By Phil Hecken with 13th Man, and UW Hockey Wing President, Teebz
The CFL, or Canadian Football League commenced it’s 56th Season this past Canada Day (52nd as the “CFL”, although the league has been around, in one form or another, since 1909). As such, Hockey Wing President and Chancellor of Canuckistan, Teebz, wanted to bring some of the uniforms of the northern league to UW’s largely American audience. We could have done (and may yet do) a review of the current CFL teams and their unis, but Teebz thought a great twist on that would be to show the uniforms of the American-based teams who played in the CFL. “American teams?” you say. That’s right. For a few years back in the early and mid-1990’s the CFL thought
invasion expansion into America would boost that the CFL’s popularity while the different style off football would be a hit with American fans, much the way the NFL is loved by Canadians. Unfortunately, they were wrong. For reasons Teebz will explain below, the experiment was largely a failure, although not without some high points.
I’m vaguely familiar with the Canadian game, having watched it on several occasions when the games were broadcast here in the States. I also dated a Winnipegger a few years ago, and had a ticket to the Grey Cup in 2006 played at the Canad Inns Stadium, but didn’t make it. So, I was, by default, a Blue Bombers fan. The CFL takes some getting used to, and there are several important distinctions. To describe them better than I could, I borrow this paragraph from misterhabs.com, a fantastic helmet site, which describes the CFL rules (or differences in the rules between the US and Canadian games):
The Canadian Football League, or CFL, has played football as an organized league since 1909, ten years before the NFL officially got it’s start. There are five major differences between the NFL we are used to in America and the CFL game played north of the border. In Canada, they play 3 downs instead of 4. The field is larger, 110 yards long and 65 yards wide. There is an additional way to score — a rouge, or single, is worth one point. A rouge can be scored on a missed field goal attempt or kickoff. It is the equivalent of a touchback or safety in the NFL. Overtime is different, resembling the NCAA rules where each team gets two possessions to score. If the score is the same after that, the a tie game is called. Overtime losses are counted on team records, and teams compete for playoff points, similar to hockey. Teams earn 2 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 for a loss.
But we’re not here for the logistics of the Canadian game. We’re here to look at the uniforms and logos of those franchises that played in the US during the CFL’s forray into her southern neighbor’s territory. And with that, I’ll turn the post over to Teebz, and see you after the main portion of this post.
1992 proved to be an interesting year in sports in the United States. Howard Cosell retired early into 1992, Mike Tyson was sent to prison after being convicted of rape, and the World League of American Football announced they were suspending operations.
Of course, there were other major events that happened that year in sports, but it is that last statement that changed the course of one league and two countries. I am referring to the Canadian Football League’s expansion into the United States. In 1992, the CFL played a game between the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders in Portland, Oregon as they looked south for ideas on expansion.
With the WLAF announcing that is was suspending operations, two upstart owners named Fred Anderson, who owned the WLAF’s Sacramento Surge, and Larry J. Benson, who owned the WLAF’s San Antonio Riders, approached the CFL with a very radical idea: Canadian football in their markets. CFL Commissioner Larry Smith, seeing the opportunity to grab a hold of a football-hungry country, granted two US expansion franchises to Anderson and Benson. The Sacramento Gold Miners and the San Antonio Texans would join the CFL for the start of the 1993 season. There were benefits to each side. Sacramento and San Antonio wanted a professional football team without the major costs of the NFL, and the CFL wanted to build its exposure and popular appeal of being an offence-first league while boosting revenues.
SAN ANTONIO TEXANS – Part I: Mr. Benson’s Texans never got off the ground, and the franchise folded before they played their first game. It didn’t help that Bobcat Stadium only held 15,218 people, the smallest stadium in the CFL at that time. Benson had gone out and hired Tom Landry as the team’s general manager, a holdover from the WLAF’s San Antonio Riders. Landry hired current Oregon State Beavers’ head coach Mike Riley as the Texans’ head coach. Things looked promising, but the financial situation of running a CFL franchise, combined with altering a stadium to CFL standards, proved to be too much for Benson’s pocketbook, and the team shut its doors in the spring of 1993. But this was not the last of the Texans.
