For a half century old, Pedro’s still looking pretty good
It’s one of the greatest rivalries in Canadian football.
On Sept. 29, at TD Place in the revamped Lansdowne Complex, between Bank Street and the Rideau Canal, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and their crosstown rival Carleton Ravens will take the field for the annual Panda Game.
The stadium will be packed with students and Ottawa football fans, the players will be fired up, and the hype will be high.
But this is no ordinary Panda Game.
The 2018 game will mark the 50th edition of Panda, and just the sixth since the reincarnation in 2013.
The early years
The game has a storied history going back to 1955, when the Fulcrum’s own Bryan McNulty wanted to promote the rivalry with Carleton.
This led to the birth of Pedro, the iconic symbol of the Panda Game for all the years to come.
In the early days, the Gee-Gees dominated the game. While Carleton won the original contest, the U of O then won seven straight starting in 1957, when the Gees beat the Ravens by the biggest margin in Panda history, 44-0.
The U of O reign went on to a four-Panda Game winning streak from 1965-68, and a five-game streak from 1972-76.
The Gee-Gees would go on to win the Vanier Cup in 1975, one of only two national championships in program history.
In addition to being one of the greatest rivalries in Canadian football, it also became a major occasion for alcohol-fueled mayhem.
This culminated in the 1987 incident wherein several fans suffered concussions and broken bones after a railing snap. One student fell into a coma for nearly three weeks as a result.
By the 1990s, the Carleton program was frustrated by multiple seasons of failure to even make the playoffs.
As a result, the team folded. Thus the Panda Game was no more. Or so it seemed.
Rebirth of a rivalry
While U of O leads in the all-time series by a record of 32-17, in recent years, it’s been Carleton that has come home with Pedro consistently.
So while the 2013 edition of the game was the first in 15 years, it was also the first time the Ravens had taken the field in that time period.
The young team, made up of mostly first-year players, had a predictably rough outing at Gee-Gees Field versus their more experienced crosstown rivals. The result was a 35-10 win for the U of O, and the Ravens’ failure to win a game all season.
But by 2014, the Ravens’ squad was no longer made up primarily of rookies. This is when Carleton began to strike back.
This year was to be the first Panda Game to be played at the renewed Lansdowne Park at TD Place, so the Gee-Gees could not benefit from home-field advantage this time around.
It was also one of the most remarkable finishes, and most heart-breaking for the Gee-Gees, when Carleton receiver Nate Behar caught a tipped pass on a last-second Hail Mary and ran it in for a touchdown to win the game.
This made the final score 33-31, but the game never actually finished. Carleton was unable to even attempt the point-after kick when Ravens fans stormed the field.
In 2015, the atmosphere was just as intense, with the Gee-Gees looking for some revenge. They never let up and it resulted in the highest-scoring affair in Panda history, a 48-45 double overtime win for Carleton.
But 2016 was a different story, with a strong Carleton team dominating the Gee-Gees on both sides of the ball for an affirmative 43-23 win.
Again, Pedro eluded the Gee-Gees.
The 2017 edition was yet another heartbreaker. With the Carleton squad sitting at 1-3 on the season, and the Gee-Gees at 4-1 going in, the U of O was almost sure of a win this time around.
However, the game was yet another overtime thriller that saw the Ravens take home a 33-30 victory. Once again, U of O found itself frustrated, falling just short.
The 50th and beyond
The 2018 contest will likely once again prove to be an edge-of-your-seat match.
Second-year quarterback Alex Lavric leads a fairly pass-heavy offence for the U of O, with some versatile weapons at his disposal in receivers Kalem Beaver and Carter Matheson, as well as Bryce Vieira out of the backfield.
They’ll be going head-to-head with a Carleton defence that held Western to just two touchdowns in the entire game in week one, including just one offensive touchdown.
The Gee-Gees also have a difficult road ahead of them up until then, with games against McMaster, Guelph, and York. The Ravens will have a somewhat easier schedule as they take on Windsor, Queen’s, Waterloo, and the University of Toronto prior to the big game.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. at TD Place on Sept. 29. You can find tickets to the game here.