EPISODE #124: The CFL’s Baltimore Stallions – With Ron Snyder

Sportswriter Ron Synder (The Baltimore Stallions: The Brief, Brilliant History of the CFL Champion Franchise) joins to delve into the story of the mostly-forgotten team that revitalized Baltimore’s pro football history and viability.

When the National Football League’s Baltimore Colts secretively absconded to Indianapolis in the wee hours of March 29, 1984, three decades of pro football history left with them.  Subsequent dalliances with the USFL’s nominally “Baltimore” Stars in 1985, and ill-fated attempts to rejoin the NFL (1987’s wooing of the St. Louis Cardinals & 1993’s proposed expansion “Bombers”) only deepened local pigskin fans’ despair.

In the wake of the expansion disappointment, entrepreneur and ex-Washington Redskins assistant Jim Speros saw an opportunity to bring the newly expanding Canadian Football League to Charm City as a viable replacement in 1994.  Capitalizing on the city's love for its cherished NFL franchise, Speros tapped directly into Colts nostalgia by adopting the original team’s colors, marching band, cheerleaders, fan clubs, and even Memorial Stadium – christening the new club the "Baltimore CFL Colts."

None too pleased, the NFL obtained a legal injunction against the use of "Colts," literally hours before the team was to play its first game.  Speros had to scrap tons of merchandise and a sizable advertising campaign – while hastily converting the franchise's official name to the "Baltimore Football Club" (dubbed the "Baltimore CFL's" by many in the media).  Enthusiastic locals referred to the team as the “Colts" anyway – which team officials tacitly (and happily) encouraged. 

Unfazed, the team (later renamed “Stallions” for 1995) quickly became the toast of the town, establishing itself as the most successful American team in the CFL's otherwise ill-fated southern expansion effort – reaching the league championship Grey Cup final in 1994, and winning it the following season.

Just days after claiming the CFL title, however, the city and the Maryland Stadium Authority announced an agreement with NFL owner Art Modell to move his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 season.  Virtually overnight, the Stallions were forgotten, as fans and the media immediately obsessed on the market’s imminent return to football’s biggest stage. 

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EPISODE #65: The CFL’s American Expansion Experiment with Sportswriter Ed Willes

As Johnny Manziel’s pro football comeback journey wraps up a promising pre-season with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, we take a moment this week to reminisce on the approaching 25th anniversary of the CFL’s bold, but ultimately ill-fated attempt to bring its exciting brand of pigskin south of the border in 1993.

When the NFL put the brakes on its two-year World League of American Football experiment in the summer of 1992 (which included a franchise in Montreal, dubbed the “Machine”), an economically wobbly CFL sensed an opportunity to fill the gap in US markets newly comfortable with the notion of pro football, as well as a potential growth path for the tradition-rich Canadian game to expand outside the Provinces.  In fact, two WLAF owners, Fred Anderson (Sacramento Surge) and Larry Benson (San Antonio Riders) "crossed over" to the Canadian League and were awarded newly rechristened franchises for 1993 – Anderson’s Sacramento Gold Miners and Benson's San Antonio Texans. 

While the Gold Miners were the only ones to make it into the following season’s expanded CFL schedule (Benson literally – and ominously – left the league at the altar by bowing out the day of the league’s press conference announcing the expansion), the door was open to a wild three-season adventure that brought the wide-open Canadian game to far-flung American outposts in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Shreveport, Memphis, Birmingham, and, ironically (via eventual relocation from Sacramento), San Antonio.

Longtime Vancouver Province sportswriter Ed Willes (End Zones and Border Wars: The Era of American Expansion in the CFL) joins the podcast to discuss the league’s short-lived American expansion effort, which then-commissioner Larry Smith had hoped to eventually encompass ten US teams in a fully expanded 20-team league.  

Among the misadventures, Willes recounts: the 1995 champion Baltimore Stallions (who operated as the nickname-less “CFLers” the previous season in a trademark dispute with the NFL over the “Colts” moniker); the woefully attended Las Vegas Posse (who practiced on the Strip in the Riviera Hotel’s parking lot and were forced to play their last “home” game in Edmonton); the Memphis Mad Dogs’ unique approach to fitting the longer/wider CFL field into the Liberty Bowl; why football-mad Birmingham couldn’t draw flies for Barracuda games once college and high school seasons started; and the “Great Tucker Caper” – featuring the infamous brothers Glieberman and their attempt to steal away the Shreveport Pirates to the greener pastures of Norfolk, VA.

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