IT WAS enough of a blow to the Canadian national psyche that the
Grey Cup would be going south. Far worse was that no one knew
where Lord Earl Grey's chalice would actually reside between now
and next November, when it would once again be bestowed upon the
champions of the Canadian Football League. The Yanks who guzzled
champagne Sunday evening from the trophy--and then removed it
from its home nation for the first time--could not say where they
were taking it. The treasured artifact had been reduced to a
token in a mismatched Monopoly game between the CFL and the NFL.
Moments after the CFL franchise currently doing business as the
Baltimore Stallions had overrun the Calgary Stampeders by a
score of 37-20, Stallion wideout Shannon Culver appeared to be
stumped as he taunted the subdued crowd at Taylor Field in
Regina, Saskatchewan. "We got the Cup!" he yelled. "And we're
going to...." His voice trailed off. In only their second
season, the Stallions are clearly on their way, but to where? To
Houston? To Los Angeles?
Two years ago, when NFL owners rebuffed Baltimore and voted to
expand into Charlotte and Jacksonville, the CFL responded by
giving Baltimore--starved for football ever since the Colts
sneaked out of town in 1984--the league's third Stateside
franchise. Owner Jim Speros even tweaked the NFL by deciding to
call his team the Colts, though the NFL nipped that in the bud
with a lawsuit.
In their two seasons in Baltimore the Stallions have gone 27-9
and have drawn an average of slightly more than 30,000 fans to
their home games at Memorial Stadium, the second-best attendance
figure in the league. There has been a lovely two-year affair
between Baltimore's jilted NFL fans and the Stallion players,
some of whom make only $35,000 a year, not much more than the
fans themselves. Then, earlier this month, Cleveland Brown owner
Art Modell announced that he would be moving his team to
Baltimore next season, and suddenly Speros's friendly little
operation looks doomed.
NFL, GO TO HELL, AND TAKE MODELL read a banner at the Stallions'
last home game--a 21-11 playoff victory on Nov. 12 over the San
Antonio Texans. But while some Baltimoreans will never forgive
owner Robert Irsay for moving the Colts to Indianapolis and are
reluctant to embrace the Browns, the truth is that no CFL
franchise can hope to compete head-to-head with the NFL.
The Stallions will be displaced from Baltimore by the mere
presence of the Browns. And many of the hard-core, blue-collar
Stallion fans, who have paid between $15 and $25 for a ticket,
will be left out in the cold by the NFL, which is geared to
affluent suburbanites to whom old loyalties are less important
than seeing and being seen in luxury boxes that cost as much as
$100,000 a year. Not that Speros wants to leave. He points out
that while Maryland is guaranteeing the Browns as much as $75
million up front, he would settle for a measly million dollars a
year to stay put.
Still, during Grey Cup week Speros met with civic officials of
Houston, whose Oilers announced on Nov. 16 that they intend to
move to Nashville, and even Baltimore fans who made the trip to
Saskatchewan for the Grey Cup were already resigned to losing
In the jubilant Stallion locker room on Sunday, quarterback
Tracy Ham said, "Who cares about the Browns? I don't." But his
words seemed plaintive rather than defiant. "It's all about
focus and not allowing things to distract us that we can't
control," added Ham, speaking of the Stallions' approach to
Sunday's game. He certainly controlled as much as he could,
earning Grey Cup MVP honors by being more effective, when it
counted, than the marquee quarterback of the CFL, Calgary's Doug
The 83rd Grey Cup had come to the prairie town of Regina,
population 188,000, thanks in large part to a financial
guarantee by the provincial government of Saskatchewan, where
the game had never before been played. The CFL was also staging
an emotional appeal to those fans in the hinterland who provide
the core support of Canadian football. But who could blame the
Stallions' 37 U.S. citizens (the CFL's limit of 17 "import"
players does not apply to its five U.S. franchises) for wanting
to tear the Grey Cup from the heartland of Canada? And who could
blame the 52,564 fans in attendance--minus a few hundred staunch
folks up from Baltimore--for their disappointment when their
national football tradition went south?
The week leading up to the game had been so subdued as to be
made sport of by Calgary newspaper columnists wondering where
all the hell-raising was. Grey Cup week had, for the past 40
years or so in other, bigger cities, become known for the
raucous behavior of fans. "Where is the sin and degradation?"
one big-town Canadian sportswriter asked another on a hotel
elevator Sunday morning. "Let's go bust out a few hundred car
The usual 27,637 seats at Taylor Field, home of the Saskatchewan
Roughriders, had been nearly doubled, to 54,000, with the
erection of monstrous temporary bleachers, which by kickoff were
a source of concern. Winds whipped down the prairie at more than
35 mph, and safety-conscious officials announced that if the
gusts climbed to 57 mph, spectators would have to evacuate the
bleachers. That did not happen.
Leaning into the wind, the fans watched as the Stampeders
succumbed to the Stallions midway through the third quarter of
what had been to that point a fairly even battle. Flutie had
just taken the Stampeders 75 yards to a touchdown that pulled
them within four points, 24-20, when Ham and the Stallion
offense answered immediately with a 92-yard touchdown drive. On
the scoring play Ham stood fast in a rapidly collapsing pocket,
maintaining the sort of startled-rabbit posture he has displayed
since leading Georgia Southern to two Division I-AA national
championships in 1985 and '86, and then suddenly sprinted 13
yards into the end zone.
Earlier in the game the Stallions had pulled off two big special
teams plays: a Grey Cup-record 82-yard punt return for a
touchdown by Chris Wright in the first quarter and Alvin
Walton's five-yard touchdown run with a punt that had been
blocked by O.J. Brigance. But afterward Flutie said that it was
the 92-yard drive that had broken the Calgary spirit: "That was
a shame. We were in great shape--we were going into the wind, we
got a touchdown, and I thought we were in business. But they did
a good job moving the ball."
Now moving of another sort will be preoccupying the Stallions
unless Maryland can find a spare million dollars or so to enable
the team to make a quixotic stand against the NFL juggernaut.
Says CFL commissioner Larry Smith, "People want fan-based
football. They want the approachability and accessibility of the
players [the Stallions have been indefatigable
autograph-signers]. Jim built his team from scratch, and it's
Baltimore's team. Modell's team will always be the Cleveland
Maybe. But the sad truth of it is that with Modell's team in
town, the little guys will be out.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHUCK SOLOMON Fans indulged in politics, but Stallion Mike Pringle focused on the Cup, running for 137 yards. [Fans holding sign reading "TAKE QUEBEC WE'LL KEEP BALTIMORE"; Mike Pringle]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHUCK SOLOMON Flutie (20) is the CFL's brightest star, but with the championship on the line, it was Ham who shone. [Doug Flutie; Tracy Ham]