|Based in||Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.|
|Home field||Memorial Stadium|
|Head coach||Don Matthews|
|General manager||Jim Popp|
|Division||East Division (1994)|
South Division (1995)
|Colors||Royal blue, silver, black, and white |
|Grey Cup wins||1995|
The Baltimore Stallions (known officially as the "Baltimore Football Club" and previously as the "Baltimore CFL Colts" in its inaugural season) were a Canadian Football League team based in Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States, which played the 1994 and 1995 seasons. They were the most successful American team in the CFL's generally ill-fated southern expansion effort into the United States, and by at least one account, the winningest expansion team in North American professional sports history at the time. They had winning records in each season, won a division championship, and, in 1995, became the only American franchise to win the Grey Cup.
Only a month after the Stallions' Grey Cup triumph, the state's Maryland Stadium Authority and the City of Baltimore announced that they had reached an agreement with Art Modell, the long-time owner of the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, (NFL) to move his franchise to Baltimore for the 1996 season. Knowing they could not begin to compete with an overwhelmingly more popular brand in their home country, the Stallions' ownership group re-located their football organization to Montreal, reviving the dormant franchise based there as third and current iteration of the Montreal Alouettes. The Stallions franchise was dissolved, thus becoming one of three Grey Cup champions in the modern era to subsequently fold (the others being the Ottawa Rough Riders and the original Alouettes). The CFL considers the Stallions to be a separate franchise from the Alouettes.
For some 30 years, Baltimore had been home to the Baltimore Colts, a popular NFL team that suddenly moved literally overnight to Indianapolis in 1984. The former Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League (USFL) nominally represented Baltimore in spring 1985, but played well outside the city bounds in College Park; the Stars had planned to move into Baltimore proper in fall 1986, but then the league failed before this could happen.
In the years after the Colts left, Baltimore made two serious bids to get another NFL team. It heavily wooed the St. Louis Cardinals football team owned by the Bidwill family, but they ultimately moved to Phoenix, Arizona as the Phoenix (later Arizona) Cardinals. In 1993, an ownership group failed to win an NFL expansion franchise, the Baltimore Bombers, but that bid failed.
Soon after the expansion effort failed, entrepreneur and former Washington Redskins assistant Jim Speros was granted a CFL expansion franchise for Baltimore that would play in Memorial Stadium, the Colts' old home. Attempting to capitalize on the city's love for its long-lost Baltimore Colts, Speros adopted a color scheme that added silver to the Baltimore Colts' traditional colors of blue and white, as well as a stylized horse's head logo. He also invited the old Baltimore Colts Marching Band, which had stayed together along with the old team's uniformed cheerleaders for over a decade, to play at his games and recruited the remaining Baltimore Colts football fan clubs ("Colt Corrals") to follow and support the new CFL franchise. He initially called the team the "Baltimore CFL Colts." However, the NFL went to court and successfully obtained a legal injunction against the franchise's use of any version of "Colts" in their name just hours before the team was to play its first game. Speros not only had to discard tons of purchased merchandise and souvenirs along with an advertising campaign, but also had to quickly change the franchise's official name to the "Baltimore Football Club" (which some just called the "Baltimore CFL's") while keeping the team's distinctive horse's head logo.
Local fans tended to continue referring to the team as the "Baltimore Colts" anyway, and team officials tacitly encouraged this. For example, for most of the 1994 season, Memorial Stadium's public address announcer, Jack Taylor, would announce the team as "your Baltimore CFL..." – followed by a pause, during which time the crowd shouted "COLTS!" – after which he would conclude, "...football team."
Speros's approach to building the team was simple. He knew Canadian football was very different from the American game, so he made a point of hiring personnel and players with CFL experience. In contrast, the other American CFL teams stocked their rosters with former NFL players, former college football players, and locally-known players. Speros hired career CFL assistant Jim Popp as general manager, and named longtime CFL coach Don Matthews as head coach. Popp and Matthews, in turn, brought in experienced CFL players like QB Tracy Ham, RB Mike Pringle, LB O. J. Brigance, DT Jearld Baylis, DE Elfrid Payton. One of the more prominent NFL castoffs was K Donald Igwebuike; the team also offered a tryout to former Super Bowl XXII MVP Timmy Smith, who had been out of football several years by that point, but Smith failed to make the regular season roster. It also helped that Memorial Stadium had been originally built to accommodate baseball as well as football (it had previously been the home of the American League's Baltimore Orioles). Using Memorial Stadium's baseball seating configuration gave it a field large enough to accommodate the full 150-yard length and 65-yard width of a regulation CFL field.
