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Ottawa Attack

Ottawa RedBlacks, country stand together for a truly Canadian tribute

Don Brennan. (ERROL MCGIHON/Ottawa Sun)

By Don Brennan, Ottawa Sun

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (centre-L) and Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff General Tom Lawson (centre-R) take part in a tribute to recently fallen Canadian soldiers, prior to a CFL football game between Ottawa Redblacks and Montreal Alouettes in Ottawa October 24, 2014. Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent both recently died during attacks in Canada.     REUTERS/Blair Gable     (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY CRIME LAW SPORT FOOTBALL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (centre-L) and Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff General Tom Lawson (centre-R) take part in a tribute to recently fallen Canadian soldiers, prior to a CFL football game between Ottawa Redblacks and Montreal Alouettes in Ottawa October 24, 2014. Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent both recently died during attacks in Canada. REUTERS/Blair Gable (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY CRIME LAW SPORT FOOTBALL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

It was nothing as dramatic as the outpouring of emotion at an NFL stadium after 9/11 or what was witnessed at TD Garden and Fenway Park following the marathon bombing, but then maybe tragedies like this should not be compared -- nor should the way they are saluted.

The tribute paid to two soldiers murdered -- Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent just outside Montreal -- from 24,000 fans, the the RedBlacks and the Alouettes at TD Place Friday night was all-Canadian.

It was unique, it was respectful, and it was nice.

"You could feel the emotion of just what happened here in this great country," said former Alouette Anthony Calvillo, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. "They did a great job of honouring them."

There was no soloist to sing the anthem; instead the decision was made to leave those duties with the people in attendance. From where I stood on the sidelines, it was not a power performance. I figured because half were belting it out in English and the other half in French.

Later, RedBlacks president and partner Jeff Hunt used the words "sombre, subdued, authentic" to describe the singing of our song.

"It was coming right off a moment of silence," said Hunt. "I think there was a certain respectful calm about the fans."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood at midfield, alongside Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson, as the Canadian flag sent from Cirillo's hometown team -- the Hamilton Ticats -- covered most of the field. Among the many holding it were players from both teams, and it was cool to see how they came together, unprompted, to stand together.

During warmup a half hour earlier, Alouettes receiver Duron Carter was chirping RedBlacks defensive back Jermaine Robinson about his sparkling new red cleats, and you had the feeling something of a brawl could erupt. But for the anthem, RedBlacks and Alouettes stood next to each other gripping the large canvas, and those who didn't stood at attention beside their opponents at the benches.

Hunt admitted he was "really nervous" heading into the night.

"When you have such an enormous responsibility to try and pay tribute to all of the events this week, you want it to go well," he said. "I think the fans were amazing. I'm very proud of the way there was a lot of respect. It was a solemn moment. It felt good. I'm getting all kinds of texts from friends across the country, and people involved in the CFL, they thought it looked extremely well on TV and reflected extremely well on Ottawa and the whole community."

From his spot on the sidelines, near the Montreal bench, Calvillo had his own personal highlights.

"Just to see both teams standing together, and having the prime minister here," he said. "I love the touch where there's nobody singing the national anthem ... it was the entire stadium, the audience."

Born in Los Angeles, Calvillo has essentially lived in Canada since 1995, spending the first three years in Hamilton with the Ticats then starring for the Alouettes from 1998 until he retired last season.

He feels more than part-Canadian himself.

"This country has embraced so many American players that have came up here and played, and a lot have stayed here to live, including myself," he said. "There's definitely a connection, definitely a bond, and you feel it when something horrible goes on, you feel for the entire country."

And when something like the murdering of two Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil happens, it's shocking to all.

"We are living in some ugly times right now, where it could happen anywhere," said Calvillo. "But it was a shock to see where it happened, the location, and how brutal it was.

"Just to do what the guy did, it's awful. Right now you can see the country coming together, and that's what you need."

Twitter: @sundonib


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