Redblacks prepare for sold-out home opener
OTTAWA — Jeff Hunt feels like a nervous parent getting ready to host a wedding.
The man in charge of the expansion Ottawa Redblacks is anxiously awaiting the team’s home opener Friday at the refurbished Lansdowne Park.
“Friday is going to be pretty special,” said Hunt, the president of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group.
The game is sold out yet ticket requests keep coming in as fans want to celebrate the league’s return to Ottawa after a nine-year absence.
“I had a buddy ask me if I could get him six tickets,” said linebacker Jason Pottinger. “I was like ‘Are you crazy?”’
Hunt has had hundreds of requests this week alone and hates to say no, but at the same time, he feels pretty good knowing Friday’s game is such a hot ticket. Even Ottawa mayor Jim Watson is getting hit up for tickets.
“I have a lot of new friends these days,” said Watson. “Unfortunately I have to be the bearer of bad news, but I will be there with my niece.”
For local players Justin Phillips and Kevin Scott, Friday’s game holds a bit more significance. Scott says he has wonderful memories of watching football at Lansdowne Park with his parents and expects to be a little emptional on Friday.
“I’ll probably get here early and sit in the north side stands before anyone else and just enjoy the moment,” said Scott, a long snapper. “It’s been great to see everyone so excited about not only this game, but football being back.
“You can definitely feel the buzz around town. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Phillips, who grew up in a suburb of Ottawa, says he’s never been so popular.
“Everyone is asking me if there’s any extra tickets,” said Phillips. “It’s definitely the hottest ticket in town right now, which is great.”
Hunt and his partners were hopeful fans would be supportive and says it’s gratifying to see the reaction.
“At one time we lived in a negative state and now people are just so positive,” said Hunt. “We always felt this was the right thing, but seeing the level of excitement has exceeded our expectations.”
Hunt and his partners expect Friday to be an emotional day, not only for the ownership group, but also for fans and the numerous alumni who will be on hand for the game.
“People are going to be taking part in a historic day for the city. This is more than just about football, it’s almost redefining the image of what was Lansdowne Park for so long,” he said. Jock Climie, an Ottawa native and former member of the Ottawa Rough Riders, said he’s excited to witness the return of football in Ottawa.
As part of TSN’s CFL broadcast crew, Climie said it was difficult to talk about the CFL without there being a team in the nation’s capital.
“As a kid I fell in love with football watching the Rough Riders,” said Climie. “It’s so great to see such positive feeling about the ownership group and the team. I don’t think people always realize the importance of local ownership.”
Ottawa has been without pro football since the CFL suspended the Renegades in 2006. That franchise was born in 2002, six years after the Rough Riders folded.
Watson will be starting the party early with a city-sponsored pep rally at city hall Thursday. Watson said there was a time when Lansdowne Park was a “political football” at city hall, but now feels “we’ve landed as close as possible to a unanimous decision on use of the site.”
“The reaction has been very positive, not only to the stadium, but the whole concept,” said Watson. “The team has been doing so much right with involvement in the community.”
Work at TD Place is ongoing and finishing touches will likely be taking place right up to the end.
“We’re going to put our best foot forward,” said Hunt. “This past year has been dominated by so many first’s and milestones and they all culminate Friday.”