Even though they lacked an official name, the team finished second in the CFL East Division, with a 12–6 regular season record – more wins than any CFL expansion team before or since. In addition, the team was ranked third in the entire CFL in team scoring, and second in team defense.
The team's offensive standout was Mike Pringle. Among other accomplishments, he earned the league's leading rushing title with a record 1,972 yards and thirteen touchdowns. Pringle also returned 38 kicks for 814 yards, which made him a CFL All-Star, Eastern All-Star, and a Terry Evanshen Trophy winner.
In the playoffs, Baltimore hosted the Toronto Argonauts in the East semifinals at Memorial Stadium and won the game, 34–15. After the semifinal game, Baltimore ended up defeating the favored Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Winnipeg Stadium 14–12 to become the first (and only) American and expansion team to make it to the Grey Cup.
In the Grey Cup game, Baltimore was up against the B.C. Lions at BC Place Stadium in what amounted to a road game. Baltimore had the upper hand against the Lions, leading 17–10 at halftime and silencing the Lions' faithful; however, the Lions came back in the second half, winning by a score of 26–23 on a last-second Lui Passaglia field goal.
After the 1994 season, the CFL announced that the League's five U.S. teams—Baltimore, the San Antonio Texans (the former Sacramento Gold Miners), the Shreveport Pirates and the expansion Memphis Mad Dogs and Birmingham Barracudas—would be placed in a new South Division (while the Canadian teams would reside in the North Division). Just before the start of the 1995 season, a name-the-team fan poll was held to decide a new team name. After the team finished the first week of its second season still calling itself "the Baltimore Football Club", the fan poll ended; Speros publicly announced that Baltimore's team would be known as the "Baltimore Stallions". The name change was a convenient one in that it allowed Baltimore's logo and colors to remain unchanged from the 1994 season.
Despite the changes to their name and team re-alignment, the Stallions returned with virtually the same roster for their next season. The exception was the signing of former Posse kicker Carlos Huerta to replace Igwebuike, who moved on to play with Memphis. With essentially the same team from the 1994 season, optimism and Grey Cup expectations were high for the Stallions. Optimism became reality as Baltimore continued their on-field dominance from the previous season. They started the season 2-3, but did not lose another game for the rest of the season. They ultimately finished with a 15–3 regular season record – first place in the South Division, and tying the Calgary Stampeders for the best record in the CFL.
Quarterback Tracy Ham with Mike Pringle and Robert Drummond were the most potent backfield in the CFL. Chris Armstrong became the team's top receiver and the defense continued dominating opponents by allowing only 369 points-against, ranking the squad third in team defense. Mike Pringle had a slight drop-off from his 1994 numbers by rushing for 1,791 yards, being named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player.
After defeating Winnipeg 36–21 in the divisional semifinals, the Stallions defeated the Texans 21–11 in the South final in what is (as of the 2017 season) the last meaningful CFL game played in the United States. This vaulted them to the Grey Cup final for the second straight season. They traveled to Regina's Taylor Field to face the 15–3 North Division champion Stampeders, who were led by coach Wally Buono, QB Doug Flutie, and his two top receivers, Allen Pitts and Dave Sapunjis. During the game, the winds at Taylor Field were particularly strong and gusted up to 85 km/h (52.8 mph). That did not slow down the Stallions, as they defeated the Stampeders, 37–20 to become the first American team to win the Grey Cup, with Tracy Ham becoming the Grey Cup's Most Valuable Player. Counting the playoffs, the Stallions ended the season on a 16-game winning streak.
In addition to being the most successful of the U.S. CFL teams on the field, Baltimore was far and away the most successful of the CFL's American teams at the box office. It had significant fan support and strong attendance – averaging 37,347 in 1994 (best in the CFL), and 30,112 in 1995 (second best).
