When you think of the Orange Bowl in Miami where do your thoughts first turn? Most people’s memories of it will surely centre around the Miami football teams, the Hurricanes and the Dolphins.
The Dolphins and the Hurricanes both enjoyed notable home field advantage while playing at the Orange Bowl. You need look no further than the Dolphins record 27 game home winning streak from 1971-1974 and the Hurricanes NCAA record 58-game home winning streak from 1985-1994 to confirm this. All of this has left some indelible images of pro and college football imprinted on the collective memory linked to the venerable old stadium.
The odds are though that what hasn’t come to your mind is a CFL game taking place there. Back in 1995 though that’s just what happened. On Saturday June 24th, the Baltimore Stallions hosted the Birmingham Barricudas in Miami’s Orange Bowl in a CFL pre-season game. The Stallions weren’t all that hospitable as hosts, beating the ‘Cudas 37-0. (the internet being the treasure trove that it is there is even a short clip of the game itself to be found https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LblwG2-wukU)
Whilst we have looked at inter-league games between the NFL and the CFL in the past, ( http://www.nflgirluk.com/2017/05/03/long-before-the-international-series-the-international-series/ ), we haven’t really considered games like this. CFL contests played at neutral sites on US soil. Of course there were quite a few CFL games played during the US expansion era. These were regular season games featuring US expansion teams and weren’t at neutral sites though.
There have however been a few exhibition or pre-season games played at neutral US sites, and even one regular season game featuring Canadian teams, (played between Ottawa and Hamilton), in Philadelphia back in 1958. To this day this is still the only CFL game played outside Canada, involving two Canadian teams, that actually counted in the standings.
The earliest neutral site CFL game in the US was played way back in 1909 between Hamilton and Ottawa, but it would have been a very different game to the one we watch today. Whilst the majority of these neutral site contests took place from 1951 to 1967, the last 2 occurred in the 90’s when Toronto beat Calgary in the 1992 pre-season by 20 points to 1 in Portland, and of course, when Baltimore defeated Birmingham in Miami in the 1995 pre-season.
Perhaps it should be of little surprise that Baltimore so convincingly won this pre-season game. They would overcome a 2-3 start to finish 15-3 and go on to lift the Grey Cup. Their greatest achievement however might have been averaging over 30,000 fans per game. No other US expansion team came close and after the season the expansion experiment came to an end.
The Stallions left a legacy though. the re-launching of the Montreal Alouettes out of the ashes of the Baltimore franchise was a significant moment for the league. Jim Popp, GM of the Stallions has gone on to see his teams win 11 division championships and 5 Grey Cups, including the Toronto Argonauts winning in 2017.
It seems unlikely that we will be seeing a CFL game taking place on a neutral site outside of Canada in the near future. It is interesting to remember when it last happened though and to wonder what might need to be for it ever to happen again.
In the meantime let us enjoy all the CFL games that are taking place, wherever they do take place and look forward to whatever developments the league may have in store for us in the future.