Ranking the 15 Best CFL Franchises

Hey Dudes! Today we will look at the greatest franchises in CFL history. This is not a list of the most grey cup wins, the most HOFers or the highest attendance figures. This is instead a list of the most impactful CFL franchises in history.

15. Ottawa Renegades


Why did I include the Renegades? Pretty much just to fill my 15th spot. They were the second team to go to Ottawa and they never really left an impact. Of the notables that played in Ottawa during the Renegade years, I found only one major player, Kerry Joseph. Joseph threw for 10,000 yards as a Renegade but that was basically it. As a franchise, the Renegades never made a Grey Cup or even broke 0.500.

14. Memphis Mad Dogs


Wow, yes this was a team in the Canadian Football League. You would think that a requirement for a team to be in the CFL was to be Canadian. Memphis was a part of a failed 1995 expansion into the United States by the league. It’s tough to put them in the conversation of the greatest CFL franchises. However, this is a top 15 so I needed to fill some of the spots with junk teams. Well, at least they had Damon Allen as a starter.



13. San Antonio Texans

Again, what the heck were they thinking? Also known/unknown as the other Texans football team. I am just going to try to get through all the god-awful expansion teams without crying. But if I have to talk about these teams, then a couple people of note are:

  • Head Coach and Eskimo ring of honour recipient Kay Stephenson.
  • Former DB Malcolm Frank who had 5 interceptions for touchdowns in the 2004 season
  • 1977 NFL passing yards leader Joe Ferguson.

Even though I do like hating on the expansion teams, the Texans did, in fact, win 12 out of 18 games in their lone season.



12. Birmingham Barracudas

Okay, I promise that this is the last U.S. expansion team. So, I was wondering what the CFL boardroom looked and sounded like when someone said: “okay lets put a team in Alabama”. Well, the boardroom was probably ecstatic considering that it actually happened and so did 5 other failed U.S. teams. Birmingham did have a good quarterback in former cooking show host Matt Dunigan. No, I’m not kidding he hosted a cooking show (“noice”).  Joking aside, Dunigan was a great CFL  journeyman, TSN analyst and has been inducted into the CFL Hall-of-Fame. Funny enough, I  have written more about Dunigan than I could this team.


11. Ottawa Redblacks

Okay, this is where it finally gets interesting. The Redblacks are the newest team on this list, coming into the league in 2010. They have the most ridiculous name out of any of the teams on this list. Despite the name, they have won two championships in the 7 years that they have functioned as a franchise. It’s a good thing they did because they likely would have been another Renegades mishap and folded by now. They are unfortunately too young to actually move up in the rankings as a team, but in 10-15 years they might move into a top 5 spot.


10. B.C. Lions

The Leo’s have been in the CFL since 1954 and have been a staple in the western division. B.C. has had a great run under head coach Wally Buono starting in 2003. Wally has coached the Lions to a first-place western division finish 5 out of his 11-year tenure as the head man. Before the Buono era, the Lions had HOFer Damon Allen lead them to the franchises 4th Grey Cup. Allen has played for almost every CFL team on this list but had some significantly top-notch years in B.C. The Lions also had a couple great years after the end of the Warren Moon Eskimos but tended to fizzle out in other CFL eras.



9. Saskatchewan Roughriders


Also known as the watermelon-heads, pilsner drinkers, and plenty of unsavoury names by other fanbases, the Roughrider’s fans are as football crazy as you can get. The Roughriders joined the Canadian Football League’s Western Football Conference in 1961, but had limited playoff success — until 1966. That year, under the guidance of head coach Eagle Keys (yes, that’s a real name), Saskatchewan defeated the Ottawa Rough Riders for their first Grey Cup. The Roughriders remained one of the top teams in the CFL for the next decade, qualifying for the post-season in every year. Despite that level of sustained success, Saskatchewan couldn’t win another Grey Cup; the Roughriders lost in the league final in 1967, ’69, ’72 and ’76. Other than the 1989 grey cup the riders were pretty lean until the 2000s, Where they made the playoffs every year from 2002 through ’10. They reached the Grey Cup three times in that span, winning in 2007  and losing in 2009 and 2010 (both to the Als). Off the field, the Roughriders are considered the CFL’s flagship franchise due to their success in the areas of marketing, merchandise and attendance. 



8. Baltimore Stallions


Hah! You thought I was done with U.S. expansion teams. Well, I broke my promise and there’s nothing that you can do about it. The Stallions also came to be in 1994, but they only lasted until the end of the 1995 season. I did just talk about a few franchises that are very young to count as truly great franchises. However, Baltimore might be the winningest team in North American pro sports, winning 75% of their regular season games and five out of their six playoff games, the only loss coming in their first Grey Cup appearance. I mean, they were only a franchise for 2 years and they made the Grey Cup twice! Their team consisted of the great Head Coach Don Matthews, HOF QB Tracy Ham, HOF RB Mike Pringle and HOF pass rusher Elfrid Payton. For many readers, it will seem blasphemous to put the Stallions franchise ahead of the Roughriders, Lions or even the Redblacks. But, statistics, all-time players and Cups are what matters and the Baltimore Stallions have all three.



7. Calgary Stampeders


You’re probably saying: “Wow, the Stampeders are at number 7!?”. Hear me out. The Stampeders have been to 16 grey cups, winning 7 of them. A great accomplishment indeed, but most of those appearances and wins have come in the past 20 years. Most recently, In November 2017, the Stampeders lost to the Toronto Argonauts, 24–27, at the Grey Cup final in Ottawa. Basically, I’m attributing the thoughts about the Stampeders in most people’s mind to recency bias, rather than true greatness. The years prior to 1998 were mostly mediocre, however, they did have great players come through Calgary. Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie, Wayne Harris and many others have all called Calgary home.


