Ottawa sports fans continue to ride the wave of success

By Terry Tinkess

I don’t want to shock anyone, but somehow, when no one was looking, it seems Ottawa became a sports town.

As Ottawa sheds the last vestiges of winter, its sports community is also enjoying the improved self-esteem and recognition that comes from winning, and winning often.

The Ottawa Senators and Ottawa 67’s have had very successful seasons and are poised for what should be long and successful playoff runs.

In an industry where popularity is measured at the turnstiles, both teams seem to be on the right track. The Senators regularly exceed 17,000 in paid attendance while the 67’s frequently play before crowds of almost 10,000.

Indications are hopeful from the gridiron as well. The Ottawa Renegades have had a busy off-season preparing for the second year of a three-year plan designed to earn them a spot in the 2004 Grey Cup, which will be played in Ottawa. Many players will be returning, including Kelly Wiltshire and all-star John Grace who will provide much needed leadership.

After a first season which saw average attendance of almost 24,000 for nine regular season games, the onus will be on the team to continue to improve in order to maintain support.

The bright spotlight of success isn’t shining only on professional teams in Ottawa. Last week, the Carleton Ravens men’s basketball team won a national championship, while earlier this month Carleton won national championships in both men’s and women’s nordic skiing.

There are unfortunately a couple weak links on the Ottawa sports scene.

Despite offering an exciting product, the Ottawa Rebel lacrosse team is having a difficult time attracting 3,000 fans to each of its games at Lansdowne Park.

The team moved to Lansdowne after playing for two seasons at the Corel Centre.

Although the popularity of lacrosse at the minor level is on the upswing, the professional game has never really caught on here and there is a good chance this season will be their last.

On the diamond, the Ottawa Lynx are looking forward to their first season as the AAA affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles. Again, in spite of competitive teams on the field, attendance figures remain low. Time will tell if the introduction of a new parent club will have any affect.

Some people might wonder what value the proliferation of sport in Ottawa has for those who don’t hold sport, or athletes in particularly high regard. My answer to them is, look around you.

The benefit of the success being enjoyed in the world of sport can be seen and felt throughout the city. The obvious indications are the number of billboard and bus ads promoting the success of the Senators and 67’s, the number of businesses acting in partnership with the teams, and the number of people professing their allegiance by wearing team hats or jerseys. Listen while standing in line, riding the bus or sitting in a coffee shop. How often do the conversations turn to sports?

There are other, less obvious benefits as well. Nothing breeds success like success. You could call it jumping on the bandwagon, but connecting with something or someone radiating a positive outlook can’t help but make the perception of things a little brighter.

Sport is a pleasant distraction, a means of — at least temporarily — forgetting there are problems too large to deal with and consequences too terrible to comprehend. It doesn’t provide an answer, nor is it truly an escape, because the problems don’t go away. It is simply a diversion, a rest, and a means of refocusing. It allows us to return to the serious problems — if not enlightened, then at least a little refreshed.

Sometimes it is the intrinsic values that make the most difference. Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

Ottawa sports fans are currently riding the wave of success generated by their teams. How long it can go on is anyone’s guess, so why not hang on and enjoy the ride? Winning might not be the only thing, but it’s certainly more fun than the alternative.