The term CFL USA refers to the abortive expansion of the Canadian Football League (CFL) into the United States in the early-to-mid 1990s. The 1993 CFL season saw the addition of the first American team to the league, the Sacramento Gold Miners. By the 1994 CFL season, there were four American teams, and in the 1995 CFL season, there were five, which were then split off into their own South Division. However, following the 1995 season, the only American team remaining was the Baltimore Stallions, which were moved to Montreal and renamed the Montreal Alouettes for the 1996 CFL season.

Although the league originally intended to only place teams in the areas within driving distance of Canada, it turned out to be the exact opposite. All but two of the CFL USA teams were based south of the 37th parallel north; the northernmost team was based in Baltimore, Maryland, 375 miles (600 km) from the Canada–United States border.

1992–93: OriginsEdit

In hopes of broadening the CFL's appeal and boosting its revenues, the league first began exploring American expansion in June 1992 with an exhibition game between the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders, held in Portland, Oregon.[1] The league planned on launching a few teams in the northern United States.[2]

In 1993, the league decided to move forward with expanding south of the border. The ultimate plan was to have a league of 10 Canadian and 10 American teams. Some cities that were being considered were Columbus, Ohio; Rochester, New York; Hartford, Connecticut; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Boise, Idaho; Portland, Oregon and Minot, North Dakota. Spearheading the efforts were two former World League of American Football owners, Fred Anderson of the Sacramento Surge and Larry J. Benson of the San Antonio Riders. Their teams were admitted to the CFL as the Sacramento Gold Miners and San Antonio Texans, respectively. While the Texans would fold before playing single down, the Gold Miners would see action, finishing a respectable 6-12 (but remaining at the bottom of the West Division). Also during this time, Ottawa Rough Riders owner Bernard Glieberman began discussing the possibility of moving his team to the United States. However, when it became apparent the CFL would not even consider such a plan, he opted to sell the existing Rough Riders franchise and launch a new American franchise instead.


The following year would see more expansion: the Las Vegas Posse, Glieberman's Shreveport Pirates Which had the same name problem as the Baltimore Colts, had previously been named the Shreveport Lions but had come under fire by both the CFL (BC Lions) and the NFL (Detroit Lions), so the team opted for the Pirates moniker, and the Baltimore Stallions (who were forced to change their name from the Colts after a long legal battle with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL). Baltimore was the most successful of any American CFL team, having finished second in the East and making it to the 1994 Grey Cup game, becoming the first American team to play for the Grey Cup. At the other end of the spectrum, the Las Vegas Posse were an abject failure, becoming a road team after attendance dropped to under 3,000 in Las Vegas; the team folded at the end of the season.

1995: Turmoil and terminationEdit

In 1995, the American franchises were split off into their own South Division. The Gold Miners' problems with Hornet Stadium prompted a move to San Antonio, where they were reincarnated as the San Antonio Texans, while the Birmingham Barracudas and Memphis Mad Dogs (previously the Memphis Hound Dogs, a rejected NFL franchise), were added. Teams were also considered for Orlando and Miami. The latter would have been nicknamed the Manatees, and an exhibition game between Birmingham and Baltimore was held in Miami to gauge support. The Miami expansion was eventually abandoned.

However, American fan interest in Canadian football, with the exception of Baltimore, was sparse at best. Teams like Birmingham and Memphis began with promising crowds comparable to their Canadian counterparts, but saw attendance plummet with the onset of the college football season. At the end of the year, which saw the Stallions become the first non-Canadian team to win the Grey Cup, the Barracudas and Pirates had already announced that they were leaving their hometowns before the Grey Cup had even been played.[3] Cities such as Montreal, Los Angeles, and Norfolk were mentioned as possible sites for the relocated franchises, with the Birmingham team being moved to Shreveport. However, shortly after, commissioner Larry Smith ordered the Barracudas, Mad Dogs and Pirates shut down.

Only a few months after the Stallions' Grey Cup triumph, the NFL's Cleveland Browns announced they were moving their roster to Baltimore to play as the Ravens. While the Stallions had been a runaway hit, Speros knew they could not hope to go head-to-head with an NFL team and decided to move elsewhere. He began talks with Richmond, Virginia, but nothing could be worked out. The Stallions team moved to Montreal and became the third incarnation of the Montreal Alouettes. Unwilling to remain as the sole U.S.-based team in the league, and faced with the prospect of having their nearest opponent being over 1,500 miles away, the Texans voluntarily folded soon afterward. As a result, the entire league was once again based in Canada for the 1996 CFL season.