6. Montreal Alouettes



The Als were a great team that played against the best team of the 70s in the Edmonton Eskimos and won 3 cups in the 70s. They then added 3 more in the 2000s with Quarterback Anthony Calvillo at the helm. I had real trouble placing the Alouettes on this list. The 1970s incarnation of the team played against the most dominant team in CFL history and went on to win 3 out of the 6 Grey Cups, all against the Eskimos. If that 70s team did not run into the Esks they would likely be in the conversation for top 3. In 1987 the franchise folded, due to financial problems. The team would come back in 1996 as a relocation of the Baltimore Stallions Franchise. It might seem harsh to say but I couldn’t put the Als any higher because of the folding. In my opinion, to be considered a top franchise, there needs to be a fanbase that wholeheartedly supports their team.



5. Ottawa Rough Riders


This ranking might come as a surprise to some, as I just spoke of longevity and now I’m talking about the Ottawa franchise that folds in 1996. The Ottawa Football Club was organized on September 20, 1876, where they won the first game they played on September 23 against the Aylmer Club at Jacques-Cartier Square. For much of the team’s history it played in the same league as the Saskatchewan Roughriders, confusing many, and also attracting general ridicule to the CFL for being a league with only eight or nine teams but two of them being named “rough riders”. The 1960s and 1970s were the Rough Riders’ glory years. With coach and general manager Frank Clair at the helm along with players Russ Jackson, Tom Clements, and Tony Gabriel, the Riders were one of the CFL’s best teams, winning the Grey Cup five times in that span and including their last victory in 1976. The Rough Riders’ very last appearance in the Grey Cup game was 1981 against the heavily favoured Edmonton Eskimos. 25 years later, following the 1996 season, years of poor ownership and mismanagement took a toll on the Rough Riders franchise that ultimately led to its folding after a storied 120 years.



4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats


Home to the CFL hall of fame, Hamilton’s CFL team was founded in 1950. They won it all twice that decade. then in the 1960’s the Ti-Cats made six trips to the Grey Cup and came away winners three times (1963, ’65 and ’67). They would later add a Cup in each of the next three decades, with the last coming in the final year of the 20th century. Since 1999 the Tabbies would make the playoffs only 7 out of 18 seasons and hitting an all-time low in 2003 with an embarrassing 1-17 record. So, why did I put the Tiger-Cats this high on the list? Well, they are 4th all-time in Grey Cup wins, with eight. As a market, Hamilton is small and their influence on the league is small, but, they still seem to put up great attendance figures and had a few great eras of football.



3. Winnipeg Bluebombers



The ‘peg is home of the Bombers. If there is a single statistic that best defines the Bombers, it is that between their very first and most recent Grey Cup victories, between 1935 and 1990 that is, no team made more trips to the Grey Cup than the Winnipeg Football Club’s 21 appearances. There have been 32 players over the club’s 80-year history that played 10 or more seasons in Winnipeg with a staggering 13 of them having played on the 1959 Grey Cup championship team. Following the retirement of the players from this central group, the period from 1966 to the early 1980s was a down time for the club as the powerful teams in Calgary, Saskatchewan and Edmonton took their turns in dominating the West. By the early 1980s however, the next great Blue Bomber clubs began to re-emerge. In the 13 years between 1982 and 1994, the team reached the Division Final 12 times. The Bombers made it to five Grey Cups between 1984 and 1993 winning three times. From the mid-1990s up to the present day, the Bombers have been led by stars such as receiver Milt Stegall. Off the field, the club has averaged more than 20,000 in attendance each and every year since 1971, and as a percentage of capacity, the Bombers’ attendance is probably unmatched elsewhere over the long run.



2. Toronto Argonauts



Michael “Pinball” Clemons, Damon Allen, Ricky Ray, Doug Flutie, Mike O’ Shea, Don Matthews. All of these players/coaches were with the Argos in the last 20 years, and all of them are in the CFL Hall-of-Fame. The Argos as a team have had multiple great eras of football. They have won the Grey Cup 17 times since 1914 (the most Grey Cups overall) with 8 of those wins coming after the 1958 merger. The Argos are probably the most important team in the league just due to the size of the Toronto market. At one point in time, John Candy and Wayne Gretzky were part-owners of the team. Giving the team an air of celebrity and stature in the league. In the end, the Argos are a great franchise and are well deserving of the 2nd spot.

1. Edmonton Eskimos



This pick comes with the bias of the Eskimos being my hometown team and my favourite team that I’ve been watching since I was eight years old. However, I can back it up.  The Esks have been in the CFL since 1949 and have been to the Grey Cup final 23 out of the 68 years that the franchise has been around. Since the Canadian Football League began in 1958, the Eskimos have won the most Grey Cup Championships (11) and have made the most Grey Cup appearances (19).  But this is not a list of the most Grey Cups by a franchise; it is a list of the best franchises in CFL history. On top of the Grey Cup wins, the list of Hall of Famers and great teams by the Eskimos is unparalleled. Warren Moon: CFL, NFL, 5-time Grey Cup Champion, and arguably the best QB in CFL history. Henry “Gizmo” Williams: likely the best returner of all-time and 2-time Grey Cup Champion. Normie Kwong: 4-time Grey Cup Champion, breaker of the barrier to Chinese immigrants in Canada, and Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. The list goes on. Edmonton’s franchise had 4 great eras of football. In the 1950s the Esks won 3 titles; from 1975-1982 the Eskimos won 6 championships, adding two more in 1987 and 1993, and finally 3 more in the 21st century. If that isn’t enough, the Eskimos have at least a 0.500 record in 55 out of their 68 CFL seasons. If those numbers cant convince you then I don’t know what will.


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