"I have loved football as an almost mythic game since I was in the fourth grade. To me, the game wasn't even grounded in reality. The uniform turned you into a warrior. Being on a team, the mythology of physical combat, the struggle against the elements, the narrative of the game..." ~ Steve Sabol (NFL Films)

CFL in America History 1993-1995: A Retrospective

Following the demise of the United States Football League in 1985 and the World League of American Football's presence in the US in 1992, America was left without an outdoor alternative to the NFL. The financially-strapped Canadian Football League decided that they would step into the void. The league established outposts from Sacramento, California to Baltimore, Maryland and as far south as San Antonio, Texas. Several of the CFL's best players including David Archer, Mike Pringle, Matt Dunigan and Tracy Ham landed on American teams, giving the new teams plenty of talent. The Baltimore club battled in two Grey Cup championship games and is the only non-Canadian club to win the coveted prize.

CFL expansion into the country was the brainchild of former Commissioner Larry Smith. He envisioned a Canadian League with up to 24 teams, including 8 to 10 teams in American cities, and new teams for Montreal and the Maritimes as well by 1998. Unfortunately, America's CFL entries struggled financially, forcing the CFL to withdraw from the US as quickly as it had entered. Though Smith's idea ultimately proved to be unsuccessful, for three seasons these teams played the distinct game of Canadian football on American soil. This is their story.








When the World League of American Football (WLAF) announced in 1992 that it was suspending operations, the Canadian Football League set it sites southward to the United States, hoping to expand its fan-base and popularity. Two of the World League’s owners, Fred Anderson of the Sacramento Surge and Larry J. Benson of the San Antonio Riders, "crossed over" to the CFL and were awarded new franchises for 1993. Anderson’s team would play in Sacramento as the Gold Miners; Benson's team was scheduled to play in San Antonio as the Texans.

Before the season began, however, the Texans withdrew due to financial difficulties. The Gold Miners were forced to go it alone as the only US team in the CFL for the 1993 season. The club posted a respectable 6-12 record, winning one-third of their games in their first year in the league.

1994 saw the entrance of three more US teams: Baltimore CFL Colts, Las Vegas Posse, and the Shreveport (La.) Pirates. Along with Sacramento, the Pirates were placed in the Western Division while the Colts and Pirates played in the Eastern Division. The most successful of the US teams was Baltimore, who had to lose the name "CFL Colts" in the middle of the year because of a dispute with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. The Baltimore CFL's went all the way to the Grey Cup title game, losing by a mere three points. Sacramento improved to 9-8-1, but did not make the playoffs. Shreveport and Las Vegas were at the bottom of each of their divisions respectively.

Commissioner Larry Smith's vision of someday having a 20-team league containing ten Canadian and ten US teams came closer to fruition in 1995. A Southern Division was added which contained all the US clubs, while the Northern Division housed the Canadian ones. Las Vegas folded after an unsuccessful move to Jackson, Mississippi, and the Gold Miners set up shop in San Antonio as the Texans. Birmingham (Barracudas) and Memphis (Maddogs) were awarded franchises while Shreveport and Baltimore remained from the previous campaign. This alignment assured that there would be several US teams around in the post-season. Once again, Baltimore, renamed the Stallions, proved the most successful US team in 1995. In fact, they were the most successful team period, winning the Grey Cup 37-20 over the Doug Flutie-led Calgary Stampeders. San Antonio, led by pivot David Archer, and Birmingham, with league-leading passer Matt Dunigan, also made the playoffs in '95.

In the three seasons in which US cities hosted CFL teams, fan support and interest was sparse at best. Only Baltimore produced consistently large crowds, more than likely because they were winning. Without a major US television network, the CFL-USA teams were forced to rely on their fast paced brand of ball to lure fans. Yet, many of those fans seemed unwilling to embrace the subtle nuances of the Canadian game (3-down format, longer and wider field, movement towards the line-of-scrimmage allowed before snap of the ball, etc.). By the end of the 1995 season, both Birmingham and Memphis had suffered tremendous financial losses and quickly ceased operations. Shreveport owner Bernard Glieberman attempted to move his team to Norfolk, Va., but was unsuccessful in doing so. When the smoke cleared, only the Stallions and Texans stood as the among the US-based CFL clubs. That, however, did not last long.

