Gone But Not Forgotten: Ranking the defunct CFL teams

Gone But Not Forgotten: Ranking the defunct CFL teams
Reading Time: 9 minutes.

Can we rank the defunct CFL teams? Let’s find out.

It seems like every league has its ups and downs. Even a behemoth like the NFL has seen teams fade away over the years. There is often a nostalgia for those lost teams. A mythology that builds around them.

Of the 14 teams listed from the original season in 2020, only 2 survive. But teams like the Akron Pros, Dayton Triangles and Canton Bulldogs still echo down the years. As an example the Pros are still remembered for their ‘perfect’ title.

Yet if we turn to the CFL and look at the league from its inception in 1958 we could be forgiven for being slightly confused.

For in 1958, as in 2020, there were nine teams in the league. Those teams were situated in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Calgary, BC, Hamilton, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. Which means there are franchises in exactly the same places in the CFL as there were 62 years ago.

But we know the league has seen teams come and go. What happened to them and where are they?

That’s what this is about. A look back at the lost teams of the CFL. Combined, just for fun with a ranking of those teams. There is just one rule, this ranking is an entirely personal choice. You are welcome to make your own list to create your own rankings. But this is what my lost CFL teams look like.

The Defunct CFL teams

A good place to start is by looking at who the defunct teams were. As well as where they played. And when they played from and until.

For the purpose of this ranking this list will only include teams that made it to the field of play. The Miami Manatees and original Atlantic Schooners are well-loved ‘almost’ teams. And the San Antonio Riders didn’t quite make it to the field. But this is about those that played the games and how they compare to each other.

Which leaves an interesting selection of defunct CFL teams. With a very distinct split between them.

Seven of those teams stem from the ill-fated American expansion era. That gets slightly complicated by the fact that we are talking about seven teams, but only six franchises.

That expansion era lasted from 1993-1995, and saw these teams come and go: The Baltimore Stallions, Birmingham Barracudas, Las Vegas Posse, Memphis Mad Dogs, Sacramento Gold Miners, (later San Antonio Texans) and Shreveport Pirates.

The ‘defunct’ Canadian based teams

This is where it gets interesting. Can we call previous teams in Ottawa and Montreal defunct? Especially as the league recognises them as part of the franchises that now exist but with ‘interrupted periods of operation’.

For example, the 2017 CFL Guide and Record Book now lists the Rough Riders, Renegades, and Ottawa REDBLACKS as one distinct franchise with breaks in operation (see page 14).

The Rough Riders left a lasting legacy running from 1876-1996, and the Renegades played in Ottawa from 2002 to 2006.

For the purposes of this article we are choosing to look at the Rough Riders and Renegades as stand alone iterations as that’s how they felt to fans at the time. And we get to make up the rules here, – the more teams to compare the merrier!

But what about the Concordes?

At which point, if you know your CFL history, you might well ask about the Montreal Concordes. Well unlike the Renegades who came to Ottawa a number of years post Rough Riders, the Concordes followed directly on from the 1981 Alouettes.

The Als had collapsed, but the franchise was returning in all but name. Mostly for legal reasons. League and fans at the time saw the Concordes as a re-branded extension of the previous Als players. A lot of the coaching staff, personnel and players also remained making this transition much easier.

As with Ottawa, the CFL recognises all iterations of the Montreal teams as part of the franchise that now exists. But with ‘interrupted periods of operation’.

The difference is the Concordes have always been seen this way. The Ottawa teams have not. Which is why the Concordes won’t be ranked and the Ottawa teams will.

For the record the Montreal Concordes played from 1982-1985 compiling a 21-41-2 record. 1985 was the high point when they went 8-8 and had the sole playoff win in their brief run. The Concordes would return to being the Als before the franchise went into ‘hiatus’ from 1988-1995.

Defunct but not forgotten

Right. Let’s get to ranking those teams! We will be using longevity, success and impact as key indicators. But ultimately this is my personal choice and you are entirely free to disagree.

9 Memphis Mad Dogs

Franchise Length: 1 season 1995, Championships: 0 All-time record: 9-9

Memphis really wanted an NFL team. They had bid in 93 but lost out to the Carolina and Jacksonville franchises. When that potential Hound Dogs NFL franchise fell through and the owners turned to the CFL, for a lot of local fans this was just making do out of a bad situation.

The Mad Dogs played in a 62,000 seat stadium (the Liberty Bowl). 14,278 turned out for their first ever game – not a good look. They managed to crack 20,000 but once college football season hit their attendances tanked.