SACRAMENTO GOLD MINERS: Sacramento joined the West Division for the 1993 season, and finished a respectable 6-12 as an “expansion” team. Quarterback David Archer, slotback Rod Harris and defensive tackle George Bethune all jumped from the WLAF to the CFL to give the Gold Miners a decent pool of talent to work with. The team was coached by Kay Stephenson, and Tom Huiskens occupied the General Manager’s chair. However, learning the Canadian game proved to be a little tougher than they had imagined, but their six wins was indicative of the improvements being made by the Gold Miners as the season progressed. Their jerseys were solid, but unspectacular.
The Gold Miners made history on July 7 when they became the first US-based franchise to play in a CFL regular-season game. They lost 32-23 to the Ottawa Rough Riders, but showed some character in their first game. On July 18, Sacramento hosted the Calgary Stampeders for the first CFL game played on American soil between an American and Canadian team. The Stampeders won that game 38-36. On July 24, the Gold Miners won their first CFL game – 37-26 over the Saskatchewan Roughriders – making them the first US-based team to win a regular-season CFL game.
After seeing the Sacramento Gold Miners play to decent-sized crowds, the CFL opened the door to future US expansion, and three more teams joined the CFL for the 1994 season: the Baltimore CFL Colts, the Las Vegas Posse, and the Shreveport Pirates.
Competition from the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford University really hurt the Gold Miners’ attendance in the second-half of the CFL season. They received no marketing assistance from the CFL as they were the only US-based club in 1993. Hornet Stadium was not the best venue as well as its make-shift bleachers were uncomfortable at best. The Gold Miners left Sacramento after the 1994 season, moving to San Antonio for the start of the 1995 season. After two seasons in the CFL in Sacramento, the Gold Miners had a 15-20-1 record, but never made the playoffs.
BALTIMORE STALLIONS: The Stallions were actually called the Baltimore (CFL) Colts when they were granted an expansion team. Owner Jim Speros wanted to use the name to draw fans to the game by capitalizing on fan sentiment towards their former NFL team. And it worked as the Baltimore franchise ranked first in attendance in their inaugural season. How they became the Stallions is below.
The Baltimore CFL Colts went about building a CFL team by getting experienced CFL people. Owner Jim Speros brought Don Matthews in to coach the team. Quarterback Tracy Ham, a long-time CFL star with the Edmonton Eskimos, was signed. They signed the CFL’s leading rusher from 1993, Mike Pringle, away from the Gold Miners. And they signed several big stars on the defensive side of the ball. They were dressed fairly traditionally, and looked good in navy and gray. The logo itself could stand the test of time, in my opinion.
However, the NFL was a little unhappy, you could say, with their team name and sued the franchise. Of course, the Indianapolis Colts had played in Baltimore from 1953 until 1984. The NFL won the injunction due to the CFL Colts not wanting to risk bankruptcy during the court battle, and they essentially became a team with no team name. For the 1994 season, the Baltimore franchise would be known as the “Baltimore Football Club” or, thanks to their fans, the “CFLers”.
In their first season, the CFLers set a CFL record for wins by an expansion franchise, going 12-6 and finishing second in the CFL East Division. The defeated the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the playoffs to become the first US-based team to appear in the Grey Cup Final. They lost in the Final, however, to the British Columbia Lions on a last-second Lui Passaglia field goal.
After the 1994 season, owner Jim Speros held a “name the team” contest that ran into the 1995 season. After one week of being called the “CFLers” in 1995, Speros announced that the Baltimore franchise would be called the “Stallions”. The Stallions proved to be one of the CFL’s best teams as they would go 15-3 in 1995 and win the Grey Cup with a 37-20 victory over the Calgary Stampeders, making them the first US-based team to win the CFL’s biggest prize.
