The Calgary Stampeders are a professional football team that plays in the West Division of the Canadian Football League (CFL). The Stampeders are one of the nine founding teams of the CFL and have won the Grey Cup seven times. The team played its first game in 1945 and has won the second-most CFL West Division championships, with 15.
Quick Facts about the Calgary Stampeders
|Date Founded: 1945|
|Venue: McMahon Stadium|
|Team Colours: Black, red and white|
|Grey Cup Victories: 7|
The Early History of Football in Calgary
The sport of rugby football was first played in Canada in the 1860s in Montréal and reached Calgary in the 1880s, where it was played at the Calgary barracks of the North West Mounted Police in 1884 and 1885. As Calgary grew, so did its interest and involvement in the sport.
In 1909, the Calgary Tigers joined the Alberta Rugby Football Union (ARFU) and captured the Western Canadian title in 1911. The First World War brought a stop to league play from 1916 to 1918, but, in 1919, the ARFU resumed with the Calgary Canucks finishing first in regular season play. In 1920, there were two Calgary teams in the ARFU — the Canucks and the Tigers — but in 1921 the Calgary Rugby Club was the city’s only team in the league. Although Calgary didn’t have a team in 1922, senior football returned to the city in 1923 with the 50th Battalion, a team named for a local military battalion that lined up financing and organized the team. The Battalion won the 1924 title, but lost the Western final 11–9 to Winnipeg and folded soon after.
Football returned to Calgary in 1928 under the banner of the Calgary Tigers. In 1929, a pass from Calgary player Gerry Seiberling to Ralph Losie is considered the first legal forward pass in Canadian football history.
The Calgary Altomahs began a four-year run in 1931, but folded after the 1934 season. In 1935, Calgary had a new team in the Bronks, who moved to the Western Inter-Provincial Football Union in 1936 and finished first in regular season play in both 1937 and 1938. However, senior football in Calgary ended in 1940 due to the Second World War.
Calgary Stampeders 1945–49
The Calgary Stampeders were founded in September 1945 by a group of investors, including player/coach Dean Griffing.
There was no regular season in 1945, but the Griffing-coached Stampeders defeated the Regina Roughriders 3–1 in their first game on 27 October, and 12–0 on 3 November in a two-game series before losing to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 9–5 in the WIFU championship.
With running back Paul Rowe leading the way, the Stampeders finished first in the WIFU in 1946, and second in 1947, but lost the Final to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers both years. By the following season, Les Lear had replaced Griffing as coach. Under Lear, the team was built around American players like quarterback Keith Spaith and receiver Woody Strode, as well as Canadians such as club icon Norman Kwong, Cedric Gyles, Rod Pantages and Norm Hill.
The Stampeders rolled through the 1948 regular season without a loss, the only undefeated season in Canadian football history. They completed the season with their first Grey Cup victory, a 12–7 win over the Ottawa Rough Riders. With the Stampeders in the Grey Cup for the first time, a couple hundred Calgarians crammed onto trains to Toronto. The days leading up to the big game were packed with pancake breakfasts, horses and cowboys. Tradition has it that at least one Calgarian rode his horse into the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto (although some believe the incident happened the following year, during the 1949 Grey Cup festivities). The week is widely credited with launching the annual Grey Cup Festival that precedes the big game.
In 1949, the Stampeders signed Ezzrett “Sugarfoot” Anderson, who played tight end and retired in 1955, but worked for the club in different capacities well into his 90s. On 22 October 1949, the Stamps lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, snapping a 25-game winning streak. The team made it again to the Grey Cup final, but lost 28–15 to the Montreal Alouettes.
Calgary Stampeders 1950–59
The Stampeders struggled in the 1950 season, missing the playoffs, despite retaining most of the core from the 1949 team and securing future Wall of Fame guard Harry Langford and star halfback Royal Copeland.
Prior to the start of the 1951 season, the team traded Norman Kwong to the Edmonton Eskimos, where he went on to a Hall of Fame career and three more Grey Cups. The Stampeders, on the other hand, floundered and missed the playoffs again in 1951 before signing Johnny Bright for the 1952 season.
