MONTREAL – In 1996, the Montreal Alouettes sometimes had to simulate the strategies for their next game in a hotel parking lot due to lack of money. Fortunately, these financial setbacks did not stop the club from making a successful return to the field.
After 25 years, Danny Maciocia laughs at this folkloric side that colored the season of the birds’ rebirth.
“You have to visualize the scene, there were cars coming and going… At some point it became a joke, it was said that a lightning bolt was coming and it was a car that came straight to Tracy Ham (the quarterback) and we wondered how we were going to block this opponent. In spite of everything, we had fun and took our preparation seriously. We were able to win 12 games,” Maciocia said, laughing at these unusual memories.
“It also happened that the buses did not show up for our trips. Let’s say we were in Hamilton, we had to take taxis, pay for them out of pocket and get reimbursed. I felt like I was reliving civic football,” added the man who had made family sacrifices to take on this unpaid position and who will take up the role of general manager a quarter of a century later.
Luckily the Alouettes were in the car with athletes like Ham, Mike Pringle, Elfrid Payton and Company. As fascinating as he was on the field terrorizing quarterbacks, Payton was arguably more fun outside the box.
† Oh my God † Whether you were looking for atmosphere in the plane, the dressing room, in the hotel, on the bus, or on match day… He was quite a character and a decent footballer. It was so hard to block him, he was probably one of the best defensive linemen in the CFL. With him you never knew what he was capable of on the pitch and I would say even off the pitch! said Maciocia with a smile.
“I remember one game at McGill, he was sent off along with Dave Hack from Hamilton. The two left for the locker room and, I don’t know how, but Elfrid was able to get into the Tiger-Cats locker room to play with Hack to ‘talk’,” he continued.
On the same device, the Alouettes could also bet on the intimidating Doug Petersen. His huge right biceps revealed a Grim Reaper tattoo that left no doubt about his intentions.
‘He was a very smart man! He read books I didn’t understand. He had an intellectual side that you don’t often see. But when he came on the field, he was a completely transformed person, he became a bad guy who wanted to physically dominate you at almost any cost,” Maciocia described.
The reputation of the unwavering Canadian athlete had traveled the world of football.
“Players came to Montreal for two or three days to get evaluated. They knew Petersen and wanted to compete against him to show the team how strong they were physically. It often ended with blows, but I don’t think he lost a showdown “As soon as he walked off the field, you saw a completely different person that you couldn’t tell was inside him,” explains Maciocia.
Colleague David Arsenault, who followed the team’s activities for RDS, also remembers Petersen’s friendly side. He adds several names to this list such as Jock Climie, Hency Charles, Denis Montana, Michel Lamy, Mathieu Quiviger and Mike Sutherland. That said, he can’t include Pringle’s.
He was never my favorite. He was never disrespectful to me, but I found him condescending and full of himself. He seemed to put his personal interests first. He wasn’t generous in his interviews and he made you feel a little shabby felt,” admitted Arsenault, who wasn’t the only one to see him that way.
Annie Larouche, who led the group from cheerleaders and the community section picked up on a funnier anecdote about the bulldozer bearing the number 27. It was during open practice where fans could walk across the field to get autographs, but Pringle quickly drew the crowd.
“Poor Mieke! He was trapped in the middle and it pushed around him. He didn’t know how to react, pencils were everywhere. After asking people to withdraw in vain, I had to go with him. A few days later, before the official presentation of the players, Mike asked if I wanted to be by his side. I thought to myself, ‘Cool, but am I going to be Mike Pringle’s bodyguard, the one with the neck the size of a femur?’ Larouche thought back fondly.
The Age of the Beeper and the Detestable Concrete Surface
As marketing director, Mark Weightman has been thrown into a different kind of whirlwind, which is to get the machine working for this team’s return to Montreal.
“It was a sprint to organize everything for the season”
“I still remember the big 18-wheel trucks that arrived at the Olympic Stadium with all the equipment from Baltimore (the Stallion team had moved to Montreal), we had to try to find ourselves in there. It was really a sprint of a few months, we didn’t sleep much! […] Everyone put their shoulders to the wheel. We helped with sales, event planning, equipment production, competition preparation…” said Weightman who recently made the jump with the Trois-Rivières Lions in the ECHL.
The move to Canadian soil had caused another shock. By moving from Baltimore to Montreal, the team lost the right to bet on an all-American formation. The leaders had to cut off several American athletes and find Canadian sources from the press.
“There was some bickering at the start of the season for this reason,” Arsenault said.
But time flew by and the organization had to complete the puzzle before the start of the season.
“If only to set up the field. It may seem trivial, but the last time there were games at the Olympic Stadium was either the NFL games or the World League. We had taken steps the day before or the day before to realize that, oops, the goal line wasn’t in the right place, it was missing a few inches,” Weightman said, pointing to an incident that happened for another sport in the Olympic Stadium .
Even though the artificial grass was ridiculously thin at the time, the cheerleaders had to entertain the public by working directly on the concrete floor.
“Everyone got shin splints from dancing on the concrete,” Larouche said with a response justifying why acrobatics were set aside in favor of dancing.
“My family thought I was crazy to join the Alouettes”
Passionately, Larouche even gave up a career in the legal world for the adventure of the Alouettes. “I was also a clerk in the criminal chamber of the Montreal courthouse, so I bought myself a pager to respond to my messages. At that time, those who had pagers were lawyers, doctors and drug dealers,” said the one who became operations director of the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s new Montreal team.
“My family told me that I was absolutely crazy to give up a government job to work for a team that was in financial trouble,” Larouche added.
Passion remains what saved the Alouettes, on and off the field. Arsenault tips his hat to this group of dedicated employees and especially to the supporters with the same attachment.
“I already saw people who were there every week and they greeted me. I think of Anne Maisonneuve and Louise Poulin. They occupy the first two seats of the halfpipe at the top of the receiver’s club. They still come to games. There was also mr. day. The Alouettes had a small core of die-hards, CFL maniacs who wouldn’t leave the boat when it would have been easy to say it wouldn’t work, Canadian football in Montreal. Their financial contribution and their love for football allowed them to have a say in the success of the Alouettes,” concludes Arsenault.
*With the collaboration of Mikaël Filion for the idea
“Paid or not, I was young, I was happy, I was excited! †
An Incredible Guess by Jim Speros