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Hi again, folks. The CFL Beat is back this week with a look at the CFL’s 1995 championship game featuring the sole trophy won by a non-Canadian team – the Baltimore Stallions in the 83rd Grey Cup. Read on!
Date: November 19th, 1995
Venue: Taylor Field, Regina, SK
Baltimore Stallions fast facts:
- Season record: 15-3 (1st in South Division)
- Head Coach: Don Matthews
- Quarterback: Tracy Ham
The Stallions began their CFL existence in 1994, midway through a three-year experiment on American-based teams in the CFL. Carling-O’Keefe Breweries had ended their lucrative TV sponsorship deal with the league in 1987, and it hurt league revenues immensely – there was an appetite to expand the CFL brand and identity in new markets in order to make up for this lost revenue, and with the NFL having dealt previously with labour strife in the 1980s, some CFL owners felt an American expansion to be a worthwhile gamble. In ’93, the Sacramento Gold Miners and San Antonio Texans were admitted to the league, though San Antonio pulled out at the last minute. With Sacramento surprisingly competitive, in 1994, the league shifted to a full-scale expansion into the USA with the addition of three new American teams. In 1995, the CFL completely shook up its traditional East-West divisional alignment to accomodate the new American franchises; Sacramento relocated to San Antonio in ’95 to become the Texans, and were joined in the new South Division by the Birmingham Barracudas, Shreveport Pirates, Memphis Mad Dogs, and, of course, the Baltimore CFL Colts. Thanks to trademark issues and feuds with Robert Irsay, the new Baltimore team couldn’t officially be called the Colts, so they were the Baltimore CFLers on paper until Week 3 of the ’95 regular season, when they officially became the Stallions. Despite the myriad issues that American teams had in CFL expansion, Baltimore was actually a complete success, making the Grey Cup in both years as a CFL franchise, and finishing 1st in the league in average attendance in 1994, and 2nd in 1995. When Art Modell announced out of nowhere his relocation of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns to Baltimore to become the Ravens, the writing was on the wall – despite strong fan and community support, the Stallions knew they couldn’t compete with the NFL, and relocated to Montreal to become the reborn Alouettes franchise. By the end of 1995, there were no American teams left in the CFL. Virtually everyone considers the US expansion years to be a dismal failure – although it brought back the CFL to Montreal in the end, which is definitely some solace for fans of the Alouettes.
Calgary Stampeders fast facts:
- Season record: 15-3 (1st in North Division)
- Head Coach: Wally Buono
- Quarterback: Doug Flutie
The Wally Buono years kicked off a rebirth of the Stampeders franchise; while they lost in the 1991 Grey Cup to Toronto, they won in 1992, and would later go on to win again in 1998. In 13 seasons at the helm, Buono went 153-79-2, making the playoffs every year and appearing in six Grey Cups. Doug Flutie had been traded to Calgary in 1992 after breaking records with the BC Lions for two and a half years; he continued his success with the Stamps before signing with Toronto in 1996, continuing to win everywhere in Canada before his triumphant return to the NFL in 1998 with the Buffalo Bills. Despite Bills management not liking him, Flutie remains a beloved figure in Canada, consistently at or near the top of all-time great CFL player polls. The crowd in this game was strongly pro-Calgary, as it was the first time in Grey Cup history that the championship game was being played in Regina – a hop, skip and a jump away for loyal Stamps fans. (More like a seven and a half hour drive, but Canadians love doing that, for some inexplicable reason. Myself included.)
0:0:48 – The Stallions’ uniforms look real sharp. Fun fact: most of the American CFL teams’ uniforms looked like dogshit. I know a lot of us are nostalgic for ’90s fashion – and I wholeheartedly include myself in this population segment – but there’s ’90s-core, and then there’s abjectly fucking tasteless. Look at this shit:
That is just atrocious stuff from the Memphis Mad Dogs. Baltimore’s look a million times better in comparison – still unique, but paying homage to the NFL Colts at the same time.
1:30 – Four picks for Flutie in the ’95 playoffs? The fuck? Whatever. When you have a mullet like that, you can do whatever you want.
2:05 – Stamps RT Rocco Romano’s name, coupled with his picture, is one of the most Italian things I’ve ever seen.
4:10 – Holy shit! Talk about a quick strike – Chris Wright takes the Calgary punt 82 yards for a touchdown. Sick run, and a celebratory backflip in the end zone. Baltimore is up 7-0 after the convert.
