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A Gee-Gee alumnus speaks about the best era of Football at the U of O

Photo Credit: The Fulcrum 1975 

Reflecting on the long history of Gee-Gees football, one team stands out.

Often regarded as the best university football team in Canadian history, the 1975 Gee-Gees were trailblazers. With a mixture of local players and some amazing talent from New York, they were unstoppable. A perfect season landed them a Vanier Cup championship and cemented their legacy.

The Gee-Gees played their fair share of big games during this period, but one stood out above the others each season: the Panda Game.

Jeff Avery was a standout wide receiver for the Gee-Gees in those years. Though he went on to have a seven-year career in the CFL, some of his best memories were of the University of Ottawa and the Panda Game.

“It was exciting, it was fun, and it was really just something the entire athletic community of the city looked forward to,” said Avery. “High schools, colleges, universities, everyone wanted to get involved with Panda.”

An Ottawa native himself, Avery remembers the Panda Game as the biggest game in the city. As his football career led him to the U of O, he got to experience firsthand the rivalry still present between the U of O and Carleton to this day.

“We never lost against Carleton,” he said. “The first couple of years they were close games, but that’s a rivalry, it doesn’t matter if you are ranked top in the country and the other school isn’t. It means a lot to both teams.”

Taking a look back into the history of the Panda Game, it’s clear the best days were those of the ‘70s. It was an event like no other, and also had attendance like no other. At the old Frank Clair Stadium at Lansdowne Park, the games would draw up to 15,000 people in the team’s first years, Avery recalls, and in the last couple years that number grew closer to 19,000.

Those massive crowds would become a regular occurrence for Avery as he became a member of the Ottawa Rough Riders, winning a Grey Cup in his first season with the team. He’s still a part of the Ottawa football community as the colour commentator for RedBlacks radio broadcasts.

Avery is optimistic about the future of the Panda Game at its new home.

“It’s not often that you have two schools in one city in just the ideal locations, one end of the canal versus the other, and a football stadium right in the middle,” he said. “Everything lends itself to success.”