Montreal Alouettes – the team for you?

Montreal Alouettes – the team for you?
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Could the Montreal Alouettes be the CFL team for you? Or should that be les Alouettes de Montreal, l’equipe pour vous? After all they are in Quebec where the majority of the nation’s Francophones live.

We recently ran an article giving you some pointers as to which CFL team you might want to support. It was about making the right choice for you.

That was a brief introduction to each team. Following on from that I thought it might be fun to look at each of the nine teams in a little more depth. Especially because, in that article we noted, “You need to find an affinity. Feel a connection. Have something that makes them, however they perform, very much your team.”

We started with a look at the the Hamilton Tiger-CatsOttawa REDBLACKSSaskatchewan Roughriders, and latterly BC Lions. This time we are moving into the East Division to take a look at the Montreal Alouettes and see if there is something there that will make a connection for you to want to support them.

The Stadium

Corner view of Percival Molson Memorial Stadium under the lights. Image from flickr.com

The Alouettes play at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, (Often known simply as Molson Stadium). Named in honour of CFHOF member Percival Molson, the stadium has a capacity of 23,420. Built in 1915 from a bequest in Captain Molson’s will the stadium is owned by McGill University. It is home to the university’s athletic teams, as well as the Montreal Royal and the Alouettes. As we shall see, the Alouettes have called Molson Stadium their home on a few separate occasions.

The Als have quite the stadium history. In their inaugural season in 1946 they made Delorimier Stadium their home. They made it their home from 1946 to 1953. They moved to Molson stadium in 1954. However in 1968 they moved into the Autostade. The first CFL game played at the Autostade was the 1966 Eastern final between the Ottawa Rough Riders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Ottawa’s home stadium was undergoing renovations at the time, but the neutral site did Ottawa little harm as they triumphed 42-16.

Unfortunately Autostade saw declining attendances so the Alouettes returned to Molson Stadium once more in 1972, but crowds fell even more, so they returned. Following the 1976 Olympics the Als moved into Olympic Stadium. Nine of the CFL’s all time top ten single game attendances come from the Als time in Olympic Stadium.

They would stay in Olympic Stadium until 1998 when they once again returned to Molson Stadium. To begin with they still used Olympic Stadium for playoff games, but now they use Molson Stadium for regular and post season contests.

The Montreal Alouettes history

While the Alouettes were originally founded in 1946, the city has a much longer history with the sport dating back to 1872. That was when the the Montreal Football Club was founded. They later merged with the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA) to become the MAAA Winged Wheelers. The Wheelers won the Grey Cup in 1931.

That was the high point for a team that lasted 17 seasons and went 38-62-3. An 0-9 season in 1935 was the final straw. They were replaced by the Montreal Indians who had back to back 2-4 seasons in 1936 & 1937. The Montreal Cubs of 1938 (0-6), Royals of 1939 (0-5-1), Bulldogs of 1940-41 (1-5 & 0-6) and Hornets of 1945 (1-5) somehow failed to diminish the appetite for American football in Montreal, and in 1946 the Montreal Alouettes were formed.

In contrast to their predecessors, the Alouettes got off to a blistering start, going 28-18-2 over their first four seasons and winning their first Grey Cup in 1949. The Alouettes would go into a brief decline from 1950-1952. After which they would again be dominant in the East from 1953-56. During that period they would appear in 3 consecutive title games (1954-6) and lose on each occasion to Edmonton.

They would not win a Grey Cup again until 1970. That 21 year barren spell would see them compile a 112-151-9 run. The low point going 7-31-4 from 1967-9 before winning that 1970 Cup game. The Seventies were good to Montreal with seven Grey Cup appearances and three wins. The last of which was in 1977. They would not win a Grey Cup again until 2002. The Als had also appeared in the 1978 and 1979 Grey Cups, but after this the history gets a little complicated.

The death and revival of a team

The Alouettes folded after the 1987 pre-season. Yet here they are in the CFL once more.  All Montreal teams since 1946 are included by the league in the team’s history. The Alouettes are now said to have ‘suspended operations’ from 1987 to 1995. So how did we get here?

After going 55-36-5 between 1974 and 1979, as well as appearing in 6 Grey Cup games in seven years, (winning twice), the Als went into a steep decline. Prior to the 1981 season the Alouettes were purchased by Nelson Skalbania. He signed several American star players. Including LA Rams veteran QB Vince Ferragamo. Paid a large contract for the period he was third string on the depth chart following his one CFL season. His stat line read 175 of 342 (51.2%) for 2175 yards, with 7 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.

The Als went 3-13, Skalbania lost $2 million and the CFL revoked the franchise from ownership with the team heavily in debt. The debt became too much and league officials folded the Alouettes on May the 13th, 1982. However, Montreal would still have a team as they awarded a new Montreal expansion club to Montreal Expos founder Charles Bronfman.