In 1952, Calgary was eliminated in the semi-finals by the Edmonton Eskimos, leading to the firing of Les Lear and the hiring of Bob Snyder as head coach. Despite the coaching change, the Stampeders missed the playoffs in 1953 with a 3–12–1 record. They fell short of the post-season again the next year with Larry Siemering as coach, when they went 8–8 despite Howard Waugh becoming the first CFL player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Jack Hennemeier took over as head coach for the 1955 season, but the Stamps finished in last place that year with a 4–12 record, behind even the BC Lions, who had only joined the league the year before. In 1956, the team missed the playoffs again, prompting Hennemeier’s firing and the hiring of Otis Douglas as coach.
In 1957, the Stampeders finished third before losing in the West semi-final to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. In October, Jim Finks was named general manager and began laying the groundwork for the improvements that came in the 1960s.
Before that, though, the Stampeders needed to get through the 1958 and 1959 seasons, missing the playoffs in both and finishing the decade with a 10-year record of 54–100–2.
Calgary Stampeders 1960–71
On 15 August 1960, the Stampeders played their first game in the new McMahon Stadium, which the Stampeders have called home ever since. Although the team opened their new home with a 38–23 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, they defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 23–15 two weeks later on 29 August.
The Stampeders made the playoffs in 1960 before being eliminated by the Edmonton Eskimos in the West semi-final. Otis Douglas was fired as coach and replaced by Steve Owen partway through the year. Owen lasted only until the end of the season and was replaced by Bobby Dobbs.
The Stampeders again made the playoffs in 1961 before losing in the West Division final, but the big news was the arrival of Wayne Harris, considered one of the greatest linebackers in CFL history. Harris’ arrival helped push the Stampeders to their best season since 1949, as Calgary finished second in the West Division in 1962 after compiling a 9–6–1 record. The West finals were as far as the team got, though, as they lost to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The 1963 and 1964 seasons were similar, with the Stamps finishing both seasons in second place, but losing in the West Division playoffs. Highlights included running back Lovell Coleman becoming the first Stampeders player to win CFL Most Outstanding Player in 1964. Bobby Dobbs resigned as coach at the 1964 post-season party after his former assistant Rogers Lehew was promoted to general manager. Jerry Williams replaced Dobbs as coach, and the Stampeders finished in first place in the West Division in 1965, before falling short in the West final to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
In 1966, injuries to star running back Lovell Coleman cost the Stampeders, and they ended the season in fourth place with a 6–9–1 record. Despite this, new quarterback Peter Liske was a success and threw for 2,177 yards to receivers like Herm Harrison and Gerry Shaw. Liske was even better in 1967, setting a new league record with 40 touchdown passes. The Stampeders finished first in the West and Jerry Williams was named the CFL’s top coach, but the team lost in the West final to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
It was the first of five straight conference finals between the Stampeders and Roughriders. The following year, the Stamps dispatched the Riders in the 1968 West final and made their first Grey Cup since 1948, before losing 24–21 to the Ottawa Rough Riders. Jim Duncan became head coach for the 1969 season, but the Stampeders lost again in the West final to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Calgary Stampeders 1970–79
The Stampeders started the 1970s with a bang, qualifying for two Grey Cups in a row. The team lost 23–10 in 1970 to the Montreal Alouettes after an MVP-winning performance from Montreal quarterback Sonny Wade, but the next year saw their second Grey Cup victory in team history.
Local product John Forzani arrived that year to play with his brother Joe, and the Stampeders thoroughly outplayed the Joe Theismann-led Toronto Argonauts and won the Grey Cup 14–11 in a rain-soaked Empire Stadium in Vancouver, with Wayne Harris earning MVP honours.
Anyone hoping for a dynasty, however, was to be disappointed. Starting in 1972 when the Stampeders finished 6–10, the team began a long slide that lasted almost two decades. The emergence of the Forzani brothers — Joe, John and Tom — was a bright spot and the arrival of running back Willie Burden gave life to the team’s ground game, but the Stampeders finished in fifth place in 1974 and missed the playoffs under head coach Jim Wood. Bob Baker replaced Wood before the 1975 season, but Calgary again finished outside of the playoffs despite Willie Burden setting the CFL rushing record with 1,896 yards and winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award.
