Stampeders finally mean business

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

Much of the focus in Edmonton has been on Tom Higgins.

Around the rest of the league, and particularly in Saskatchewan, it's been on Henry Burris.

But they're the front men for the real story of this Calgary Stampeders season coming off Michael Feterik's ownership disaster - ending in a 4-14 season last year with Matt Dunigan as coach and general manager.

The story has been the new ownership group headed by Ted Hellard, John Forzani and Doug Mitchell.

They head the Stampeders' new ownership group and represent a return to Stampeder stability.

It all starts with stability. That's how it started when Normie Kwong, the ex-Eskimo who is now Alberta's Lieutenant Governor, took over in the S.O.S. (Save Our Stampeders) days of the franchise in the late '80s.

Kwong, at the time, made the statement:

"The problem with this franchise has been a lack of stability. All we have to do is look north to the Eskimos. They're the team we're always going to be compared to and they're the team which has set the example for everybody. What's the key to the success of the Eskimos? Stability!"

The F-Troop days of Fred Fateri and Michael Feterik was classic instability. You could make a case that, despite success on the field, the days of Larry Ryckman and Sig Gutsche ownership were more than a little shaky behind the scenes.

Hellard, Forzani and Mitchell represent a real run at finding the stability upon which success is based.

And take it from the franchise from the north, they're more than on the right track.

"What we've seen so far with the new ownership in Calgary is the beginning of a stability I haven't personally seen with the Stampeders going back to '82, when I was a member of the Eskimos board of directors and chairman of the '84 Edmonton Grey Cup committee," said Edmonton COO Rick LeLacheur.

"With the stability, the Stampeders are going to be a lot better organization and a lot better team on the football field.

"The best thing about the ownership is that they are people who are known in the community. Doug Mitchell is involved in everything in Calgary. Forzani has been around a long time. They are both identified with football. The new owners gave a lot of instant credibility."

Forzani is the founder and chairman of The Forzani Group, Canada's largest sporting goods retailer with sales over over $1 billion. He's the chairman.

Mitchell is the Calgary lawyer you remember as a former commissioner of the CFL who represents the Stampeders as governor.

Hellard is the founder and chairman of Critical Mass, a Calgary-based interactive marketing agency with revenues of about $40 million U.S. per year and clients including Mercedes Benz, NASA, Dell, Hyatt and even Pampers diapers. He's the president.

Forzani told the Calgary Herald last weekend that the club could actually turn a small profit this year.

"After the shenanigans that have gone on there the last five seasons, that's ahead of any projections we could have dreamed of," he told columnist George Johnson.

"When we took over the team we understood there would have to be further investment. What's been so heartening is to see the support we've received from the community. Our revenues are way up. We're happy with the football end of the operation. We're ecstatic with the business end."

Calgary won't totally be perceived as returning to the team they were - before Wally Buono was forced to flee - until they return to the playoffs, however.

Higgins and Burris have to get them there.

When they leave Commonwealth Stadium Friday night, the Stamps proceed to a steady diet of Eastern opposition for the rest of the month. The 4-6 Stamps (currently tied with the Saskatchewan Roughriders) visit Hamilton next week and then parade Ottawa, Montreal and Hamilton into a rare three consecutive games at McMahon Stadium. Calgary also has away games in Winnipeg and Saskatchewan before finishing up at home against the Eskimos.


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