In its 25th season, the Canadian Football League has not yet recovered from the hangover of its 24th. The spectre of the Nelson Skalbania-Montreal Alouette debacle lingers and casts shadows over what could be the CFL’s most glorious year. The Alouettes are now called the Concorde, but nothing has changed. Forever attempting to convince its fans and itself that it is “big time,” the CFL continues to drag along the trappings of a bush league.
When Skalbania reduced one of the league’s most venerable franchises to a debt-ridden hulk almost overnight, the CFL tottered on the brink of extinction. Barely viable as a nine-team enterprise, it could not survive with eight. The solution was the dissolution of the Als and the creation of the still awkwardsounding Cones, with Charles Bronfman’s bankroll behind them. Stretched credibility was partially relaxed, only to be strained again. In a desperate attempt to attract some of the most discerning fans in the league—Montrealers—the Cones offered homeopener tickets at two for one. Fewer than
7,500 people fell for it as the Cones lost 36-0 to Winnipeg. As if that were not minor-league enough, it has now surfaced that the CFL Players’ Association is considering lawsuits to recover up to $500,000 in deferred payments owed to former Alouettes—including Junior Ah You, Ron Singleton,
Billy (White Shoes)
Johnson, Shafer Suggs,
Dan Yochum, Larry Pfohl, Sonny Wade and Dickie Harris. Former coach Joe Scannella is owed about $200,000 (U.S.) and has no union to pursue the matter.
The players and coach are owed money by an entity, the Alouettes, that no longer exists. The Con corde's management says that it is not re
sponsible; the CFL says that it is not either, pointing the finger at “the person who incurred the debts.” Skalbania has neither commented nor offered money.
The continuing Montreal embarrassment, both on and off the field, is being acted out against the backdrop of a league hopelessly imbalanced. The East-West rivalry culminating in the Grey Cup championship, oft-trumpeted as a vital national adhesive, is once again only a dream. The five western teams, led by the champions of the past four seasons, the Edmonton Eskimos, laughably outclass their four eastern counterparts. The embarrassment is reflected in recent scores—55-7, 51-34, 36-0, 31-12—and only one eastern team (Toronto) has managed to win a point from a western squad (red-faced Calgary), and that in an inept contest that featured 14 turnovers. The most entertaining of this season’s first games ended 26-24, but that was played between two western teams. The imbalance is not unique to the ’82 season; as CFL Commissioner Jake Gaudaur said, “It’s disappointing to eastern clubs, as well as to all of us, that the evidence is there that it won’t be more competitive than it was last year.”
The West’s superiority could be partially disguised in previous years when interdivisional play was sporadic. But
this year for the second time the sched-£ ule of games totally integrates East and j West. Mike Faulkiner, offensive coach? for the Concorde, puts it succinctly.” “The way the eastern teams are playing, I can’t see how any of them will have a winning record.”
Ironically, 1982 is the year that the CFL could, and should, make its greatest impact. The National Football League Players’ Association is currently involved in heated negotiations with team owners over a new bargaining agreement. With the players demanding 55 per cent of gross revenue and owners discussing lockouts and random urinalysis tests of players in the wake of disclosures of widespread drug abuse, the threat of a strike is very real. Should that occur, the U.S. cable network that carries CFL games, ESPN, has reached an agreement with NBC to broadcast CFL games. And with the formation of the United States Football League, due to start up in March of next year, there is no better time for the CFL to portray itself as a stable, credible alternative to players, coaches and fans. Montreal’s continuing problems and the East-West imbalance are not helping.
The CFL’s silver anniversary year is fraught with potential for disaster and salvation. The bottom line should be clearly etched the day after the Grey Cup game.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.