December 22, 2016

A turning point 25 years ago

Larry Ryckman signed Doug Flutie to a personal services contract in 1992.

A quarter-century ago, the Calgary Stampeders were a franchise in transition.

In the mid-1980s, the Save Our Stamps season-ticket campaign kept the team afloat but the community-owned remained on shaky financial ground.

On Oct. 23, 1991, with the threat of the franchise’s extinction still looming menacingly, the Stamps were privatized under the ownership of Larry Ryckman.

Subsequent events, including a stock-trading scandal, tarnished Ryckman’s reputation in Calgary as the knight in shining armour who saved the franchise but at the time, new ownership provided the Stamps with stability and credibility. And sparkle.

Just a few months after purchasing the club, the flamboyant Ryckman made an audacious move that changed everything for the Red and White. He signed quarterback Doug Flutie, formerly of the BC Lions, to a personal-services contract and the rest, as the old cliché goes, was history.

Regardless of the club’s financial difficulties, the Stamps had already started to turn the corner on the field prior to Flutie’s arrival.

A landmark year was 1990, with the hiring of Wally Buono as head coach and John Hufnagel as offensive coordinator as well as the arrival of key players such as Allen Pitts, David Sapunjis and Alondra Johnson.

In 1991, the Stamps won their first playoff game in a dozen years and made their first trip to the Grey Cup in two decades.

But it was Flutie’s arrival 25 years ago this off-season that put the Stamps over the top.

From 1992-94 during Flutie’s three full seasons as starter, Calgary posted a 43-11 record and the dynamic pivot won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award all three years. He was the Grey Cup MVP in 1992 when the Stamps ended a 21-year championship drought.

The relationship between Flutie and Ryckman eventually soured, with the quarterback claiming the owner had only given him a small percentage of the money owed to him in the personal-services contract.

Flutie signed with the Toronto Argonauts in 1996, the same year Sig Gutsche bought the Stamps from the beleaguered Ryckman, but by then the Stamps were on solid ground.

In Jeff Garcia, the club had a very viable replacement for Flutie at quarterback and Buono, in the dual roles of head coach and general manager, ensured that there was plenty of talent at other positions.

The Stamps maintained a run of winning seasons that eventually reached 12 and added two more Grey Cup titles — one in 1998 and another in 2001.