5:30 – A very, very important point – it’s windy as fuck out there. This game is now known as “The Wind Bowl” by fans, as it was gusting up to 85 km/h (50 mph) during play. Officials were worried that they might actually have to postpone the game to the following night, as they weren’t sure one of the temporary end zones stands that got erected would be safe for fans to use if the wind stayed that strong. The wind will be a big factor for the rest of the game.
6:38 – Calgary’s Tony Stewart returns the kickoff and… fumble! Wow. What a terrible start.
7:15 – RB Mike Pringle runs for a first down; to many fans, Pringle is considered the greatest running back in the history of the league. In 1994, Pringle ran for 1972 yards and 13 touchdowns, and racked up a total of 2414 yards from scrimmage; this was the most any running back had ever done, until Pringle shattered his own record in 1998 with 2065 rushing yards. He leads the CFL in both all-time and single-season rushing yards to this day.
9:50 – Calgary stops the Baltimore field goal with some strong kick-rush pressure, not to mention a bobbled snap.
14:25 – Doug Flutie is on the run, looking end zone to Allen Pitts, but can’t make the connection.
15:10 – Calgary is on the board with a 35-yard field goal from Mark McLoughlin.
27:30 – Mark McLoughlin kicks a second field goal, and it’s now 7-6, Baltimore. Doug Flutie limps off to the sidelines just before the kick; he appears to be favouring his left knee.
31:20 – Talk about an egregious fumble! Stallions receiver Gerald Alphin badly mishandles a swing pass, and Will Johnson pounces on the live ball, running it back 36 yards and setting up Calgary for another scoring possibility.
32:35 – Doug Flutie hits linebacker – yes, linebacker!! – Marvin Pope in the end zone on a fade for the touchdown. Wow. What a series of events. After the kick, it’s now 13-7, Calgary.
38:12 – Carlos Huerta kicks a 30-yard field goal for Baltimore, and the score is now 13-10, Calgary.
46:35 – BLOCKED PUNT TD!!! OJ Brigance, the Baltimore linebacker, steps in front of Tony Martino’s kick, and safety Alvin Walton dives on the loose ball, taking it in to score. Baltimore leads 17-13 after the convert by Carlos Huerta. This game has been all over the map so far, and I absolutely love it.
52:30 – Tracy Ham hangs out in the pocket forever, trying to look for Robert Clark – amazing to see him get that kind of line protection. Unfortunately, the pass is incomplete. On the next play, Carlos Huerta kicks a 45-yarder to put Baltimore up 20-13.
54:32 – Dave Sapunjis has a nice catch from Flutie to move the chains for the Stampeders, who have gone quiet in this this second quarter.
58:20 – Calgary sets up for the field goal, but Mark McLoughlin intentionally kicks it out of bounds, marking the ball at the Baltimore 8-yard line.
1:00:20 – Tracy Ham gets sacked by Stamps DT Srecko Zizakovic. (His brother Lubo also plays for Calgary.)
1:02:35 – Doug Flutie escapes the pocket and tries to hit Tony Stewart over the middle, but Stewart can’t corral the ball, and Calgary is forced to punt again.
1:06:10 – Carlos Huerta cranks a 53-yard kick through the uprights for the Stallions, and they take a 23-13 lead into halftime.
1:13:50 – Don Matthews getting interviewed in a Starter toque on the sidelines is a hell of a fit from mid-’90s sports fashion. It’s got a full-on condom shape to it. Hilarious.
1:16:05 – Fans in the west end zone can’t get back to their seats on time – apparently there’s something going on. The start of the second half is delayed.
1:19:55 – Apparently a fan had a heart attack, and thousands of people had to move to get him to the hospital. Yikes. At any rate, game on!
1:23:05 – Josh Miller’s 70-yard punt travels out the back of the end zone, resulting in a Baltimore…
The score is now 24-13, Stallions.
1:23:40 – The Grey Cup MVP gets a Dodge Ram. Not a bad gift at all. I mean, other than the fact it’s a Chrysler product, of course.
1:27:20 – Doug Flutie rolls right and hits Dave Sapunjis in the slot. Another first down for Calgary – they’re showing some signs of life!
1:28:00 – Terry Vaughn has a nice 22-yard pickup to take the Stamps down to the 10-yard line!
1:29:30 – Doug Flutie scrambles with it, moving the ball down to the one. It’s 2nd and 1.