The last vestiges of the CFL's American experiment were erased when Speros sold the Alouettes to Bob Wetenhall after the 1996 season. The fact that Baltimore, an American team, had won a championship that was a symbol of Canadian culture, was the subject of much consternation and lamentation at the time. As such, the CFL has refused to acknowledge the Alouettes' Baltimore connections and reckons the Stallions as a separate team from the current incarnation of the Alouettes. It does, however, reckon the Alouettes as the successors of the original Alouettes franchise.

One of the often cited reasons for the CFL South Division's failure, and part of the reason why the CFL fell behind the NFL in terms of quality players, was the state of the league's American television contract. The league, which had held a U.S. network TV contract in the 1950s and again briefly in 1982, was then being carried on ESPN2, at the time a nascent channel devoted to extreme sports that was not nearly as widely available as its parent network and only carried a limited number of the league's games (with ESPN itself airing some late-season games and the Grey Cup on tape delay). It was not until after the 1995 season that the CFL, mainly through the action of its American franchises, began negotiating with CBS Sports (at the time the only of the Big Four that did not have rights to NFL broadcasts) to see if they could get coverage.[3] It would not be until several years later that the CFL got a TV contract in the United States, on a much smaller network (America One).

Proposed revivalsEdit

World Wrestling Federation chairman Vince McMahon was given a chance to buy the Toronto Argonauts in 1999. He countered with an offer to buy the entire league and eventually "have it migrate south" (either adding teams in, or relocating teams to, the United States). The league refused McMahon's offer, but these proposed American teams became the basis of the XFL, which played one season in 2001.[4]

In February 2009, former NFL receiver Oronde Gadsden (cousin of former CFL star John Avery) proposed that, because of the discontinuation of other spring football leagues such as the Arena Football League (which has since returned) and NFL Europa, the league consider expanding back into the United States, with potential markets being Detroit-Windsor and Rochester, New York.[2] Wetenhall was open to the idea, but league offices have been unwilling to hear the proposal, with an Ottawa franchise set for launch in 2013, and both Halifax and Moncton angling for a maritime franchise in the future.

CFL USA teamsEdit

Teams that playedEdit

Team City Stadium Capacity Quarterback Kicker/Punter Head Coach General Manager Owner Active
Sacramento Gold Miners Sacramento, California Hornet Stadium 21,195 David Archer Jim Crouch, Roman Anderson Kay Stephenson Tom Huiskens Fred Anderson 1993–1994
Las Vegas Posse Winchester, Nevada Sam Boyd Stadium 45,000 Anthony Calvillo Carlos Huerta Ron Meyer Nick Mileti Nick Mileti 1994
Baltimore Stallions (aka Baltimore CFLers) Baltimore, Maryland Memorial Stadium (Baltimore) 53,371 Tracy Ham Donald Igwebuike, Carlos Huerta, Josh Miller Don Matthews Jim Popp Jim Speros 1994–1995
Shreveport Pirates Shreveport, Louisiana Independence Stadium 40,000 Billy Joe Tolliver Bjorn Nittmo John Huard and Forrest Gregg J. I. Albrecht, Terri Sipes Bernard Glieberman 1994–1995
San Antonio Texans '95 (relocated from Sacramento) San Antonio, Texas Alamodome 59,000 David Archer Kay Stephenson Dan Bass Fred Anderson 1995
Birmingham Barracudas Birmingham, Alabama Legion Field 71,594 Matt Dunigan Franco Grilla, Luis Zendejas Jack Pardee Roy Shivers Art Williams 1995
Memphis Mad Dogs Memphis, Tennessee Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium 62,380 Damon Allen Donald Igwebuike Pepper Rodgers Steve Ehrhart Frederick W. Smith 1995

Proposed teams that did not playEdit

Team City Stadium Capacity Quarterback Kicker/Punter Head Coach General Manager Owner Scheduled to begin play
Miami Manatees Miami, Florida Miami Orange Bowl 74,476 Anthony Calvillo Carlos Huerta Ron Meyer 1996
San Antonio Texans '93 San Antonio, Texas Bobcat Stadium1 15,218 Jason Garrett Jim Gallery Mike Riley Tom Landry Larry J. Benson 1993
Shreveport Barracudas Shreveport, Louisiana Independence Stadium 53,000 Matt Dunigan Luis Zendejas Jack Pardee Roy Shivers Ark-La-Tex Football, Inc. 1996
  1. Would have had to move to a larger stadium, as CFL mandates required a minimum 20,000 seats.

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