EDMONTON — Ottawa Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell was just seven years old when he first got a taste of what it was like to win a Grey Cup championship.
His father, Hugh Campbell, led the Edmonton Eskimos to the championship in 1978. That win was the first of five consecutive Grey Cup wins by the Hugh Campbell-coached Eskimos.
On Sunday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium, Rick will try and do something his father was never able to do despite all those wins — capture the title in the Alberta capital inside the stadium Hugh won so many regular season and playoff battles.
"This is a special place to me and a big part of my growing up," Rick said. "It is a big deal to me. I think I'm just trying to keep my emotions in check so I can do my best job for the team."
Rick Campbell had been around the CFL in various coaching roles in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary before landing a head coaching position in Ottawa the year they returned to the league. In five seasons as the Ottawa Redblacks coach, Campbell has led the team to three Grey Cup games. They won it all against the Stampeders in 2016.
But unlike the previous two championship games Rick coached, this time his father is going to be at the stadium for the game.
Hugh Campbell led Edmonton to 5 straight Grey Cup wins:
Learn about Hugh Campbell's legendary CFL career. 0:44
"They haven't come to the previous two games I was the head coach in the Grey Cup," Rick said. "They kind of gave me my space. So it's going to be pretty cool. I think my sisters are coming too."
Despite all of the connections to the city he grew up in and trips down memory lane, Rick is trying to stay as grounded and focused as he possibly can before entering the biggest game of the season.
"We haven't gone over to the stadium yet because we're practicing at a different facility. I think it's going to be a bigger thing for me when I reflect back on it afterward. I think I'm in work mode, where I'm trying to keep my head down and go about my business."
Campbell connection in Edmonton
Rick first started playing football at Harry Ainlay High School in Edmonton. He recalls winning a provincial title with the Titans. Rick played nearly every position on the field.
He was born into a championship football family. His father Hugh won his first Grey Cup championship as a receiver with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1966. Then Hugh coached the Eskimos to all those Grey Cup wins.
Rick says growing up in Edmonton during the 1980s was an incredible thing, mostly because the pro teams were winning a bunch of championships.
"I just remember the Eskimos and the Oilers got really good. People were shocked when they didn't win the whole thing," Rick said.
Ottawa Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell has a long history in Edmonton. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)
"This town is pretty special when you think about having two pro sports teams be that good for that long. I just remember the expectations were through the roof."
It would be a tall task to follow in the footsteps of a father who coached a team to five titles in a row, and Rick is the first to admit that early on in his career it was a nice last name to have when applying for jobs.
"I'm sure it helped initially," Rick said. "The thing about football though is you can't fake it. No matter who you are as a player or coach, if you're not a contributor it doesn't matter who you are."
Some have drawn uncanny parallels between the two — Hugh and Rick described as being cool, calm and collected under pressure on the sidelines. But for as similar as they are, Rick is trying his best to do things his way.
"I even have a similar voice to my dad, but I'm just trying to be myself. I don't try to emulate him. I just have to be myself. I guess I could come off as laid back like him but definitely not in the inside."
Making his mark in Ottawa
Rick Campbell was always a western Canadian kind of guy. He grew up in Edmonton, coached in the West throughout much of his career — he admits to knowing very little about Ottawa before taking the coaching position there five years ago.
"I went to Ottawa not knowing much about it," Rick said. "I just knew when I saw the ownership group going through all the hurdles and making sure they got it right, I wanted to be a part of it."
Rick lives a walk away from TD Place Stadium. He's a big part of the community now. More than anything, Rick Campbell is trying to create somewhat of a football dynasty in Ottawa. Just like his father Hugh did in Edmonton. He'll attempt to take a step closer to that on Sunday in the city where it all started with his dad watching from the stands.
"I'm a lucky guy and I don't take any of this for granted," Rick said.
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