~Written By Sharon Caddy, Director of Media Communications, CFCAO
Back in the day I was a cheerleader for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger Cats. It was a fabulous three-year period in my life filled with fun and friends and football. I remember those years fondly and am thrilled to now be a part of the newly formed Canadian Football Cheerleaders Alumni Organization (CFCAO) where I serve as Director of Media Communications.
At a recent board meeting where we were discussing our growing membership the topic of the US expansion was tabled. Since our by-laws deem that those who completed a full season as a CFL cheerleader are eligible to join our organization, the question was -- what about the US cheerleaders? Many people have completely forgotten about the 3 years in the 90's when the CFL had US teams. Not only did they have teams, but Baltimore made it to the Grey Cup twice, winning the cup in 1995.
So, for those who have forgotten or those of you who never knew about this interesting period in CFL history, I did some research.
In January of 1993 CFL owners voted to allow US expansion in the league. San Antonio and Sacramento were ready to bring teams to the league, but by February 1993 San Antonio Riders (yes, the Riders ... a very popular name choice in the CFL) had pulled out leaving the Sacramento Gold Miners as the only US team in the CFL that season. They played with a record of 6-12.
One year later 3 more teams were announced. The Las Vegas Posse, Shreveport Pirates and Baltimore CFL Colts. Baltimore was the CFL's most successful US team as they actually had a strong fan following. Baltimore was a city without an NFL football team in the wake of the NFL Colts move to Indianapolis ten years earlier, so the CFL Colts filled the football gap and drew healthy crowds, averaging 37,000 at home games.
By October of 1994 the Sacramento Gold Miners announced they were moving to San Antonio to become the Texans. (San Antonio was back!)
In November of 1994 the 82nd Grey Cup saw the BC Lions take on the Baltimore CFL Colts. It was an exciting game which the Colts lost in the final seconds. Final score -- B.C. Lions 26, Baltimore 23.
With Baltimore's strong showing in the Grey Cup and impressive fan support, even skeptics were starting to think that maybe, just maybe this US CFL thing could work. Memphis and Birmingham both announced expansion teams, but even with this growth, tensions were rising between Canadian and US owners. There were issues adapting stadiums to the Canadian football field size and it seemed there were those who had difficulty transitioning to the differences in the Canadian brand of the game. The US owners wanted to distance themselves from the Canadian identity, even proposing changing the name of the league.
In April of 1995 the Las Vegas team folded, but the CFL still had 5 US teams, so it was announced that the CFL would now change their divisions to the North (Canada) and the South (US) with the playoffs featuring 5 teams from the north and 3 teams from the south.
In November 1995 Baltimore (now the Stallions) were back at the Grey Cup and this time they won, defeating Doug Flutie and the Calgary Stampeders. Final Score -- Baltimore 37, Calgary 20.
It was a big win for Baltimore, but behind the scenes things were falling apart. Two weeks before Grey Cup, Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns announced he was moving the team to Baltimore. All of the fan enthusiasm for Baltimore's CFL team disappeared with the return of the NFL and the day after Grey Cup the champion Stallions announced they were folding.
By January 1996 all of the US teams folded. The Baltimore Stallions relocated to Montreal to be the Alouettes. And the US experiment was over.
Just as a footnote, an interesting piece of trivia. The last player to play in the league who had played for a US expansion team was Anthony Calvillo. He played for Las Vegas, then went on to play briefly for Hamilton, then the Montreal Alouettes where he won 3 Grey Cups (2002, 2009 and 2010). He retired in January 2014 and went on to coach. In October 2014 his jersey, #13 was retired in a half-time ceremony at McGill Stadium.
It's interesting to look back at this strange time in Canadian Football history. Now, as part of the CFCAO I do wonder about the cheerleaders. If anyone reading this article has a connection to anyone who was part of the CFL US expansion in the 90's and just maybe knows someone who was a cheerleader, please send them to our website, www.cfcao.ca. We would love to have them join our organization!