This was a team that was there for the last season of the failed US expansion. A team that the locals never really took to, and that had no huge cultural impact.

They did well to have a .500 season in their lone year in the midst of all that apathy.

8 Shreveport Pirates

Franchise length: 2 Seasons 1994 & 1995, Championships: 0, All-time record: 8-28

The only reason the Pirates are ranked higher than the Mad Dogs is that they existed one season longer. Meaning they weren’t just there for the death knell like Memphis were.

However, the Pirates lose points on ownership alone. Bernard and Lonie Glieberman had owned the Rough Riders for 2 chaotic years, including threatening to move the team out of Canada. Them buying a US expansion franchise was something of a compromise for the league.

To no-one’s surprise the Glieberman’s ownership was dysfunctional and the team lost their first 14 games. A 3-15 season was followed by a slightly improved 5-13 in 1995.

Attendances weren’t too bad in 1994 but fell away in 1995. It’s not like there are many people mourning the loss of this franchise.

7 Las Vegas Posse

Franchise length: 1 Season 1994, Championships: 0, All-time record: 5-13

Say what you like about the Posse. From poor attendances to a decimation of the Canadian National Anthem, they had a cultural impact. To this day they have support. Plus they get bonus points for having had NFLUK community ambassador Jeff Reinebold on the coaching staff, meaning he can share some great stories of his time there, – including in this recent interview.

Forever remembered as having had the lowest attended game in CFL history & being involved in the first CFL game between US teams, the Posse will always be the first professional sports team to set up home in Sin City.

6 Birmingham Barracudas

Franchise length: 1 Season 1995, Championships: 0, All-time record: 10-8

Like Memphis, this was a team that was there for the last season of the failed US expansion. In fact they were the last US based team to be awarded a franchise.

The ‘Cudas played at 75,000 capacity Legion Field in July 1995. Their opening day crowd of 31,185 would be welcomed by plenty of CFL teams right now.

They were a high scoring competitive team coached by Run & Shoot Offence adherent Jack Pardee and led on field by experienced CFL quarterback Matt Dunigan.

Crowds remained healthy right up until college season, where like with Memphis those attendances collapsed. By October an announced crowd of just 6,317 showed up for the tilt with Shreveport.

The only reasons that Birmingham are this high is that they played in the first neutral site game featuring US teams, had a relatively successful season, and the city of Birmingham gets points for repeatedly trying non NFL football despite how big college football is in the area.

If that seems completely arbitrary reasoning to you, it’s because it is. See above where I said this was my list. If you disagree, put your own list out there – I’d certainly enjoy reading it.

5 San Antonio Texans

Franchise length: 1 Season 1995, Championships: 0, All-time record: 12-6

The Texans were another one season wonder. But they separate from other one season teams as a continuation from the Sacramento Gold Miners (below).

After a 4-5 start, the Texans reeled off eight victories in their final nine games to finish with a 12-6 record. The Texans were a fun team to watch averaging 35 points per game, second best in the CFL. They made it within one game of the Grey Cup in 1995 but lost out to the Baltimore Stallions.

The Texans averaged 15,855 fans for nine regular season home games, which ranked 11th among the CFL’s 13 franchises in 1995.

Between the Texans and Gold Minres, owner Fred Anderson was purported to have lost $14 million in three years. He may even have come back for more but his family intervened as he was ill. He passed away a year later. Anderson had been a fondly admired owner in league circles.

4 Sacramento Gold Miners

Franchise length: 2 seasons 1993 & 1994, Championships: 0, All-time record: 15-20-1

Could you argue that the CFL still exists as we know it because of the Gold Miners? It’s one view.

In 1993 the CFL was struggling badly with chronic money shortages. The league came up with the idea of US expansion with a fee to join. Although the US expansion was short lived those expansion fees were a critical cash injection the league needed.

By being the first expansion team, going 6-12 (an expansion record at the time), and being stable off the field, the Gold Miners were pioneers who opened the doors for others to join.

That pioneering year in ’93 led to more money coming into the CFL via further expansion. They helped keep the league afloat, which is why the Gold Miners rank this high.

3 Ottawa Renegades

Franchise length: 4 Seasons 2002-2005, Championships: 0, All-time record: 23-49

Why is a defunct team that obviously wasn’t successful ranked so highly? A sense of nostalgia and the fact that even 4 meagre seasons outstrips most US teams is at play.

