CFL in America History
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.
Here are some players who contributed to the excitement of the CFL in the United States:
David Archer, QB; Sacramento, San Antonio – Passed for 6,023 yards and 35 TD’s in 1993; one of only three quarterbacks in CFL history to surpass the 6,000- yard barrier; passed for 3,340 yards in 1994 despite two finger dislocations; played for the San Antonio Texans in 1995 and passed for 4,471 yards and 30 TD’s.
Mike Pringle, RB; Sacramento, Baltimore – Set CFL single-season rushing record in 1994 with 1,972 yards on 308 carries; in 1995, rushed for 1,791 yards, leading the league; saw sparse action with Sacramento in 1993.
Matt Dunigan, QB; Birmingham – Had the best season of his long CFL career with the Birmingham Barracudas in 1995; lead the league in pass attempts (643), completions (362), yardage (4,911), and touchdowns (34) that year.
Tracy Ham, QB; Baltimore – Led Baltimore to the Grey Cup game in 1994 and 1995, winning it in 1995; passed for 4,348 yards and 30 TD’s in 1994; completed 232 passes on 395 attempts for 3,357 yards and 21 TD’s in 1995; rushed for 1,223 yards in two years in Baltimore.
Tim Cofield, DL; Memphis – Led league in quarterback sacks with 24 in 1995.
Curtis Mayfield, WR; Las Vegas – Had 61 catches for 1,202 yards and 12 TD’s in 1994.
O.J. Brigance, LB; Baltimore – Had big impact in 1994 with 44 tackles, 6 QB sacks, 3 pass knockdowns, and 2 fumble recoveries; had 7 sacks and 1 interception in 1995.
Roman Anderson, K; Sacramento, San Antonio – Made 39 field goals on 55 attempts and 40 of 41 converts in 1994; also averaged 56.5 yards on 75 kickoffs that year; led league in points with 235 in 1995.
Anthony Calvillo, QB; Las Vegas – Had 154 completions on 348 attempts, 2,582 yards, and 13 TD’s in 1994.
Chris Armstrong, WR; Baltimore – Caught 72 passes for 1,586 yards and 18 TD’s in 1994; had 64 catches for 1,111 yards and 11 TD’s in 1995.
Freeman Baysinger, PR/KR; Sacramento, Shreveport – Returned 52 punts for 405
yards in 1993 for the Gold Miners; led league in kickoff return yardage in 1995 with 1,023 yards
for the Pirates.