The NFL's Cleveland Browns announced they were moving to Baltimore, and Stallions owner Jim Speros knew his team could not co-exist or compete with the NFL. After looking into a few US cities, such as Norfolk and Houston, Speros decided to move his champions to Montreal. Fred Anderson did not want to be the lone kid on the block as he had been in 1993 with the Gold Miners, so he folded his Texans for good. The "United States Experiment" was officially dead and Canadian football retreated north of the border.



1993
WESTERN DIVISION                       EASTERN DIVISION

           W.  L.  T.   F.     A.     Pts.              W.  L.  T.   F.      A.    Pts.
Cal.    15   3   0   646   418   30     Wpg.  14   4   0   646   421   28
Edm.  12   6   0   507   372   24     Ham.   6  12   0   316   567   12
Sask.  11   7   0   511   495   22     Ott.      4  14   0   387   517    8
B.C.   10   8   0   574   583   20     Tor.      3  15   0   390   593    6
Sac.     6  12   0   498   509   12

Semi-Finals                           Semi-Finals
  - Saskatchewan 13, Edmonton 51        - Ottawa 10, Hamilton 21
  - B.C. 9, Calgary 17,
Final                                 Final
  - Edmonton 29, Calgary 15             - Hamilton 19, Winnipeg 20

                   Grey Cup - Edmonton 33, Winnipeg 23

1994
WESTERN DIVISION                      EASTERN DIVISION

          W.  L.  T.   F.      A.    Pts.                 W.  L.  T.   F.    A.    Pts.
Cal.     15   3   0   698   355   30      Wpg.   13   5   0   651   572   26
Edm.   13   5   0   518   401   26      Balt.    12   6   0   561   431   24
B.C.    11   6   1   604   456   23      Tor.        7  11   0   504   578   14
Sask.  11   7   0   512   454   22       Ott.        4  14   0   480   647    8
Sac.     9    8   1   436   436   19       Ham.     4  14   0   435   562    8
L.V.      5  13   0   447   622   10      Shvpt.    3  15   0   330   661    6

Semi-Finals                           Semi-Finals
  - B.C. 24, Edmonton 23                - Toronto 15, Baltimore 34
  - Calgary 36, Saskatchewan 3          - Winnipeg 26, Ottawa 16
Final                                 Final
  - B.C. 37, Calgary 36                 - Baltimore 14, Winnipeg 12

                   Grey Cup - B.C. 26, Baltimore 23

1995
NORTHERN DIVISION                     SOUTHERN DIVISION

           W.  L.  T.   F.      A.    Pts.                W.  L.  T.   F.    A.    Pts.
Cal.     15   3   0   631   404   30    Balt.     15   3   0   541   369   30
Edm.   13   5   0   599   359   26    S.Ant.  12   6   0   630   457   24
B.C.    10   7   0   535   470   20    Birm.    11   7   0   548   518   22
Ham.    8  10   0   427   509   16    Mem.     9   9   0   346   364   18
Wpg.    7  11   0   404   653   14    Shvpt.    5  13   0   465   514  10
Sask.    6  12   0   422   451   12
Tor.       4  14   0   376   519    8
Ott.       3  15   0   348   685    6

Semi-Finals                           Semi-Finals
  - Calgary 30, Hamilton 13             - Baltimore 36, Winnipeg 21
  - Edmonton 26, B.C. 15                - San Antonio 52, Birmingham 9
Final                                 Final
  - Calgary 37, Edmonton 4              - Baltimore 21, San Antonio 11

                   Grey Cup - Baltimore 37, Calgary 20