No matter the sport, no matter the era, expansion teams are supposed to be about novelty and fun and crazy mistakes, not about wining and losing.
Like the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who never won a game (0-14). Or the 1962 New York Mets, who lost 120 of 160. Just as inept were the Washington Capitals of 1974-75, who lost 67 of 80 and won just once on the road.
And, who can forget the 1954 B.C. Lions, who went 1-5, scored just 100 points and surrendered 345?
Teams who start from square one are best remembered for all about the funny lines and the crazy things that go on. They are to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
The first ever coach of the NFL’s Buccaneers John McKay, had perhaps the best line of any coach of a first-year franchise, at the time, on his way to an 0-14 first season in 1976.
When asked by a sportswriter what he thought of his team’s “execution”, McKay didn’t skip a beat in answering “I’m all for it.”
Casey Stengel, the first manager of the New York Mets, said of his ‘62 team that would win just 40 times, “I’ve been in this game a hundred years,’ but I see new ways to lose I never knew existed before.”
The trouble with the first-year Ottawa REDBLACKS is that it’s difficult being the laughable, loveable, new kid on the block when home is the CFL East where a team can go weeks - and usually does - without a win and still not lose any ground on division opponents.
Case in point, the REDBLACKS had a buy in Week 1 of the 2014 season and wound up theoretically in first place because every other team in the East lost its first game.
Henry Burris: "“The bottom line is we cannot lose faith. I told the guys I wish every ball I threw would be perfect. But that’s not going to happen. Right now, we need guys to step up and make plays.”
REDBLACKS head coach Rick Campbell quipped: “we’ll take 18 bye weeks if that happens.”
That’s how life should be for an expansion roster.
Instead, five weeks later, on an ominous, yet very predictable 1-4 run to open, the REDBLACKS are just two points out of first with a game in hand though coming off their most futile performance in a 38-14 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
It should be just another speed bump on the long road to respectability right?
Instead, REDBLACKS players say “hey, we’re a half game back.”
And so it goes.
“Sometimes you do have a bad day at the office and we had that,” said Campbell, who kept his composure despite seeing his team go down 24-0 almost before they knew what hit them. “Sometimes you will have a bad day and it’s not an excuse. We just seemed out of sorts to start and they seemed to regain ourselves later on.
“Obviously, we want to win as many games as we can and we lost our way against (Saskatchewan) and we addressed that.
“I don’t think it’s a problem with a whole lot of guys. Our team just needs to have each other’s backs. We just need to re-group and focus on Calgary.”
The REDBLACKS head west this week, facing possibly the best club in the league in the Calgary Stampeders, followed by home games against Edmonton and Calgary.
The numbers do not favour Ottawa. For starters, the two western foes are a combined 8-2.
Worse still, only the anemic Montreal Alouettes are averaging less points per game (15) that the REDBLACKS (18) and the Stampeders defence is tops in the league in points against per game (15.4) while the Eskimos are right behind (16.8).
Going back in time, the first edition of the REDBLACKS is going to be hard-pressed to match the expansion Ottawa Renegades, who first took the field in 2002. They were a team many thought was short-changed by its league partners in terms of the expansion draft and rules against signing free agents, a debacle the REDBLACKS management fought hard to never repeat.
Those ever-forgettable Renegades went 0-2 out of the blocks, then just like the REDBLACKS, managed to win game three and even won again two weeks later.
Then reality set in and the club won just twice more the rest of the way, losing six in a row at one point and five in a row at a laterpoint, to finish the season at just 4-14.
The REDBLACKS may be facing the halfway point 1-8. Down and out right?
Well they might hit the halfway point no worse than two points out of first given that there are no head-to-head matchups by East ‘powers’ in the next three weeks and no-one can forecast an Eastern team beating a team from the West at this point.
That’s why the REDBLACKS think post-season.
“I’m not smiling as much this week like I usually am . . . I have a scowl on my face this week,” said REDBLACKS quarterback Henry Burris.
“We were embarrassed . . . we got our butts kicked.
“We came out of the blocks and didn’t do things. It was more mental mistakes than anything but we’re focused on making sure we understand what’s hurting us.
“At the same time, we’re still a second place and a year ago we went 1-4 in Hamilton and lost 37-0 in Saskatchewan and still made it to the Grey Cup.
"I’m not saying we’re going to follow the same script. I’m just saying we knew we would have challenges early and we’re close. When you get in a game, everyone has to be on the same page. And when we’re not on the same page, bad things will happen.
“The bottom line is we cannot lose faith. I told the guys I wish every ball I threw would be perfect. But that’s not going to happen. Right now, we need guys to step up and make plays.”
Years and even weeks from now, we may look back and laugh how REDBLACKS won their first game without ever scoring a touchdown.
Or how their scored their first ever TD at TD Place on a quick kick by a backup quarterback into the end-zone, the first by anyone in the CFL since ’99 and the first by an Ottawa team since Dickie Adams in 1973.
That’s once they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, oh, around late October.