stanton (1913)
  • Eddie Girard (1914)
  • Frank Shaughnessy (1915)
  • Dave McCann (1919)
  • Silver Quilty (1920)
  • Tom Clancy (1921–1922)
  • Silver Quilty (1923)
  • Dave McCann (1924–1927)
  • Walter Gilhooley (1928)
  • Joe Miller (1929)
  • Dr. Andy Davies (1930)
  • Dave McCann (1931–1932)
  • Wally Masters (1933–1934)
  • Billy Hughes (1935–1936)
  • Ross Trimble (1937–1941)
  • George Fraser (1942)
  • Ross Trimble (1945)
  • George Fraser (1946)
  • Sammy Fox (1947)
  • Wally Masters (1948–1950)
  • Clem Crowe (1951–1954)
  • Chan Caldwell (1955)

See also


  1. ^ 2009 Canadian Football League Facts, Figures & Records, Canadian Football League Properties/Publications, Toronto, Ontario, ISBN 978-0-9739425-4-5, p.282-283
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Koffman, Jack (April 28, 1953). "Ottawa A "Hot Football Town" Since 1880s". Ottawa Citizen: pp. E9–E12. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ NFL 2001 Record and Fact Book, Workman Publishing Co, New York,NY, ISBN 0-7611-2480-2, p.369
  5. ^ Weird Facts about Canadian Football, p.134, Overtime Books, First Printing 2009, ISBN 978-1-897277-26-3
  6. ^ Gustkey, Earl (1995-05-24). "Oh Well, Milwaukee Is Still Supporting Beer and Bowling". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 
  7. ^ "TSN25: Ottawa's Rough Riders, Renegades and Senators". 2009-08-12. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Ottawa Roughriders (1876–1996)

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