Cleveland Browns’ owner Art Modell threw a major monkey wrench into the Baltimore CFL effort when he announced on November 6, 1995 that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 season. Speros, knowing that there was no way he could compete head-to-head with the NFL, relocated the franchise to Montreal, Quebec after deals with Norfolk, Virginia and Houston, Texas fell through. The team would drop the “Stallions” moniker, and they were renamed the Montreal Alouettes. This would be the third version of the Alouettes in CFL history. After two seasons in the CFL, the Stallions posted a 27-9 regular-season record, winning the Grey Cup once and finishing as the Grey Cup Runner-Up once.
LAS VEGAS POSSE: Nick Mileti was granted a CFL franchise in 1993, and the Posse was born. Former UNLV and NFL head coach Ron Meyer was brought in to coach the squad. The team was made up of young players and former college stars, and the transition from four-down football to three-down football was a steep learning curve. Combined with the environment and entertainment aspects in Las Vegas, and this franchise was lucky to make it through the 1994 season. And for the love of things good and pure, why would you dress in black in Las Vegas in the summer?!?
The Posse actually started the 1994 campaign 2-0 with wins over the Sacramento Gold Miners and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. July 8, 1994 was a memorable day as the game between the Gold Miners and Posse marked the first time that two US-based teams played a regular-season CFL game. However, by mid-season, this team was suffering mightily. Sam Boyd Stadium was located a long way from downtown Las Vegas, and fans stopped making the trip once the Posse started losing. In a game against Winnipeg, a total of 2350 fans were in attendance, and most were fans of the Blue Bombers. Needless to say, the experiment in Las Vegas was failing miserably. Players complained about playing in ridiculous heat, and there was concern raised about player safety by the CFLPA. The Posse’s final home game was moved from Las Vegas to Edmonton – a sign that the CFL was done Vegas.
This franchise was doomed from the moment it put a stake in the Las Vegas countryside. Some of the more questionable things that happened were:
• Singer Dennis K.C. Parks mangled the Canadian national anthem by singing it to the tune of “O Christmas Tree” at the Posse’s first home game.
• Head coach Ron Meyer caused the “Showgirl incident” when he asked the Posse cheerleaders, named the “Showgirls”, to hang out near the bench of the BC Lions in an effort to distract them.
• Half-time bikini contests were held until the CFL stepped in to protect its “family entertainment” image.
• The Posse’s practice field was only 70 yards long, and was set-up in a casino parking lot.
The Posse’s end zones were only 15 yards deep instead of the CFL-mandated 20 yards.
After the season ended, there was an effort to move the franchise to Jackson, Mississippi, but that fell through, and the team was folded. A dispersal draft was held, and the players of the Posse were sent to the various teams throughout the league. After only one season of play in Las Vegas, the Posse posted a meagre 5-13 record, and did not appear in the CFL Playoffs. The team folded, and a dispersal draft happened before the start of the 1995 CFL season.
SHREVEPORT PIRATES: Bernie and Lonnie Glieberman, owners of the Ottawa Rough Riders, sold the Ottawa franchise and were awarded an expansion franchise which they located in Shreveport, Louisiana. Much like the Las Vegas franchise, this team started badly and ended worse. Is it just me, or does the Pirate look like a primitive version of the Patriot? At least Shreveport looked respectable on the field in comparison to some of the stuff that happened off the field.
Head coach John Huard was fired during the team’s first training camp due to conflicts with staff and personnel. Forrest Gregg, previously a coach in both the NFL and CFL, was brought in to replace Huard. Billy Joe Tolliver was signed as the team’s starting quarterback. Jon Heidenreich played with the team before becoming a professional wrestler. After starting the season 0-14, the Pirates recorded their first win in franchise history with a 24-12 win over the Sacramento Gold Miners. They finished last in the East Division with a 3-15 record in 1994. After another dismal season in which the Pirates went 5-13, the real circus began off the field.
Their win-loss record was the least of the franchise’s problems. Soon after the 1995 season ended, the Gliebermans attempted to move the franchise to Norfolk, Virginia. However, that relocation attempt fell through when Norfolk told the Gliebermans that they would pass due to the sketchy business dealings the Gliebermans had made, and the franchise remained in Louisiana for the time being.
