Memories of Montreal are not all fond ones

ON THE CFL

October 09, 1994|By KEN MURRAY

If the Canadian Football League sets up shop in Montreal next season after an eight-year absence, it will bring back a lot of memories for Joe Barnes, Baltimore's quarterback coach.

Not all of them are happy, though. Such as pre-game introductions in 1980 at Olympic Stadium:

"Quartarrier numero sept, Joe [booooo] Barnes."

"I took the Alouettes to three Grey Cups -- in 1977, '78 and '79," Barnes said. "In 1980, I'd throw an incompletion and the fans would boo. I thought my middle name was 'Boo.' "

It probably took a little more than an incompletion, but Barnes' memory appears otherwise correct.

He played quarterback for 11 years in the CFL, six with the Alouettes. Montreal beat Edmonton, 41-6, in the 1977 Grey Cup under Marv Levy, then lost to the Eskimos the next two years. That started Edmonton's extraordinary five-year run as Grey Cup champion (a run in which Baltimore's Don Matthews was defensive coordinator).

Somewhere along the way, Montreal lost its passion for the CFL. In 1976, Barnes said, the Alouettes opened Olympic Stadium with a crowd of 68,505. A year later, they averaged 65,000, and a crowd of 69,000 came to see the unbeaten Alouettes play Toronto one week. But by 1978, the passion was ebbing. Average attendance plummeted to 45,000.

By 1980, owner Sam Berger had sold the team to Nelson Skalbania, launching the brief, undistinguished Vince Ferragamo era (Montreal went 2-14). By the summer of 1987, having changed the name to Concordes and back to Alouettes, the team folded.

Now the league wants to return to Montreal. And Barnes, whose Montreal teammates included CFL commissioner Larry Smith and Calgary coach Wally Buono, would like to see it happen, too.

"I'd love to see a CFL team in Montreal, with the name Alouettes," he said. "The fans are very tough. If the team got the right ownership and marketing, it could succeed."

Where did it go wrong in Montreal? Why did fans stop coming out? Barnes said he isn't sure, but offered an educated opinion.

"Maybe, he said, "they got spoiled. Because Montreal was the team of the '70s."

Deja vu II?

Another city where the CFL would like to rekindle football memories is Oakland, the former home of the Raiders. Like Baltimore, Oakland still carries a torch for the NFL.

George Vukasin, president and CEO of the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, said his first priority is to bring back an NFL franchise.

"I have a director on our board of directors who is convinced the Raiders are seriously considering returning to Oakland," he said. "[But] I am not particularly optimistic about them returning to Oakland."

Vukasin said there have been informal discussions with potential ownership groups. And even though the CFL season would severely overlap with the Oakland A's, Vukasin left the door ajar.

"It's a municipal institution," he said. "We've been encouraged to keep the facility as busy as possible."

Are they gone yet?

And now to the weekly review of the CFL's foundering franchises.

In Las Vegas, Posse coach Ron Meyer said, "The people don't even know the CFL has a playoff."

To which place-kicker Carlos Huerta said: "It's worse than that. After the last game, I was signing some autographs, and I must have had seven people ask me if I was going turn pro next year."

Not in Las Vegas, he won't.

In Hamilton, where the Tiger-Cats are dying a slow death, veteran kicker Paul Osbaldiston is already pining for the good old days.

"For the first time, I've thought about not going to Ivor Wynne [Stadium] every day to practice or play a game," he said. "It's a scary thought."

Get a grip, Paul. And start brushing up on your French.

In Shreveport, word leaked out that Pirates owner Bernie Glieberman asked city and state officials for a loan of $4.5 million during the next three years to cover his financial losses, most of which are the result of bumbling management.

At the same time, he was trying to sell the public on a team that started Mike Johnson at quarterback last night. Johnson is the fifth quarterback to start for the Pirates this year. And Glieberman was surprised he got shot down?

There may be hope yet

The Pirates did one smart thing, though. They took quarterback Matt Dunigan's parents and brother on their plane to Winnipeg for the Week 13 game. Dunigan, out with damaged knee ligaments, is in the final year of his Blue Bombers contract.

Speculation is that the Pirates will try to sign him -- he's a former Louisiana Tech standout -- as their marquee player next season, then wait for Winnipeg coach Cal Murphy to wail about tampering.

B6 Dunigan is expected to play Saturday at Las Vegas.

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