Barracudas on the rise at the gate

ON THE CFL

September 10, 1995|By GARY LAMBRECHT

Jack Pardee isn't surprised. When he coached the Birmingham Stallions in the World Football League more than 20 years ago, near-capacity crowds would come to Legion Field to watch them.

The city has not embraced the Canadian Football League's Barracudas -- the fourth professional football team in 25 years to grace Birmingham -- in quite the same way. Yet, given the silence in the Barracudas' ticket offices three months ago, they have recovered remarkably during their expansion season.

Birmingham entered the season having sold barely 2,500 season tickets. Five home games into 1995, their average attendance is 24,843, fourth best in the league.

"We used to get 40, 50, sometimes 60,000 people at those [WFL] games," Pardee said. "Football is an American game, the most popular game in the U.S. We brought in a new product, and this [Birmingham] is football country.

"Right now, this is a good, professional team that hasn't been fully accepted yet, but we're getting there. I thought we'd be doing at least this well [at the gate]."

The Barracudas have had some problems on the field. Their defense, despite the presence of solid veteran linemen such as Angelo Snipes and Mark Ledbetter, has an alarming tendency to give up an excessive number of points. They allowed 46, and had to overcome a 38-21 deficit, in beating a terrible Ottawa team in their last game before facing the Stallions last night.

Offensively, Birmingham's run-and-shoot has been consistently exciting behind 13-year quarterback Matt Dunigan. His high point was a 433-yard, three-touchdown performance last month, when the Barracudas became the first American team to beat Calgary. Dunigan is on course for another 4,000-yard year.

The Barracudas have averaged 29.5 points in their five home games. Offense like that will continue to put people in the seats, although with the dawn of the college football season (see Alabama Crimson Tide), it remains to be seen how much interest the Barracudas can sustain.

Still Stampeding

Those fans expecting the Calgary Stampeders to stumble after losing superstar quarterback Doug Flutie for the season to an elbow injury could be in for a long wait.

Calgary completed a home-and-home sweep of rival Edmonton on Friday night with a 33-17 victory. The Stampeders forced seven turnovers, blocked two punts and watched Jeff Garcia play well in his fourth game as Flutie's replacement.

Garcia completed 19 of 26 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown, as Calgary (10-1) solidified its grip on the Northern Division lead. Garcia has been brilliant since taking over for Flutie midway through the Stampeders' only loss last month against Birmingham. Since becoming the starter, Garcia has completed

90 of 124 passes (73 percent) for 1,435 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has thrown only two interceptions.

Flutie had successful surgery on his throwing elbow Tuesday, when his flexor tendon was re-attached. He should begin throwing again in about four months.

One expansion team likely

CFL commissioner Larry Smith acknowledged again that the league likely will expand by one team next year, and that Miami -- which played host to a preseason game between Baltimore and Birmingham in June -- remains the early favorite.

Milwaukee has emerged as another possibility, if not for 1996, then in 1997. That's when the CFL hopes to expand to 16 teams, eight each in the United States and Canada.

Smith likes Milwaukee's television market size and proximity to Canada.

Smith also said that Hartford, Conn., is more of a long shot to join the CFL, and Portland, Ore., is viewed as a possibility in 1997. The league also has talked periodically with officials from Orlando, Fla., where Ottawa has been rumored to be moving.

"Ottawa's financial condition is worse than Horn Chen [the team's new owner] thought when he took over, but there are a lot of rumors in this league," Smith said.

Memphis pipeline

Baltimore and the Memphis Mad Dogs appear to have established a pipeline. At one time or another this season, seven former Stallions have been in Memphis.

Four former Baltimore players are there now. Joe Horn is the Mad Dogs' leading receiver. Free safety Michael Brooks just went on the injured list.

Guard Guy Earle, recently traded to Memphis, played the entire second half of the Mad Dogs' 31-22 victory at Shreveport, and is slated to start in today's rematch with the Pirates.

And receiver Walter Wilson played in his first Memphis game last week, when he made two catches, one for a touchdown. Both plays were called back by penalty.

Kicker Donald Igwebuike was released and offensive linemen Keith Ballard and wide receiver Joe Washington failed physicals.

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