Every era of the Red and White’s history has been celebrated by this lifelong Calgary resident and Stamps supporter.
But the 1992 squad will forever hold a truly special place in his heart.
And that’s because a very select few have been fortunate enough to be integrated with that particular team like senior director of business operations Mike Franco.
Having waited the first 20 years of his life to finally see the Stampeders hoist the Grey Cup, Franco endured many years of disappointment, including when the oh-so-close 1991 group came up short in the title game. Yet Franco would soon witness history in the making from a unique perspective.
“I got an opportunity while I was in university to work for the team,” explained Franco, who began leading the business side of the team’s operations in 2016. “I was on the sidelines as a game day staff member when Doug Flutie and Dave Sapunjis and Allen Pitts and Stu Laird and Will Johnson were on the field. And with (head coach) Wally (Buono), my Italian grandparents thought it was so cool we had an Italian coach really turning this thing around. There were some really special moments being a part of that time period.”
As Franco sees it, the long-awaited Grey Cup victory in 1992 forever changed the trajectory of the franchise and made an impact which is still felt today.
“When we won, it was so symbolic for me and so important to this city,” Franco noted. “It had been such a long drought and then we finally won a Grey Cup. It changed who the Stampeders are, I think to this day, and now we believe we deserve a chance to be there and we believe we should be there. It just changed so much for football (in this city) and it was an important piece for me to be a part of.”
Fast-forward 28 years later, and Franco found himself as an executive figure of the organization who helped spearhead a one-of-a-kind celebration – honouring the 25th anniversary of the same 1992 team he once revered from the sidelines as a post-secondary student.
“All of a sudden, I get (1992 team member) Ken Moore coming into my office,” began Franco, describing how the wheels were set in motion. “And Ken says, ‘Mike, we need to have a 25th anniversary reunion for the players.’ For months, Ken and I worked on a strategy to see if we could make this work and we thought we had found a way to do it. We moved forward and it was incredible. First, we were able to get Flutie to confirm. For me growing up my entire life, Doug Flutie had been my favourite athlete. It was special to think Doug was going to come and be a part of this with so many of the other players and staff that were involved in that ’92 team.”
The unforgettable weekend included the alumni in attendance for the team’s walkthrough prior to a game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Following the on-field preparations, Flutie gave a passionate pep talk to the present-day Stamps, and then members of the 1992 team reenacted Flutie’s one-cleat touchdown during the latter stages of the Western Final.
Prior to kick-off on the following day, the Stamps hosted their first-ever alumni tailgate on the field immediately south of McMahon Stadium, enabling fans to connect one-on-one with some of their CFL heroes. Due to its rousing success, the alumni tailgate concept has become an annual occurrence as part of the team’s Legacy Night.
“Nothing in sports that I’ve been involved in has meant so much,” Franco reflected as he summed up the festivities. “To be a small part of that and getting to see it from the inside was magical. Driving Flutie around that weekend and getting to spend time with the guys I’d idolized my whole life was special.”
Simply put, his cherished memories of the 80th Grey Cup champions truly came full-circle.
“After all the moments I had from the other side of that fence watching that 1992 team and then to somehow have snuck inside the fence to be a part of it with those guys, I can’t explain how special it was,” vowed Franco. “That’s what makes working in this industry so much fun.”