In fact only one US team ranks higher. But that team appeared in 2 Grey Cups in 2 years. The Renegades could only dream of such things. This was a team that never made the playoffs in their brief time in the CFL.

At the same time the Renegades saw football briefly re-born in Ottawa. You get extra points for returning the game to one of the cradles of the Canadian game.

You could see the value of the Renegades to fans such as the Renegade Nation. Out of them you can still feel the echoes of Ottawa fans down the years in the current RedBlacks RNation support.

The Gleiberman’s were back involved with running a CFL franchise. Once again it did not prove to be a success.

2 Baltimore Stallions

Franchise length: 2 Seasons 1994 & 1995, Championships: 1, All-time record: 27-9

The stallions were only in the CFL for two seasons but they had a huge impact. Appearing in the Grey Cup game in both seasons of their existence, losing to BC in 1994 and winning it all in 1995. One of the few 15 win teams in the history of the CFL they also had a huge impact off the field.

Arguably two franchises exist today because of the Baltimore Stallions. The success that the Stallions had in Baltimore was a demonstration of the following football could garner there. The NFL took note.

A few months after the championship game Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. The Baltimore Ravens were born out of that Browns team. You could easily argue that without the Stallions’ success the Ravens may not have arrived.

The other franchise? As noted above the Montreal franchise went into ‘hiatus’ between 1988 & 1995. The return came as the Stallions left Baltimore to the NFL, relocated to Montreal and relaunched the Alouettes franchise.

To this day the Als do not recognise the Stallions as part of official team history. But when they did return they were hugely successful (176-93-1 from 1996 to 2012, appearing in 8 Grey Cup games and winning 3). And the foundation of that success was built out of the now defunct 1995 Grey Cup champion Baltimore team that moved players and staff into Montreal.

The Baltimore Stallions remain the only non-Canadian team to appear in, and to win the Grey Cup. They may be gone but the presence of the Als in the CFL means their legacy lives on.

1 The Ottawa Rough Riders

Franchise length: 120 years, Championships: 8 All-time record: 481-523-17

Of course the Rough Riders were always going to come first here. Where else could you put them? The crown jewel of the CFL’s defunct teams. (According to the criteria we set out above).

This is a team with a 120 years of history. The Rough Riders identity came about in 1898 when the Ottawa Football Club, (formed as an amateur rugby team in 1876), adopted the name

Founder members of the CFL when it was formed for the 1958 season. A team with 15 Grey Cup appearances, and 8 Grey Cup wins.

The Rough Riders’ best era was in the 1960’s and early 1970’s as Frank Clair led them to 5 Grey Cup wins. A far cry from the run from 1980 to 1996 when they failed to post a winning record.

Not to mention this was a team with some classic CFL moments such as ‘The Catch‘ (5 years before the NFL version), and some classic players. Including the last great Canadian QB.

So there you have it. A list of the defunct CFL teams and a far from definitive list of their rankings. Do you disagree? Or do you perhaps think the Concordes should have been on the list too?

There’s no football to watch so far this season, so I hope this bit of fun can at least invoke a sense of nostalgia. Creating your own defunct teams list? Let me know. You can find me here.

Banner image: Baltimore Stallions in action. Image from 11points.com

7 thoughts on “Gone But Not Forgotten: Ranking the defunct CFL teams

  1. To say the CFL inception Was in 1958 is a mistake. The Grey Cup has been presented to the Canadian football champions since 1908. Dig deeper

    1. Hi S. Kidney. Thanks for taking the time to read the article, I really do appreciate it. To be clear, I am talking about how far back the CFL ‘officially’ traces its history here – which is to 1958. The Canadian game goes back much further – you only have to see our articles on the first time teams won the Grey Cup to get that. But, as you know, they only officially organised into the ‘CFL’ from the likes of the IRFU and WIFU in the 50’s.

  2. What about the early teams like the Vancouver Grizzlies. They lasted one season I believe bit no one goes back to the earlier teams.

    1. Hi Steven – you raise an interesting point. There are indeed earlier teams like the Grizzlies not mentioned here. I limited the article to ‘defunct CFL teams’ meaning teams that had been part of the CFL since its inaugural season in 1958. The Grizzlies spent their one season (1941) in the WIFU. Which, I will grant you is the forerunner to the CFL West Division. But they would not fit into the CFL teams description as the CFL had not existed at this time. The idea of doing a list of these other defunct teams would make an interesting article though!

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