The new franchise, Montreal Concordes played from 1982-1985. During that span they went from 2-14 in 1982, and gradually improved year on year to 8-8 by 1985. Bronfman lost millions on the Concordes during those four seasons however. In an effort to revitalize local interest in the team, the club dropped the Concordes name and revived the old Alouettes name and logo for 1986.

The newly re-dubbed Alouettes went 4-14 in 1986 and continued to lose money. Having lost $15 million on the team, Bronfman looked to sell but found no buyers. The Concordes/Alouettes franchise folded on June the 24th, 1987, one day before the start of the 1987 CFL season.

From Baltimore Stallions to Montreal Alouettes

After being wound up in 1987, there was no CFL team in Montreal until the revival of the Alouettes once more in 1996. In the 1990’s then CFL commissioner Larry Smith envisioned a multi site North American CFL with teams in the USA and Canada. As we are back to a nine team league consisting solely of Canadian based teams, we can say that didn’t really work out. However one real success story was the Baltimore Stallions.

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.

The return of the Als 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.

With the core of the Stallions to work with the Als returned as a force in the East Division. They appeared in the playoffs every year from 1996 to 2014 whilst compiling a 214-127-1 record, and appearing in the Grey Cup 8 times (winning on 3 occasions).

The Montreal Alouettes today

William Stanback carries the ball for Montreal. Image from cfl.ca

The decade prior to the 2020’s began with Montreal winning the Grey Cup in 2010. The Als were the defending champions having won in 2009. Throughout the decade they went 81-99 and appeared in the playoffs on six occasions. They went 3-5 in those playoff games. The low point was not making the playoffs from 2015-2018, (with a 21-51 record), and going 3-15 in 2017.

There is much optimism in Montreal just now though. Especially as they made their first playoff appearance in half a decade the last time a CFL season was played (2019).

Head Coach Khari Jones took over with less than a week to go before the 2019 season and responded by leading Montreal to a 10-8 season. The team’s first winning season since 2012. QB Vernon Adams Jr was a CFL East All Star in 2019.

Alouettes fans are looking for the 2019 season not to be a one-off, but instead the foundation of a new period of success to build on going into 2021.

A Prince among men

Some fans like to have a classic player to associate with when coming to a new team. It makes knowing what vintage shirt to get that much easier!

For the Als there are plenty of choices, from classic QB Sam Etcheverry to more recent signal caller Anthony Calvillo, or all-time CFL rushing leader Mike Pringle. But in this instance we have chosen Wide Receiver “Prince Hal”, Harold (Hal) Patterson.

Patterson, was a three-time CFL all-star who won three Grey Cups. He spent seven years with the Montreal Alouettes before starting a seven-year run with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1961. He won the Grey Cup in 1963, 1965 and ’67. Patterson played 14 years in the CFL, and in 9 of those seasons he averaged more than 20 yards a catch. He may not have won a Grey Cup with the Als, but in the mid 1950’s his combination with Etcheverry gave Montreal by far the most potent air attack going.

From 1954-56 the Alouettes went 30-10, and played in 3 straight Grey Cup games. The strength of the team was in the passing attack, and Patterson was integral to that. In 1956 he was named the Most Outstanding Player. That year he posted eleven games with 100 yards or more receiving in a single (14 game) season. This on the way to 88 catches for 1,914 yards (21.8 yards per catch) & 12 touchdowns. Remarkably, that is still the 4th highest single-season yardage total.

Oh, and did I mention? –  Patterson recorded 27 interceptions in his first six seasons, including 8 in his rookie season and 7 in 1955 which led the East.  In fact Patterson was an East defensive All-Star in his first 5 seasons from 1954 to 1958.

Are they right for you?

There are nine teams to choose from. This is the fifth we have looked at. But could the Alouettes be the ones for you? As we have seen, they have had an interesting history to get to this point. The CFL considers all clubs that have played in Montreal as one franchise dating to 1946, and considers the Alouettes to have suspended operations in 1987 before returning in 1996.

The Alouettes don’t have one of the biggest fan bases but the potential is there. Something the new ownership have been working hard to build upon.

A UK connection

The team website has a history section that notes, “The first written account of a football game in Montreal, which some authorities characterize as the first football game played in North America, appeared on Oct. 10, 1868…The game was played between a team of officers from the English troops garrisoned in Montreal and a team of civilians, mainly from McGill University at Montreal’s downtown cricket ground”.

Much more recently, Lawrence Okoye, the former team GB discus thrower was on the Alouettes practice roster in 2017 & 2018, appearing in one game in 2017.

Banner image from cfl.ca

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