In 1976, the team finished with its worst ever record at 2–12–2, prompting the team to fire Baker, who was replaced by Joe Tiller until the end of the year. In 1977, Jack Gotta took over as coach, but the Stampeders finished 4–12 and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year. Calgary did make the playoffs in both 1978 and 1979 under Gotta, but did not make it to the Grey Cup in those years.
Calgary Stampeders 1980–89
The Stampeders started the 1980s with a 9–7 record, but lost in the West semi-finals in 1980 before finishing in last place the next year. They bounced back in 1982, but another loss in the West semi-final caused the Stampeders board to insist that Jack Gotta give up some of his general manager duties and focus on coaching. Walter Prisco was brought in to take over team administration (including accounting, marketing and public relations), and Gotta lasted only one more year with the team.
The situation didn’t improve under new coach Steve Buratto, who led the team to a last-place finish in 1984. Buratto was fired after the team started 0–5 the next season. Things were no better under replacement Bud Riley, and he left after they finished in last place in 1985.
By this point, the Stampeders were averaging less than 15,000 fans for home games at McMahon Stadium and facing bankruptcy, but a last ditch “Save Our Stamps” campaign that included telethons and contests resulted in the sale of over 22,000 season tickets and financial security for at least a couple years.
With Earl Lunsford as general manager and Bob Vespaziani as head coach, the Stampeders bounced back on the field in 1986 and finished 11–7 in the CFL’s first year with an 18-game schedule. Quarterback Rick Johnson led the league in touchdown passes and earned All-Canadian honours. In the West semi-final, the Edmonton Eskimos eliminated the Stampeders.
Lunsford and Vespaziani were both fired after a slow start in 1987, and the team responded to newly promoted Lary Kuharich’s coaching style by finishing with wins in eight of their last 10 games before losing in the West semi-final to Edmonton.
The team couldn’t replicate that success the next year, but 1988 did see CFL icon Norman Kwong replace Jim Silye as team president, a move that kickstarted the club’s recovery. The following year, after the team lost the 1989 West semi-final, Kuharich cleared out his coach’s office and moved to Vancouver to take over the Lions, setting the stage for the most successful decade in Stampeders history.
The Buono Years (1990–2001)
With the departure of Kuharich, Norman Kwong chose to promote defensive co-ordinator Wally Buono to head coach, ushering in an era of on-field success the likes of which Calgary football fans had never seen.
The Stampeders began the Buono era with 14 rookies on the roster for the 1990 season. The inexperience didn’t prevent the team from finishing atop the West Division, although they crashed out in the West final. In 1991, the Stampeders finished the regular season 11–7 and won the West final, defeating the Eskimos 38–36. However, at the Grey Cup final, Calgary fell 36–21 to the Toronto Argonauts, led by Rahgib “Rocket” Ismail.
On 23 October 1991, Calgary businessman Larry Ryckman bought the team and ended community ownership. Four months later, he signed quarterback Doug Flutie to a personal services contract.
With Flutie putting up numbers that would see him named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, the Stampeders rolled to first place in 1992 with a 13–5 record. In the Grey Cup final against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Flutie, Dave Sapunjis and Alllen Pitts all put up big numbers to win Calgary’s first Grey Cup since 1971 with a 24–10 victory.
The Stampeders finished first in the West Division again in 1993, but lost to the Eskimos in the West final, missing their chance to play in the Grey Cup final in their hometown. In 1994, after putting up the most points in CFL history, the Stampeders stumbled in the West final again, losing 37–36 to the BC Lions and prompting questions about why the best team in the regular season continued to fall short in the big games.
The Stampeders finished first in the regular season again with a 15–3 record despite an injury to Flutie that saw backup Jeff Garcia take over starting duties mid-season. However, they lost to the Baltimore Stallions in the 1995 Grey Cup final. That game was Flutie’s last in a Stampeders uniform, as Ryckman reneged on his personal services contract and Flutie moved east to sign with the Toronto Argonauts. With the Stampeders heavily in debt, Ryckman sold the team to new owner Sig Gutsche after the 1995 season. Future CFL Hall of Famer Stan Schwartz became president of the club in February 1996.
