After seeing their team advance to three of the last four Grey Cups, 2019 wasn’t the kind of season Ottawa Redblacks fans have grown used to.
Since their reincarnation six years ago, the Redblacks have made it through to the post-season four times and the Grey Cup three times, winning the championship in just their third year.
The team ended this season with just three wins and 15 losses, earning a last-place finish and parting ways with head coach Rick Campbell.
When the CFL announced their divisional all-stars Thursday, only two Redblacks players — punter Richie Leone and offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan — made the cut.
“I think it’s the first major test [for the fanbase],” said Keith Whittier, a Redblacks season ticker holder. “I just feel that the team really mailed it in this year and that they didn’t seem to be playing with passion.”
2019 was not the Redblacks’ first losing season. Back in 2014, the team’s inaugural season, they managed just two wins.
But for Michaela Schreiter, a season ticket holder and co-host of her own Redblacks podcast called Mouchoir!, the 2014 and 2019 seasons aren’t comparable.
“Season one was season one, and it was a bit of a novelty and that kept fans engaged because everyone was just so excited to have football back,” Schreiter said. “This is the first bad season where you couldn’t blame it on being an expansion [team].”
Santino Filoso, who began blogging about the Redblacks in 2013 before becoming a contributor to the Canadian football website 3DownNation, echoed Schreiter’s point.
“You still had a sense that the team was building toward something, and you know, everyone kind of expected growing pains in that first year,” he said.
Both Filoso and Schreiter said they thought games in 2014 were more entertaining as well, but a struggling offence made it harder to stay engaged this year.
“If your team is just getting blown out every week … it just gets tiring to watch and it’s definitely easy to become demotivated,” Filoso said.
After losing several offensive starters to free agency in February, Ottawa’s offence averaged a dismal 14.3 points a game, ranking last in the CFL.
“It felt like no matter what they did, their feet were just kind of stuck in quicksand and they couldn’t get out,” Schreiter observed.
A drop in home attendance suggests fans were less engaged this year. The average home game saw 22,605 fans attend, down from just over 23,000 in 2018 and 24,500 in 2017.
Filoso suggested the franchise might have been a victim of its own early success.
“It might have made fan expectations unrealistic because realistically, the team is not going to be in the Grey Cup every year,” he said.
By comparison, teams like the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers have gone decades without a championship.
Whittier said fans should be grateful for what the team has been able accomplish in such a short time.
“We need to take note and be very fortunate for the success that we’ve had, and realize that not every season is going to be a great season,” he said.
Schreitter said she’s ready to put the dismal season behind her, noting that after that losing season in 2014, the Redblacks bounced back to advance to the Grey Cup.
“I think it is a good test for the fanbase, but the good thing is with the CFL, things change very quickly.”