The NFL owners have voted to let the Raiders move from Oakland to Las Vegas. The Oakland, Los Angeles, Oakland, Las Vegas Raiders are all set to start playing in Sin City in 2019. As a UK sports fan it is always strange to accept the concept of a team moving from their home anyway. This move has been no different, generating a lot of debate and opinion, not least on this very site.
However, this article is not about the wisdom or otherwise of letting the Raiders move to Vegas, but rather a hat tip to the pro football team that preceded them, some 20+ years ago, the CFL’s very own Las Vegas Posse.
In the 1990’s then CFL commissioner Larry Smith had big plans. He envisioned a multi site North American CFL with teams in the USA and Canada. As we are back to a nine team league consisting solely of Canadian based teams, it’s fair to say that didn’t really work out.
The Baltimore Stallions were arguably the only truly measurably successful expansion team for the CFL in the United States. Playing the 1994 and 1995 seasons they crafted a 27-9 regular season and 5-1 playoff record. In the process becoming the only US based team to win the Grey Cup. They were only disbanded when the American expansion project was abandoned. (After the 95 season of course the Browns moved to Baltimore and the Ravens were born and much of the Stallions roster moved north to the newly re-formed Montreal Alouettes).
All of which brings us back to the unfortunately somewhat less successful Las Vegas Posse. The Posse were the polar opposite of the Stallions, being the CFL’s least successful US based expansion team. They managed one 5-13 season with poor attendances and a string of complaints from players about teammates and coaches not caring.
They did provide some notable incidents though;
- In July 1994 when the Posse beat the Sacramento Gold Miners 32-26 it was the CFL’s first game between US based teams.
- The Posse’s team owner Rick Mileti, had to offer a public apology after the Canadian national anthem was mis-sung prior to the Posse’s first game in Vegas. “By way of explanation, but not excuse, this singer was recommended to us out of Los Angeles as a professional who had sung your anthem many times for the Olympics,” Mileti stated in a letter to then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. “Obviously, we were misled.”
- Lest we forget – there was also the heat to deal with. For their first exhibition game in June the temperature was a baking 115 degrees. The CFL plays earlier than the NFL to avoid the harshest times of the Canadian winter – but that will have been of little solace to those roasting in Nevada. Edmonton QB of the time Damon Allen said after the game it felt like “the Devil was breathing fireballs at me.”
- Their penultimate home game against Winnipeg had an announced attendance of 2,350 – the lowest in CFL history.
- They were the starting point for the career of the CFL’s all time passing leader QB Anthony Calvillo.
The whole US experiment was over quite quickly for the CFL which regained a more stable footing in the 2000’s with the application of a salary cap and increased television revenues. The re-emergence of the Alouettes being probably the greatest remaining legacy of this period of experimentation.
They may not have been too successful, but the CFL’s Las Vegas Posse were the first attempt by a major pro sports league to site a team in the city. No others would attempt it until the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights who are scheduled to begin play this year, and the Raiders scheduled to arrive soon. So, now that the Raiders are coming to town, let’s not forget the team who got there first, the one season ‘wonder’ that was the Las Vegas Posse.