Montreal opens up to CFL's return Expos, Canadiens see room for another team

February 02, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

MONTREAL -- It appears Canadian Football League owners will vote today to approve the Baltimore Stallions' move to Montreal. Although there are no demonstrations of zealous support and there are expressed doubts, it appears the city is willing to give owner Jim Speros and his team a chance.

"I think it can succeed, and I'm happy to have the team coming here," said George Springate, who played six years for the now-defunct Montreal Alouettes, including the 1970 CFL championship team. "But there are caveats."

Many believe that Speros must be sure to have local investors; that the team, which has no Canadians on its roster, must comply quickly with the CFL rule of having 20 Canadian players, at least some with ties to the Montreal community; and that Speros must prove he is sincerely interested in being here for the long term.

Montreal is a changing city. It is economically strapped by Quebec province's drive to secede from Canada.

"Many people believe Montreal is a one-sport town and the sport is hockey," said Springate, who also spent 11 years in the Quebec legislature. "Many believe baseball is on its way out. Jim Speros might want to ask the questions: 'Why do I want to go there? What's my future?' 'Am I willing to operate in a separate Quebec?' "

But Montreal Canadiens president Ron Corey and Montreal Expos managing partner Claude Brochu said there can be room for another team in town.

"I would be very happy if the CFL came to town," said Corey. "Montreal is a very good football town, but the NFL talk went on too long. Now, if the Baltimore Stallions come and they market it right and become part of the community with the fans, I think it will work.

"It also doesn't hurt that they are Grey Cup champions and will have a very good team that wins."

Said Brochu: "When I met with both Jim Speros and [CFL commissioner] Larry Smith the other day, I committed myself and our organization to them. I made it clear that if we can help with any aspect of their business . . . we would like to do so.

"I would dearly like the football team to succeed. I think the arrival of this team will be good for Montreal."

The Alouettes folded on the eve of the 1987 season because of a dwindling fan base. The team had been undermined by out-of-town ownership and a city government that pushed the community to get behind an effort to land an NFL expansion team. Residents say that push often was demeaning to the CFL.

But Smith said people here are ready to welcome the CFL back.

"There has been an attitudinal shift," Smith said. "The support I'm sensing in Montreal has exceeded all my expectations."

And random conversations with city residents appear to support his impression.

"I think they'll do well," said Irving Lang, an accountant. "It was a shame the way football came to an abrupt end here. I think if they play in the right place and use home-grown players, who fans feel are going to stay with the team, people will support them."

Andre Piccolo, a 21-year-old student at Dawson College, is a rare Montreal resident who says he is not a Canadiens fan but would be interested in seeing CFL games.

"I would go watch it," he said. "I don't know about anyone else. We once had a CFL team here and people stopped going and they folded. But the Stallions are a pretty good team, so people might be happy about it if they keep winning."

"I've been surprised," said Montreal Gazette reporter Jeff Blair. "I thought the attitude would be 'Who cares?' But it hasn't been that at all."

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