Despite Flutie’s departure, the Stampeders had a ready-made replacement at quarterback in Jeff Garcia, who led the team to another first place finish in 1996 with a 13–5 record. Garcia injured his knee in the West final, though, and Calgary lost 12–15 to the Edmonton Eskimos.
In 1997, the Stampeders finished in second place in the West before bowing out to the Riders in the West semi-final. Garcia’s performance was a bright spot, though, as he finished as runner-up to Flutie for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award.
During the 1998 season, Dave Dickenson backed up Garcia at quarterback, with Henry Burris as the team’s third option; overall, the team fielded seven All-Canadians and four finalists for league awards. The Stampeders rolled to a 12–6 record, good for first place in the West for the seventh time in the 1990s. In the 1998 Grey Cup final, they beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 26–24 after a last second field goal from Mark McLoughlin.
Garcia left after the 1998 season to join the San Francisco 49ers, allowing Dickenson to take over at quarterback for the 1999 season. The team’s 12–6 record saw them finish in second place, and they qualified for a Grey Cup rematch with the Tiger-Cats, losing 32–21.
Calgary Stampeders 2000–09
After finishing the 1990s with a 127–52–1 record and making the playoffs every year, expectations were high for the 2000s.
In 2000, the Stampeders finished in first place in the West Division with a 12–5–1 record and Dickenson was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player. However, Calgary lost to the Lions in the West final. In the off-season, Dickenson left to try his hand with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, while the team’s all-time touchdown leader Allen Pitts was released. Pitts still holds the CFL record for most career 100-yard receiving games.
With Marcus Crandell as the team’s starting quarterback for most of 2001, the new-look Stampeders snuck into the playoffs; and an MVP-winning performance by Crandell helped the Stampeders upset the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 27–19 to win the fifth Grey Cup in team history.
While the Grey Cup win seemed a good omen, the in-season purchase of the team by California businessman Michael Feterik brought about three turbulent years.
Feterik purchased the team in October 2001 from Sig Gutsche and insisted that his son, quarterback Kevin Feterik, be included on the roster. The Stampeders got off to a sputtering start that saw them out of playoff contention by mid-October and finish with a 6–12 record. The controversial Fred Fateri was hired as chief operating officer at mid-season, and Buono handed in his letter of resignation on 13 January 2003, with Jim Barker replacing him as head coach.
Things got worse in 2003 as the Stampeders finished in last place in the West with a 5–13 record. Fateri left the team in September, while kicker Mark McLoughlin retired and replaced Stan Schwartz as team president, infuriating players, alumni and most of the community. McLoughlin lasted only 56 days as president and Ron Rooke stepped in to replace him. Rooke fired Barker as coach three days before Christmas and hired Matt Dunigan as general manager and head coach, but the changes didn’t pay off. The Stampeders ended the 2004 season in last place, with a 4–14 record and the organization’s reputation in tatters.
In January 2005, the team changed ownership, when a group led by Ted Hellard, John Forzani and Doug Mitchell purchased the team from Michael Feterik for around $6 million. Within days, Dunigan and Rooke had been fired. Jim Barker returned to the team to serve as general manager, with Tom Higgins joining as head coach and vice-president of football operations. Hellard took over as team president, with Forzani as chair and Schwartz as executive vice president.
The changes on the field were no less dramatic. Former backup Henry Burris returned to the team and took over as quarterback and the team bounced back with an 11–7 regular season record to finish in second place in the West, only to lose 33–26 to the Edmonton Eskimos in the West semi-final.
The next season, 2006, saw the emergence of Nik Lewis and Jeremaine Copeland as one of the CFL’s most dynamic receiving duos. The Stampeders again finished in second, but lost in the West semi-final.
The pressure was on Higgins heading into 2007, and another loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West semi-final marked the end of his time as head coach in Calgary. He was replaced by John Hufnagel, who had served as offensive coordinator for Wally Buono’s 1990s Stampeders teams and had recently been fired from his role as offensive coordinator of the NFL’s New York Giants.