1:30:35 – Flutie’s on the one-yard line, and he keeps it for a QB sneak – did he score? No, but he did pick up a first down. Wow. When was the last time that happened?
1:31:40 – This time, he scores. On a second straight QB sneak, Calgary responds – after the convert, it’s now 24-20, Baltimore.
1:36:50 – On 3rd and 1, Baltimore elects to go for it. Tracy Ham surges, and gets the first down – by about half a hair. The drive continues!
1:39:46 – Tracy Ham sees the pocket collapse and decides to run the ball in for the touchdown! His 13-yard run puts the Stallions up 31-20 after the convert.
1:43:48 – Stamps LB Matt Finlay is out with a pinched nerve in his neck – this is a blow for the Stamps, as Finley is their on-field defensive playcaller.
1:46:43 – Calgary continues to lead in regards to net yards and time of possession, but the turnovers have killed them in this game.
1:48:55 – Tracy Ham connects on a little flip pass to Mike Pringle, who picks up a few yards, but it’s Matt Finlay making the tackle – pinched nerve and all, he’s back out there on the field.
1:50:55 – Carlos Huerta’s field goal kick is blocked and recovered by Calgary! They’re down by 11, but not dead yet.
1:52:05 – Stallions DE Grant Carter swats down Doug Flutie’s pass – his fifth knockdown of the playoffs!
1:56:55 – Carlos Huerta connects this time, and the 42-yard kick gives Baltimore a 14-point lead – 34-20.
1:58:45 – Doug Flutie looks deep sideline and airs it out towards Allen Pitts, but his throw is picked off by defensive halfback Charles Anthony. Time is running out for Calgary…
2:05:30 – Flutie keeps the ball on a QB sneak and picks up a first down for the Stamps, but time continues to tick away as the teams hit the three-minute warning.
2:07:15 – Doug Flutie’s pass is knocked down again, this time by Alfred Payton, and the Stallions take over on downs.
2:08:40 – Mike Pringle shakes a tackle and has a big 40-yard open-field run! There’s not much time left on the clock, but Baltimore’s in the red zone once again.
2:10:01 – Pringle continues to slice up the Stamps’ D-line. He’s over 130 yards rushing now.
2:11:09 – Carlos Huerta kicks his fifth field goal of the game, and the score is now 37-20, Baltimore. The Stamps are toast.
2:11:55 – Doug Flutie hits Allen Pitts over the middle for a first down – there’s 1:55 left on the clock.
2:12:28 – Incomplete to Tony Stewart. A valiant final-minute showing by Doug Flutie to not give up on this final drive.
2:14:30 – Tyrone Williams has a first down on his first catch of the game.
2:14:55 – Terry Vaughn juggles a catch, but can’t stay inbounds – no TD for the Stamps.
2:15:50 – The Gatorade is out, and Don Matthews is soaked!
2:16:18 – Another incomplete. Turnover on downs. The Baltimore Stallions have won the Grey Cup – the only American team to ever accomplish this feat!
Tracy Ham was named Grey Cup MVP, with 213 passing yards and a rushing TD; Calgary’s SB Dave Sapunjis was the most valuable Canadian, racking up 113 yards on 8 catches. It was a surreal experience for many seeing Baltimore celebrate their Grey Cup win; the only shame for the players was the victory hadn’t come a year sooner – when the city was truly on board with the team. However, with the Cleveland Browns poised to arrive in the coming months, owner Jim Speros knew he had to look elsewhere if he wanted to keep his franchise going. Initial talks to move the team to Houston to have them play in the Astrodome failed, and it was almost certain the team would have simply folded had the CFL not decided to allow Speros to revive the dormant Montreal Alouettes instead. On paper, the team folded, as player contracts were wiped out due to legalities, but with the reborn Alouettes, the Stallions’ coaching staff and most of their key players signed on to spark what became one of the powerhouse teams of the early 21st century. Mike Pringle and Tracy Ham were beloved in Montreal, and Don Matthews won many more Grey Cups after his time in Baltimore. Some chose not to make the move – sixteen members of the Stallions received NFL tryouts in 1996, which, by my guess, is the highest I’ve ever seen from any one CFL roster ever. Linebacker OJ Brigance is the only player in football history to win both a Grey Cup and a Super Bowl (as a member of the 2000 Ravens) with teams based in the same city.
Thanks for reading! Check back next week when we take a look at another 2000s classic, featuring the strong last-decade rivalry of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes.