Raise a cup, Stallions are champs Baltimore becomes CFL's first U.S. titlist, topping Calgary, 37-20

Victory is 13th in a row

Special teams shine

MVP Ham sheds rap he can't win 'big one'

Grey Cup

November 20, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

REGINA, Saskatchewan -- They are not sure if they have a place to put it, but the Baltimore Stallions are bringing the Grey Cup back home.

The Stallions became the first American team ever to take the Canadian Football League's most coveted prize, and they left no doubts about their supremacy, as they systematically whipped the Calgary Stampeders, 37-20, before 52,564 at Taylor Field.

Several players took turns pouring champagne into the Cup, as the Stallions' locker room erupted with hugs and high-fives. Offensive tackle Shar Pourdanesh proudly puffed on a cigar. Assistant general manager Jim Popp could hardly speak, since he had pretty much lost his voice. Coach Don Matthews wore an expression of relief and managed a smile.

It was a fitting scene that followed a job well done, a victory that was Baltimore's most complete of the year, a win that finished the "Unfinished Business" the Stallions had preached about since training camp opened.

The slogan was a reference to their last-second, 26-23 loss to British Columbia in last year's Grey Cup. Yesterday, there was no suspense, not with the way the Stallions dissected the class of the Northern Division.

"Every time you come to a championship game, that's the pinnacle of your emotional being as an athlete and as a coach," Matthews said. "Winning this is exactly that. It's a championship that will be the memory of a lifetime.

"Every aspect of this football team contributed to the win today, and that's what is so satisfying about it. That's what makes this so sweet."

Who didn't take part in this, the 13th consecutive victory, the one that gave Baltimore an 18-3 record, the best in CFL history?

First of all, Tracy Ham, 0-2 in previous Grey Cups, shed the "can't win the big one" label by earning the game's Most Outstanding Player award. Running back Mike Pringle, three days after winning the CFL's Most Outstanding Player honors, put an exclamation point on his season by gaining 137 yards against the league's top rushing defense.

The Stallions have played the best special teams in the CFL this year, and that unit put on another show with the title on the line.

Rookie Chris Wright set the tone with an 82-yard touchdown punt return -- a Grey Cup record -- 2:26 into the game. O. J. Brigance blocked a second-quarter punt that Alvin Walton took in for a 4-yard touchdown. Kicker Carlos Huerta kicked five goals. Punter Josh Miller averaged 49.5 yards on six attempts. Both of them did it in the face of gusty, 40-mph winds.

The defense, led by Brigance (10 tackles), did the rest. The only time the Calgary offense asserted itself was early in the third quarter, when Flutie engineered an 11-play, 75-yard march that he finished with a 1-yard run that cut Baltimore's lead to 24-20.

That was it for the league's most vaunted offense.

"I said it all week, they can't block us up front," rush end Elfrid Payton said. "All I kept hearing all week around here was Flutie this, Flutie that. He's the greatest player who ever lived, right? What will they say now?"

They'll say that Flutie met his match.

"We moved the ball well, [but] couldn't finish off drives," Flutie said. "Our guys weren't getting open when Baltimore dropped nine guys in coverage. We needed to run the ball, but got stuffed."

And it wasn't only the Stampeders' offensive line that was overmatched in the trenches. Baltimore's offensive linemen also dominated, knocking Calgary backward all night. They gave Ham outstanding pass protection, and they gave Pringle room to bolt through holes and punish Calgary tacklers downfield.

Ham's finest moment came in the third quarter, after Flutie had made his statement, and after Baltimore, despite gaining only six first downs in the first half, had used its defense and special teams magic to take a 23-13 halftime lead.

Ham, who completed 17 of 29 passes for 213 yards, answered Flutie in the game's crucial sequence. After Flutie's touchdown, the Stallions started their next drive at their 17, thanks to a clipping penalty on the kickoff return.

But Ham reacted coolly, directing a 93-yard drive with all-around mastery. He completed five of six passes for 77 yards, then finished the march with a 13-yard scramble for a touchdown that gave the Stallions a 31-20 cushion with 2:23 left in the third quarter.

"I play the game hard. I'm just a blue-collar quarterback," Ham said. "I've been hearing 'can't win the big one' for so long, I just tune it out. I'm just happy that I've had the chance to play with guys like this, and win a championship with guys like this."

After Ham's heroics, the Stallions turned to their ace in the hole in Pringle, who pounded the Stampeders in the fourth quarter, as Baltimore padded its lead and controlled the clock.

"The fourth quarter is my quarter. I own the fourth quarter," Pringle said. "When the ball has to be moved, we cannot be denied.

"To finish the season like this is very satisfying. Everybody worked so hard to win this. We're just a complete team."

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