The Gliebermans, however, owed the City of Shreveport a pile of money over debts related to the Pirates’ lease at Independence Stadium. This led to the “Great Tucker Caper”, and an obscene amount of embarrassment for the CFL. The City of Shreveport attempted to seize Bernie Glieberman’s prized 1948 Tucker, which was on loan to a classic automobile museum in downtown Shreveport. Glieberman’s lawyer, Mark Gilliam, tried to escape Shreveport one night with Bernie’s prized possession with orders to hide the car, but he ran out of gas along the way and was forced to pull over on the highway. The police spotted him, and took the car back to the museum where it was being stored until the case could be settled.
The Shreveport Pirates folded after the 1995 season with an overall record of 8-28, and zero appearances in the CFL Playoffs. The team was contracted in 1995 after the CFL decided to end the US experiment.
SAN ANTONIO TEXANS – Part II: This version of the Texans was simply the Sacramento Gold Miners in a new home. All of the previous players from the Sacramento team travelled with the franchise to San Antonio, Texas for play in the 1995 CFL season. They changed their clothes, but still stuck with a traditional football look. The logo is so-so.
For the first time in franchise history, the team made the playoffs. They posted a 12-6 record in the Southern Division, and defeated the Birmingham Barracudas in their first playoff appearance. However, they lost to the Baltimore Stallions in the Southern Division Final to end their playoff record at 1-1. After the 1995 season, the CFL ended the US experiment, and the San Antonio Texans were contracted.
MEMPHIS MAD DOGS: Fred Smith, owner of FedEx, decided to get into professional sports by obtaining an expansion franchise from the CFL. Pepper Rodgers (that’s him in the middle), formerly of UCLA and the Memphis Showboats of the USFL, was brought in as the head coach. They hired long-time CFL guy, Adam Rita, as their offensive coordinator, essentially taking a page out of Baltimore’s hiring strategy. They signed CFL icon Damon Allen as their starting quarterback, and beefed up their defence as much as possible. Where this franchise went off the track was with their uniforms. What in the holy…? Off-centre numbers? The Mad Dog logo on the lower-right? Who designed this, and why weren’t they fired immediately?!?
The Mad Dogs lost their first two games of the 1995 season before defeating the Saskatchewan Roughriders by an 11-5 score at home for their first franchise victory. They ended up .500 for the season with a 9-9 record, but that wasn’t good enough for a playoff spot. The team was contracted at the end of the 1995 season as the CFL ended the US experiment.
Just as the Las Vegas Posse had, the Mad Dogs’ home field in the Liberty Bowl only had 15-yard endzones, not the CFL-mandated 20-yard endzones. Thankfully, Memphis didn’t have the other problems that Las Vegas experienced.
BIRMINGHAM BARRACUDAS: The Birmingham Barracudas were owned by Art Williams, a businessman in Georgia. Jack Pardee was hired to coach the Barracudas, bringing with him a vast amount of experience after having coached at the University of Houston and in the WFL, the USFL, and the NFL. Matt Dunigan was signed as the starting quarterback, and Pardee designed the offence around Dunigan’s arm. Like the Mad Dogs, the Barracudas had some questionable outfits. Perhaps the NHL stole a page out of the CFL’s book by having the team nickname on the jersey? And again we have have off-centre numbers. Why?
There was no shortage of offence in Birmingham as the Barracudas were routinely in shootouts with other CFL teams. They scored 40-or-more points five times in 1995, including a 48-42 loss to San Antonio in their final game of the season. Defensively, they struggled against some of the better offences in the CFL, but they managed to go 11-7 in the regular season for a playoff berth. They met San Antonio in the first round and were crushed 51-9. Despite their success on the field, there were a lot of black clouds off the field.
