The 1960s are often recognized as the golden years for the Ottawa Rough Riders football club. It’s hard to dispute that claim.
In those 10 Canadian Football League seasons, the Rough Riders won their divisional pennant three times and finished in second place the other seven years. The red, white and black posted a combined record of 87-48-4 for a .640 winning percentage.
The Riders were just as impressive in the playoffs, recording a 13-8 mark, playing in four Grey Cup championships and hoisting the legendary trophy on three occasions, including the final two years of the decade.
The 1968 and 1969 Ottawa Rough Riders were two of the greatest sports teams ever to represent the nation’s capital and only the second Ottawa team to win back-to-back Grey Cups, after the Ottawa Senators in 1925 and 1926.
While it has been half a century since quarterback Russ Jackson, running back Vic Washington and linebackers Ken Lehmann and Soupy Campbell tore up the grass fields of the CFL, their accomplishments have not been forgotten. The 1968 and 1969 Ottawa Rough Rider teams will be inducted into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame May 31 during the class of 2019 induction evening. The ceremony will take place in Lansdowne Park’s Horticultural Building, which is across the street from their former home field.
“I think it’s great. It’s well deserved,” said Jackson, who played a key role in initiating a team reunion in the summer of 2018.
Jim Cain, who provided protection for Jackson as an offensive tackle before switching to a defensive tackle, was equally appreciative of the deserving honour.
“It’s a rightful place for these two Grey Cup-winning teams,” Cain said.
Two star-studded seasons
In 1966, the Riders registered one of the club’s best seasons. They won 11 of 14 games to finish first in the East Division and added another two victories to reach the Grey Cup. But in the CFL championship, the Riders allowed 15 unanswered points to Saskatchewan in the fourth quarter as the Roughriders won their first-ever Grey Cup 29-14.
While that season may have sparked some optimism for the next season, it never happened in Centennial year. The Riders were a second-place East Division team at 9-4-1 and were eliminated in the playoffs after one game.
Changes were made in the off-season by general manager Red O’Quinn and head coach Frank Clair and their 14-player moves proved to be creative and constructive in the building of back-to-back Grey Cup champions.
Running back Vic Washington came out of the University of Wyoming. Punter, defensive back and backup quarterback Bill Van Burkleo was picked up in a trade. The Calgary Stampeders cut Soupy Campbell and the Riders signed him. Barry Arden played the first two of his 10 CFL season with the Riders.
The new additions combined with an envious core of talent on offence and defence produced national championship squads in 1968 and 1969.
“We had been together for a while and a lot of players were coming to the end of their careers,” said Jackson, whose ability to run with the ball is often overshadowed by his aerial attack. “We had played in the Grey Cup (1960 and 1966) before and that was important. It wasn’t our first Grey Cup.
“We were prepared and knew what we were getting into in 1968 and 1969. I had announced (at the start of the season) I was retiring at the end of the 1969 season and the guys got behind me.
“We had a lot going for us. The team was good. The experience we had and…the group wanted to do something and it was to win the Grey Cup.”
The 1968 and 1969 teams only had 32-player rosters and the core of those squads was comprised of eight future Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductees—Jackson, Ron Stewart, Whit Tucker, Ken Lehmann, Soupy Campbell, Moe Racine, Gene Gaines and Don Sutherin. Hall of Famer Frank Clair served as the head coach.
Running back Bo Scott (1968) and receiver Margene Adkins (1968 and 1969) were strong forces on the offence before shifting south for substantial NFL careers.
The highly talented group of players was directed by the legendary Clair, who coached the final 14 of his 19 years in the CFL with Ottawa and won three Grey Cups. He was named CFL coach of the year in 1966 and 1969.
There were, however, injuries. But the players battled through those trying times during the 14-game regular season, which was four games fewer than today’s CFL schedule. Occasionally, a player would be brought in to fill a gap. Some players rarely left the field, playing on both sides of the line of scrimmage. And having back-to-back championship seasons also had that element on luck.
The 1968 Riders finished first in the East Division at 9-3-2, scoring the most points in the CFL at 416 and having the fourth-best defence, allowing 271 points. After earning a first-round playoff bye, the Riders met the Toronto Argonauts in a two-game, total-point East final. Toronto won the opening game 13-11, but Ottawa stormed back to take the second game 36-14 and advance to the Grey Cup with an aggregate win of 47-27.
In the Grey Cup, Ottawa rallied for a 14-4 halftime deficit with three second-half touchdowns for a 24-21 victory over the Calgary Stampeders. Washington, the game MVP, took a pitch-out from Jackson, dropped the back, had it pop right back into his hands on “an Argo bounce,” and ran for an 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
That individual performance, which was the highlight of his 13 carries and 128 yards, remains a CFL Grey Cup record for the longest touchdown run on the ground in the championship game. Washington also had a spectacular 14-yard run to set up Jackson’s one-yard touchdown run in the same quarter.
Lehmann, who was named the CFL’s most outstanding lineman a few days before the final, played the entire game with a dislocated elbow.
The 1969 Riders may be considered the greatest Ottawa football team ever. For the third time in four regular seasons, the Riders finished first, matching their decade-best, record from 1966 at 11-3.
Just like the previous year, Toronto won the opening game of the two-game, total-point East final 22-14, but the Riders counter-attacked even stronger in the second game, winning 32-3 to capture the series 46-25.
For the first time in CFL history, the Grey Cup was played in its entirety on a Sunday. (The 1962 Grey Cup started on a Saturday, but ended on a Sunday because of lake-front fog in Toronto). After spotting Saskatchewan a 9-0 first-quarter lead, Ottawa dominated the rest of the way for a 29-11 national championship triumph.
Jackson capped his storied career as the game’s MVP, tossing a Grey Cup record four touchdown passes to Ron Stewart (80 and 32 yards), Jay Roberts (11 yards) and Jim Mankins (11 yards). Sutherin kicked four converts and one single and added one fumble recovery.
Earlier, Jackson was named the CFL’s most outstanding player, the most outstanding Canadian and the Jeff Russell Memorial Trophy winner as the Eastern MVP in 1969.
For the 1968 and 1969 seasons, Jackson, Washington and Lehmann were named CFL all-stars. Adkins, defensive end Billy Joe Booth, linebacker Soupy Campbell and defensive back Don Sutherin were league all-stars in 1969.
Jackson led the CFL in two quarterback categories, most yardage at 3,641 yards and most TD passes at 33. Adkins was first for receiving yards at 1,402 and set a record, which lasted 28 years, for average gain per pass in a season at 25.0 yards.
Celebrate the 1968 & 1969 Ottawa Rough Riders induction into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame on Friday, May 31 at the Horticulture Building—it’s going to be a remarkable night of entertainment and networking. Buy your tickets online.