The CFL’s 16+ Losers club: A look back at the 16 game losing teams

The CFL’s 16+ Losers club: A look back at the 16 game losing teams
Reading Time: 6 minutes.

The 16+ game Losers Club in the CFL is pretty exclusive. A special club with a far from welcoming atmosphere. It is here we find the cellar dwellers. This is the home of teams that are the antithesis of the celebrated 15+ winners club and all their success.

Ottawa Rough Riders 2-16 1988

East Division 4th place (of 4) points for 278 points against 618

Average game score: 15-34.

Home 1-8 Away 1-8 In Division 1-9.

Ottawa Rough Rider fans were used to lean times at this stage in the teams’ storied history. They had last seen a winning season a full decade eralier in 1978.

That said, in the 1981 season they had converted a 5-11 record into a Grey Cup apperance and somehow only just lost out 26-23 to a dominant 14-1-1 Edmonton team.

In the two seasons before this they had scraped together just 6 wins, going 6-29-1. But this was the nadir of a terrible run of form. In terms of winning percentage (0.111), this was the worst season the franchise had since the founding of the CFL.

Ottawa were to host the Grey Cup in 1988. A year the team was dubbing “Super season ’88”. The team was 1-1 in the pre-season and hopes were for an improvement on the preceding years.

It wasn’t to be. The Riders started out with 4 defeats before a win in Winnipeg. That was followed by 10 consecutive losses before a little light relief for the home fans in a 19-3 win over Calgary.

Something to celebrate for this losers club

Amidst all the woe the Rough Riders found some gems. Playing Slot Back Gerald Alphin had 64 catches, for 1,307 yards and 5 TD’s. Enough to see him named an East Division All Star.

Alongside him was the team’s number one draft pick Orville Lee. The Running Back racked up 1,075 rushing yards to lead the CFL. At the time Lee was only the fifth Canadian to do so. He was also an East Division All-Star. As well as being voted Most Outstandng Rookie.

Finally, the team made some off field history. In 1988, Jo-Anne Polak was named the co-General Manager of the Rough Riders. She became the first woman in CFL history to be appointed to an executive post. And the first female General Manager of any professional sports franchise in North America.

By hosting the Grey Cup the team was able to halve their debts. But another poor season and sizeable debts still in place meant this wasn’t a year fans would look back on fondly.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 2-16 1997

East Division 4th place (of 4) points for 362 points against 549

Average game score: 20-31

Home 1-8 Away 1-8 In Division 2-8.

A year before this the Ottawa Rough Riders had been disbanded. The Ti-Cats now found themselves at the bottom of the pile in the East Division.

In 1990, the team missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and, from 1990 to 1997, went through four head coaches and had only one season above .500.

Even so, this season was a bit of a shocker for Hamilton fans. Because, even though they hadn’t had a winning season since 1992, they had been close to competitive. 1995 & 1996 had seen them post back to back 8-10 seasons. So a drop to 2 wins was far from expected.

An 0-2 preseason was followed by 4 defeats to open the season. A win against Winnipeg was followed by 9 consecutive defeats. Another win against Winnipeg at home near the end of the season was the only chance home fans got to celebrate.

Something to celebrate for this losers club

Like the Rough Riders before them, the Ti-Cats found some individual players to celebrate. Current Hamilton team coach Orlondo Steinauer was named an East Divison All Star playing cornerback. Also on the D, Willie Whitehead was named an East All-Star playing at Defensive End.

Steinauer would go on to second place in CFL History for All-Time Interception return yards and 5 more All-Star Awards.

Whitehead would go on to spend seven seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

After this 2-16 season (which was the worst in team history to this point) the Ti-Cats hired Ron Lancaster as coach.

Lancaster signed two of his former players from Edmonton: quarterback Danny McManus and receiver Darren Flutie. They combined with defensive end Joe Montford and the core of a strong 1997 defence to help Hamilton finish first in 1998, with only the second 12-win season (12–5–1) in franchise history.

They would go on to an 11-7 record and a win in the Grey Cup in 1999. This remains the last time they won it all.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 1-17 2003

East Division 4th place (of 4) points for 293 points against 583

Average game score: 16-32

Home 1-8 Away 0-9 In Division 0-8.

