Turning the Tide: Everything changed for Ottawa five years ago
You could say that everything changed for the Ottawa REDBLACKS five years ago.
Following their less-than optimal first season as a franchise – the REDBLACKS finished the 2014 campaign with a 2-16 record – things began to turn around in 2015.
Ottawa significantly updated their offence during free agency ahead of their second campaign, bringing in a multitude of star power including the hero of the playoffs that year, Greg Ellingson. Along with Ellingson, they also added receivers Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli and Chris Williams and offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers, who would eventually go on to be named the league’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman that year.
With the offence led by Hall of Famer Henry Burris, the team would win eight of their last 10 regular season games and finish with a 12-6 record. They sat atop of the East Division and earned a first round playoff bye.
It was the first regular season division title for an Ottawa-based team since 1978.
As they awaited their opponent for the Eastern Final – which eventually would be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats – the REDBLACKS had no idea that one play in that game would be solidified as one of the most exciting plays in franchise history and the play that would send Ottawa to the Grey Cup for the first time since 1981.
However, the REDBLACKS had other plans for how this story would end.
On second-and-25, and with the clock ticking down, Burris connected with Ellingson, who ran down the sideline 93 yards to score the game-winning touchdown sending the REDBLACKS to the final showdown at the end of November. Ellingson would finish the game with 186 yards on five catches to go along with the clutch major score.
The appearance in the 103rd Grey Cup – where they were eventually defeated by the Edmonton Football Team – was Ottawa’s first of three trips to the big game in four years.
In 2016, the REDBLACKS won the East Division once again and would eventually go on to defeat the Calgary Stampeders in the 105th Grey Cup. That exhilarating contest at BMO Field in Toronto featured an overtime frame where Burris would find Jackson, whose bobbled catch in the end zone would be the game-winner.
The win was franchise’s first championship and the first for an Ottawa-based team in 40 years.
Ottawa finished second in their division with a 8-9-1 record in 2017 but missed out on a trip to the Grey Cup after losing to the crossover team, Saskatchewan Roughriders, in the Eastern Semi-Final.
2018 saw the REDBLACKS back to the Grey Cup, against a familiar foe in the Calgary Stampeders. They suffered a different ending in this championship game, however, as the Stampeders took home the trophy after their third-straight appearance.
Last season was one the REDBLACKS and their fans alike would like to leave as a distant memory, as the team ended their 2019 campaign with a 3-15 record and in turn missed the playoffs.
With a new head coach in Paul LaPolice and a new, exciting, young quarterback in Nick Arbuckle under centre, you can’t help but feel optimistic that it won’t be long until they find themselves back in the winning column and perhaps adding more hardware to their trophy case.
These REDBLACKS know what it takes to win; they’ve done it before and it all kick-started back on a November afternoon in Ottawa five years ago.