Improvements came quickly, with Joffrey Reynolds putting up impressive numbers at running back and Burris earning a Most Outstanding Player nomination. After finishing in first place in the West, the Stampeders won their sixth Grey Cup with a 22–14 win over the Montreal Alouettes.
The following year, in 2009, the Stampeders fielded a team with four All-Stars, but fell to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West final.
Calgary Stampeders: 2010–Present
Under Hufnagel’s coaching, the Stampeders finished the 2010 regular season in first place in the West Division, but again fell at the hands of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West final, despite Henry Burris winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award. Former quarterback Dave Dickenson assumed offensive coordinator duties in 2011, but the team was eliminated in the West semi-final. The following year, the team defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2012 semi-final before losing to the hometown Toronto Argonauts in the 100th Grey Cup.
In 2013, Calgary fell to the Roughriders in the West final, although running back Jon Cornish became the third Canadian to win the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award and the fourth football player to win the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete. Cornish and Russ Jackson are the only men to have won both awards.
With Bo Levi Mitchell assuming starting quarterback duties in 2014, the Stampeders tied a team record by finishing 15–3 in the regular season and went on to beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 20–16 for their seventh Grey Cup in history. However, the Stampeders couldn’t replicate this success in 2015, losing to the Edmonton Eskimos in the West final. John Hufnagel stepped down as head coach to focus on his duties as president and general manager of the club, while Dave Dickenson took over head coaching duties for the 2016 season.
In Dickenson’s first season as head coach, he set a CFL rookie-coaching wins record by guiding the team to a 15–2–1 record. The Stampeders dominated the post-season CFL Awards, with Bo Levi Mitchell winning Most Outstanding Player, Jerome Messam being recognized as top Canadian, Derek Dennis winning Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, DaVaris Daniels being named Most Outstanding Rookie and Dickenson winning Coach of the Year. The season ended in disappointment, though, as the Stampeders were upset in overtime of the Grey Cup final by the Ottawa Redblacks.
The team was hit by tragedy on 25 September 2016, when defensive back Mylan Hicks was shot and killed outside a Calgary nightclub.
Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup
|1948||Calgary Stampeders 12||Ottawa Rough Riders 7||Toronto|
|1949||Montreal Alouettes 28||Calgary Stampeders 15||Toronto|
|1968||Ottawa Rough Riders 24||Calgary Stampeders 21||Toronto|
|1970||Montreal Alouettes 23||Calgary Stampeders 10||Toronto|
|1971||Calgary Stampeders 14||Toronto Argonauts 11||Vancouver|
|1991||Toronto Argonauts 36||Calgary Stampeders 21||Winnipeg|
|1992||Calgary Stampeders 24||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 10||Toronto|
|1995||Baltimore Stallions 37||Calgary Stampeders 20||Regina|
|1998||Calgary Stampeders 26||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24||Winnipeg|
|1999||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 32||Calgary Stampeders 21||Vancouver|
|2001||Calgary Stampeders 27||Winnipeg Blue Bombers 19||Montréal|
|2008||Calgary Stampeders 22||Montreal Alouettes 14||Montréal|
|2012||Toronto Argonauts 35||Calgary Stampeders 22||Toronto|
|2014||Calgary Stampeders 20||Hamilton Tiger-Cats 16||Vancouver|
|Ottawa Redblacks 39||Calgary Stampeders 33||Toronto|
Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame
|A.G. (Tony) Anselmo||Builder||2009|
|T.L. (Tom) Brook||Builder||1975|
|Willie Burden||Running back||2001|
|Jerry (Soupy) Campbell||Linebacker||1996|
|Royal Copeland||Running back||1988|
|Gregory B. Fulton||Builder||1995|
|Fritz Hanson||Running back||1963|
|Rodney Harding||Defensive tackle||2016|
|Herm Harrison||Tight End||1993|
|John Helton||Defensive tackle||1986|
|Jerry Keeling||Defensive back||1989|
|Normie Kwong||Running back||1969|
|Les Lear||Offensive lineman||1974|
|Tony Pajaczkowski||Offensive guard||1988|
Daryl Slade, Stampeders … The Years of the Horse (2009)
Graham Kelly, Go Stamps Go: The Story of the Calgary Stampeders (2010)