Fan support in Baltimore was driven by a number of factors not present in the CFL's other U.S. markets. Their success on the field was one obvious factor. However many fans were motivated to support the CFL out of antipathy towards the National Football League, which had not only backed the re-location of the NFL Colts to Indianapolis, but has subsequently spurned several attempts to return an NFL franchise to the city. Another major factor in Baltimore's success at the gate was the 1994–95 Major League Baseball strike, which wiped out the last two months of the Baltimore Orioles' season. Baltimore was also a significantly more heavily populated market than the other CFL American markets and the only one to have previously hosted an NFL team, giving the Stallions a larger base from which to draw fans.
In the end
After the 1995 season, the CFL decided to disband three of its five American franchises and return to its traditional East-West divisional alignment for the 1996 season. The two remaining American teams, Baltimore and San Antonio, were to be placed in the CFL's East Division.
However, this strategy collapsed just a week before the Grey Cup, when longtime Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell announced he would be moving his team to Baltimore. Speros had initially not believed the rumors of Modell courting Baltimore when they cropped up in September. However, as soon as the move was announced, local support for the Stallions dried up almost overnight. The Grey Cup victory celebration at Inner Harbor went almost unnoticed in the local media.
Speros and CFL officials soon realized that while the Stallions had been a runaway hit, they could not even begin to go head-to-head with an NFL team. Although city officials as high as Mayor Kurt Schmoke harbored hope that the Stallions could coexist with Modell's team–which was eventually reconstituted as the Baltimore Ravens–it soon became apparent that there wasn't enough advertising revenue or fan support to go around. Additionally, continuing to use Memorial Stadium would have been a logistical nightmare once the NFL season began in September, and no other stadium in the Baltimore area was suitable or large enough even for temporary use. Rather than risk being reduced to "minor league" status in Baltimore, Speros announced plans to move the franchise. He was actually very close to moving the franchise to Houston, Texas, to take the place of the NFL's recently departed Houston Oilers in the Astrodome, with then-Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane as a minority partner. However, when it became apparent that the CFL was writing off its American experiment as a lost cause, he decided to relocate the Stallions franchise to Montreal as the third and current incarnation of the Montreal Alouettes. Speros kept the Alouettes for only one year before selling the franchise to current owner Robert C. Wetenhall in 1997.
Sixteen former Baltimore Stallions players earned tryouts for NFL teams in 1996.
The CFL does not officially consider the Stallions to be part of the Alouettes' history. According to official league records, Speros canceled the Stallions franchise after the 1995 season and reclaimed the dormant Alouettes franchise. Consequently, when Speros moved the team to Montreal, all of the Stallions players were released from their contracts, though Popp managed to re-sign many of them. The Alouettes, however, do mention the Stallions on their history page. The Alouettes are now reckoned as having suspended operations from 1987 to 1995, and the current Alouettes claim the history of the 1946–1986 Alouettes as their own.
As of the end of the 2016 season, team president Mark Weightman remains the only remaining link between the Stallions and Alouettes. General manager Jim Popp followed the team to Montreal as general manager and guided the franchise to 8 Grey Cup Finals, winning 3 of them – giving him a total of 10 Grey Cup Finals appearances and 4 Grey Cups with the Stallions/Alouettes organization. Popp resigned as general manager at the end of the team's 2016 season. Weightman served as an operations intern for the Stallions in 1995 and then joined the Alouettes as an operations staffer in 1996.
Roster and accomplishments
|Baltimore Stallions 1994 roster|
Canadian Football Hall of Fame
- 8 Tracy Ham, inducted in 2010, Quarterback 1994–1995, won 83rd Grey Cup
- 27 Mike Pringle, inducted in 2008, Running back 1994–1995, won 83rd Grey Cup
- 56 Elfrid Payton, inducted in 2010, Defensive end 1994–1995, won 83rd Grey Cup
- Don Matthews, inducted in 2011, Head Coach 1994–1995, won 83rd Grey Cup
Awards and accomplishments
1994 Eastern All-Stars
1994 CFL All-Stars
1995 Southern All-Stars
1995 CFL All-Stars
- CFL USA all-time records and statistics
- Comparison of Canadian and American football
- 1994 CFL season
- 1995 CFL season
- 82nd Grey Cup
- 83rd Grey Cup
- Symonds, William C. (December 3, 1995). Canadian football is running out of plays. "Bloomberg BusinessWeek". Retrieved August 13, 2013.
- Steadman, John. From Colts to Ravens: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Baltimore Professional Football.
- Baltimore's Forgotten Champions: An Oral History