Boy were Hamilton fans on a rollercoaster! The 1997 season had been the lowpoint. And that was followed by a 43-28-1 run between 1998 and 2001. That included 4 playoff appearances, 3 East Finals, 2 Grey Cup appearances and one championship. Things looked good going into the new millenium.

A 7-11 season in 2002 must have felt like a blip. Then the 2003 season happened. A new nadir was ‘achieved’. Since the founding of the CFL from existing leagues no team has had the ‘perfect imperfection‘ of a zero wins season. The 1949 Hamilton Wildcats did go 0-12 but that was as part of the IRFU.

In the CFL itself only one team has mustered a single win all season. And the 2003 Ti-Cats are that team.

Off the field Hamilton were taken over by the league. Aside from their one win there was little for Ti-Cats fans to feel upbeat about. Except when in October the team was sold to native Hamiltonian Bob Young. Who has added a sense of stability. Especially as he is still there today.

An 0-2 preseason was followed by 12 straight defeats. The only moment of joy came in a Week 14 home win against Saskatchewan. And that was a 27-24 squeaker in overtime. The next best week was week 19 when the team had a bye and were done for the season.

Hamilton would have some lean years through the 2000’s. They have however appeared in 3 Grey Cup finals since 2013. A Franchise record for wins was set in 2019 too. But they lost again in the Grey Cup.

Something to celebrate for this losers club

Despite the anaemic season for this losers club some players did stand out. Running Back Troy Davis led the league in rushing with over 1,200 yards on the ground. He also set a franchise record for total yards. Enough to see him made an East Division All-Star.

Davis would be traded the next year and go on the win a Grey Cup with Edmonton. The Iowa State Alum was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

On the other side of the ball Defensive End Tim Cheatwood and aptly named cornerback Brandon Hamilton were also given East Division All-Star nods. Cheatwood would lead the league in sacks (14) the next year and be named a CFL All-Star.

Ottawa RedBlacks 2-16 2014

East Division 4th place (of 4) points for 278 points against 465

Average game score: 15-26

Home 2-7 Away 0-9 In Division 1-7.

Can we really lump this team with the other three losers clubs? Yes, because they only had two wins.

But we have to judge them very differently. Unlike the others they were an expansion team, and this means we have to make much more allowance for that.

The RedBlacks were 1-1 in the pre-season before losing the opening two games of the 2014 season. The first win for the new franchise came in week 3 with a tight 18-17 win against the Toronto Argonauts.

Nine consecutive defeats ensued before a second win. This was a surprising 42-20 win over Winnipeg. Five further defeats rounded out the season.

Despite some big defeats, the RedBlacks were competitive at times in their debut season. Aside from their two wins there were nine defetas by 10 points or less. That included three games lost by 3 points or less including a double overtime defeat.

Unlike the fans of the other teams on the list you feel like RedBlacks fans were happier with their team. CFL football was back in Ottawa, and there were a number of competitive games. They were a lot less forgiving of the 3-15 season last year.

Something to celebrate for this losers club

Straight off the bat – Ottawa got a CFL team back in 2014! And that was huge. This was the first time since the short lived Ottawa Renegades suspended operations following the 2005 season.

The Ottawa Rough Riders had folded following the 1996 season, so the capital had been without football for 14 of the 20 seasons prior to the RedBlacks arrival.

It also meant the CFL returned to nine teams with a team in each of the cities a founding member was in. Now the league recognises all the Ottawa teams as part of a non-continuous heritage.

A successful return

After the attrition of their debut season the Redblacks brought plenty of success to their fans.

From 2015-2018 they went 39-31-2 in the regular season and 3-1 in the playoffs. This includes 3 East Division titles, 3 Grey Cup appearances and 1 championship win.

In 2015 the RedBlacks drafted Alex Mateas, and for this writer at least, that was one of the great number 1 picks of the last decade.

So there you have it – the four greatest losers clubs in CFL history. Of course there are arguments to be made that there are some 3 and 4 win teams that were actually worse.

For example you might argue that the 3-15 Shreveport Pirates of 1994 who lost 14 consecutive games from Jul 6, 1994 to Oct 8, 1994 were a bigger losers club than some here).

But that’s a debate for another day…

Banner image: The 2014 Ottawa RedBlacks only won 2 games but they were an expansion franchise. Image from reblacks.com

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