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Bernie & Lonie Glieberman - Owners - 1992-93, 2005

CBC Sports On-line June 9, 2005


Back In Town Again -

Lonie Glieberman's favourite phrase is "Anything is possible in the CFL." Still is, it seems, because the Gliebermans have once again bought Ottawa's beleaguered pro football franchise.  After weeks of negotiations, the father-and-son tandem of Bernie and Lonie Glieberman bailed out the Ottawa Renegades, just as it did with the troubled Rough Riders for two years in the 1990s.  Bernie Glieberman enjoys majority control of the Renegades with with Bill Smith and Brad Watters, part of the original ownership group, keeping 49 per cent of the franchise.  Lonie will serve as team president, the same position he held with the Rough Riders.  The CFL board of governors remains somewhat skeptical of the Gliebermans, but approved the sale when it became apparent there was no one else interested in the troubled franchise.


The Gliebermans didn't take long in making one key personnel change, installing 71-year-old Forrest Gregg as the Renegades' new vice-president of operations.  Gregg is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and former CFL and NFL coach who hasn't been involved in pro football for 10 years. When last heard from, Gregg was working with the Gliebermans on the formation of the All-American Football League it never materialized.  Rather than risk losing its football team, the City of Ottawa is prepared to reconcile past differences with the Gliebermans, who irked many a municipal politician the first time around.

"If you look at some of the statements from the Gliebermans, they say they're reformed," observed Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli. "But the issue ultimately rests with the CFL board of governors."

Lonie, 37, and Bernie, his deep-pocketed dad, first set foot in the nation's capital in 1991 with wads of American greenbacks and promises aplenty.  Glieberman, a third-generation builder and sole shareholder of Detroit-based Crosswinds Communities, the construction company he established in 1971, bought the Rough Riders for a buck, assumed nearly $1 million in debt and temporarily at least revived the team's fortunes before turning it into a three-down circus.

Backed by Bernie, and fronted by Lonie, Ottawa finished a respectable 9-9 that first season and its stock rose. After all, it marked the first time since 1979 that the Riders had played .500 football.  But one year and several misguided moves later, the Riders were the league laughing stock and the interventionist Gliebermans became public enemies No. 1.

"That was the perception at the time," Lonie recently said. "I would hope people don't hate me now."

Lonie, then 27, fired general manager Dan Rambo on the eve of the 1993 CFL season, a move that proved to be the first of many mistakes made by the impish, if not immature, team president.

"The biggest was firing Dan Rambo," Lonie admitted. "Every other mistake flowed from that one."

Mistakes like bringing former All-Pro sack machine Dexter Manley and his considerable cocaine habit to town, despite the fact he was banned by the NFL. And, as CFL fans quickly discovered, washed up. When Glieberman ordered the coaching staff to start Manley, and to bring back training-camp cuts Reggie Barnes and Brian Bonner, assistants Jim Daley and Mike Roach qu
it in disgust.

Lonie's bodyguard remained loyal, however, making headlines after he got into a fight at an Ottawa bar. Lonie himself raised a ruckus by dating Riders cheerleaders. Fans scoffed at Lonie's hilarious pursuit of former NFL head coach Mike Ditka and fumed over Bernie's constant threats to relocate the team stateside.  Instead, he sold the Riders to Bruce Firestone for $1.85 million and established the Shreveport Pirates, considered a key cog in the CFL's (failed) expansion into the United States.  As he left for Louisiana, Lonie was sued by the City of Ottawa for monies owed and, in turn, filed a countersuit.

"We won," Lonie recalled. "But nobody mentions that."

The Pirates posted an 8-28 record over two seasons in steamy Shreveport before Glieberman vowed to relocate them to Virginia. There, he agreed to rename them the Hampton Roads Pirates or Norfolk Pirates if the city coughed up $400,000 in renovations. But local politicians politely showed Glieberman the door upon learning that he had lawsuits pending in Louisiana and had his antique automobile, a 1948 Tucker Torpedo worth upwards of $500,000 US, impounded because he still owed a company $273,932 for Shreveport's scoreboard. In a story as classic as the car itself, Glieberman told his lawyer, Mark Gilliam, to retrieve the Tucker from a local museum before it was seized by federal authorities.

Gilliam was driving the car to an undisclosed location when it ran out of gas, forcing him to call for a tow truck, which was later pulled over by a sheriff's deputy. Police seized the vintage Tucker and returned it to the museum until the dispute was settled.

Indeed, anything is possible in the CFL.

with files from CP Online