‘It’s like Christmas Eve’: Redblacks fans, players eager for first home game in nearly two years

OTTAWA — For the last 22 months, the field at TD Place has been mostly empty.

That changes Saturday night when 15,000 fans crowd under the lights and cheer on a team they haven’t seen play in person since 2019.

“It’s like Christmas Eve a little bit. I’m probably going to have a little bit of trouble falling asleep but I’m going to wake up really excited,” Michaela Schreiter, co-host of Mouchoir: A Redblacks Podcast said.

The anticipation has fans and players alike eagerly awaiting Saturday night’s kickoff.

“Definitely nerves and excited, it’s going to be a great time to bring some fans in and give them something to cheer about,” Wesley Lewis, a wide-receiver for the Ottawa Redblacks who will be playing in his first professional game since 2018, said.

The crowd will be the largest gathering in the capital since the pandemic began a welcome taste or normalcy after months anything but.

“I feel really good. I’m really excited. It’s a little nerve wracking; it’s the biggest event I’ve been to since the pandemic began, but excited to watch Redblacks football again, excited to watch the team, excited to see the fans; it’s going to feel like a little bit of normalcy,” Schreiter said.

With cases quickly rising over past several weeks, and memories of a cancelled season, the chance to play in front of a home crowd is not something taken lightly.

“I just feel blessed that we get this opportunity to play in front of so many fans during those tough times when we were still in the pandemic. I’m glad that we’re able to do this safely and I’m glad that people keep getting vaccinated. I think that helps our cause a lot, so hopefully we can keep doing that for the rest of the season,” Antoine Pruneau, a defensive back and veteran presence for the Redblacks said.

But as fans head back to the stadium, there are a number of pandemic related changes.

Redblacks rules

Masks are mandatory, and fans will also be required to complete a COVID-19 health screening before they’re allowed into the stadium. A mandatory vaccination policy was announced for TD Place, but doesn’t come into effect until Sept. 12.

Gates will also be assigned to fans via their ticket to minimize wandering.

The stadium is also paperless and cashless, meaning tickets will be scanned digitally, and concessions can only be purchased with credit or debit.

“You’re going to have a kind of check-in when you come through the line to attest to you’re symptom- and COVID-free and there will be volunteers along the way to help you; so we’re hoping it’s not going to be that much of a different process to check in,” Chris Hofley, OSEG Communications Manager, said.

Gates will open an hour early; Gate 1 will open 90 minutes early, and the team is encouraging people to give themselves plenty of time to get to their seats.

“You want to get there as early as possible. If there is any kind of lineup, you help get yourself there for opening kickoff. It’s going to be exciting so we don’t anyone to miss it,” Hofley said.

Despite the changes, fans are still eager to be back in the stadium.

“I think it’s going to be emotional for a lot of people. It’s been … almost two years and to have something that feels this normal and this exciting, I think it’s going to be a little overwhelming,” Schreiter said. 

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