The year was 2005. The Calgary Stampeders were coming off a 4-14 record in 2004, the worst record in franchise history, while combining for a 9-27 record during the ’03 and ’04 season. And to make matters worse, they were losing money. A lot of it. The owner at the time Michael Feterik took over the team in 2001, and it was all downhill from there. Long-time head coach Wally Buono resigned after many run ins with Feterik’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Fred Fateri. Piled on top of that was how bad the team actually was, hints of favouritism were shown as Michael’s son Kevin split reps at quarterback with Marcus Crandell, before Crandell took over for most of the ’04 season.
Matt Dunigan was a rookie head coach and general manager, took over for Wally Buono after his departure before he too was eventually replaced by veteran head coach Tom Higgins. Although Dunigan is a smart football mind, he had zero coaching experience at any level, let alone head coaching experience, and then to put him in the position of both head coach and general manager, wasn’t fair to him or the team.
There were a few bright spots though during those rough years, Joffrey Reynolds came out of no where to take the starting running back position, as well as 2004 CFL Rookie of the Year Nik Lewis, who posted spectacular number with over 1000 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns, but the Stamps were in major league shambles and needed financial help, as well as help on the field.
How Stampeders Ownership Made Calgary into a Model Franchise
That’s where help came in, as Feterik officially sold the Stampeders to a three headed ownership group of Ted Hellard, Doug Mitchell and John Forzani in January of 2005. Not only did Calgary turn their fortunes around on the field, but they started posting respectable numbers financially too. With the additions of head coach Tom Higgins, quarterback Henry Burris and receivers Jeremaine Copeland and Ken-Yon Rambo, the red and white started posting wins and putting more fans in seats. The Stamps finished 11-7, good for second in the West that season, but more importantly they were taking the necessary first steps back to respectability within the Canadian Football League.
Buying the Stampeders at the time by no means was a good business opportunity, but this ownership group took on the challenge of taking over the third oldest CFL franchise. Not only did they own the team, but Hellard was the club’s president, as well as managing partner of football operations. Forzani, a former Stampeder offensive lineman himself, was the co-chair and up until his death in October of 2014, was still a minority owner with Doug Mitchell after the team had been sold to Calgary Sports and Entertainment in 2012, while Mitchell was also on the CFL Board of Governors. The Stamps won the Grey Cup in 2008, and that was just the icing on the cake of a terrific job well done.
The three of them were instrumental in putting a good product back on the field and re-establishing the respect they lost within the CFL as well as Calgary. They left the Stampeders in good hands, so when the Flames purchased them they were able to take off running. Led by John Hufnagel the red and white reeled off four straight Western final appearances, with two trips to the Grey Cup. One of them ending in a 20-16 triumph over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Grey Cup 102. The fans of the team and league should thank the ownership group of Ted Hellard, John Forzani and Doug Mitchell, as they truly saved the Stampeders.