Bernie & Lonie Glieberman - Owners - 1992-93, 2005
CBC Sports On-line June 9, 2005
Back In Town Again -
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
TIMELINE: HISTORY OF OTTAWA FOOTBALL
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 quit
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