Williams was unhappy as an owner. He claimed he lost between $4 million and $6 million publicly, but some have said the losses piled up to $10 million. Attendance was strong in the early going, but, like the Sacramento Gold Miners, college football and the NFL hurt the Barracudas in the second half of the CFL season. Williams also criticized the CFL over its uniqueness. He suggested changes that included:
• The reduction of the Canadian field to US Football Field standards.
• The reduction from 12 players to 11 players on either side of the ball.
• Changing the name of the league to show more US presence.
In the end, the Barracudas were sold after the 1995 season to a group from Louisiana who wanted to bring the CFL back to Shreveport after the Gliebermans had left town. However, the CFL contracted the team as they ended the US experiment.
Clearly, there were some interesting developments in the history of the CFL, and the uniforms used by these seven teams are quite unique. Will the CFL ever expand to the US again? It’s doubtful that it will ever happen in our lifetimes, but never say never. Right now, the only place you can see uniforms like the Mad Dogs’ gear is at the CFL Hall of Fame.
Thanks Teebz! That was great, but you spelled a shitload of words wrong. Anyway, good stuff. I always learn something new whenever I do a column with a “guest” but this one was really fun to do with you. And it was particularly entertaining and educational searching for some of the pics that went with this article — there are a good number of historical CFL sites out there you guys should check oot!
We had planned this column over three weeks ago, wondering how the UW audience might take a column on defunct uniforms from a foreign sport, but judging by the great interest in the CFL (at least as seen in the comments’ section this week), we hope you enjoyed the look-back. Some good unis (Colts-CFLers-Stallions and Miners), some meh (Texans, Pirates and Posse — who I don’t think ever wore those black unis, especially not at Boyd in the summer), and some just godawful (Dogs, ‘Cudas) as well. In later years, the WLAF was probably (notably teams like the Monarchs, Dragons, and Galaxy ) influenced by some of those uniforms as well.
For those of you with viewing interests, here’s a link to the CFL on Internet and American TV. For those who know the CFL, obviously you know what to expect and for those who don’t, it’s a great alternative to the NFL, it’s on all summer, and worth a look-see (if you can find the games). If you can’t get the games on regular television, I know they’re available on the Interwebs (and although some people posted their availability during the past week, perhaps they could do so again in the comments below). And depending upon the response (and yes, it’s a holiday weekend in the States, so I’m sure the comments will be light), if anyone is interested in working with me on another CFL article, you know what to do.
Guess The Game From The Scoreboard: Today shouldn’t require too much thinking. So I made it pretty easy. Guess The Game. Remember, date, location and final score.
Teamed up again with my doubles partner, Brinke Guthrie, who’s here to say a few words about this morning’s Wimbledon Gentleman’s Final. We both think Fed’s going to win, in straights, but I’m predicting a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4 win, whereas Brinke feels it’s going to be The Fed: 4, 4 & 4. Here’s Brinke:
Big day today @ The Big W. Slugger Andy Roddick going for his second Grand Slam title (been a long time since the 2003 U.S. Open) — going up against The Fed, who is going for his, uh, 15th major. Lot of style here. Roddick favors his traditional white Lacoste, with his Babolat sneakers. But points off for the constant ball cap. Borg didn’t do that. Roger Federer wearing his usual white Nike attire with the gold trim. He does get points off for this abomination.
Got a note late yesterday from James Huening, who brought to my attention something of which I wasn’t aware. Here’s James:
I don’t know if you got a chance to watch much baseball today, but did you see how bad those ALS patches looked on some teams, particularly the ones who just have the logo on the left breast? As if the red caps weren’t bad enough…
Even though the Cardinals have the full jersey wordmark treatment, it still looked terrible on the left side.
Makes you wonder why they all didn’t just put it on the right side, like the Royals did.
Thanks, James. Actually, no, I didn’t watch one minute of baseball yesterday, so that’s all news to me. But you’re right. The caps (especially with some of those alts — WTF?) are bad enough. The patch (well-intentioned though it is) is just overkill. Super.
That’s all for today. Hope everyone had a great Fourth. Enjoy your Sunday.