With Grey Cup weekend upon us, I’ve been spending the last few days doing some research and updating to our Canadian Football League sections on the site. I tackled the BC Lions before moving on to the Calgary Stampeders, alphabetical order being how it is, but it was while working on the Stamps uniform history section that I discovered a forgotten uniform from the team’s history before they adopted the red-and-white that we all know them for.
See, back in the 1940s, two decades before Dean Griffing was outfitting his expansion Denver Broncos in the worst uniforms that club has ever seen, he was a player-coach up in Canada with various football clubs in the years just prior to the formation of the Canadian Football League.
After a brief stint with the Regina (now Saskatchewan) Roughriders and a season out in Toronto, Griffing headed west to Alberta where he started working with the recently formed Calgary Stampeders of the Western Interprovincial Football Union in 1945.
Prior to the Stampeders, Calgary was home to the Bronks (short for Broncos, a coincidence) had stopped playing in the WIPU in 1940 with the outbreak of the Second World War, the rest of the league quickly followed suit with their entire seasons cancelled for 1942, 1943, and 1944. The war finally came to an end in 1945, a little too late to start the season but not too late to stop the league from holding a quick playoff to determine a champion. When football returned to Calgary in the fall of 1945 it was with a new name, the Calgary Stampeders, the same name as the city’s successful senior hockey team of the time.
In a case of “some things never change”, before the Stampeders had even played their first game, Griffing was making news for, you guessed it, his team’s unusual uniforms.
“The latest story from the foothills”, began Scotty Melville in an October 1945 edition of the Regina Leader-Post, “says that the Stampeders are going to be the best-dressed team, not only in the west but in all Canada” in an overly sarcastic tone.
“It looks as if Dean Griffing has dipped into that $1500 presented to him by a Calgary patriot on the understanding that it be used only if needed”, Melville continued. “Get a load of the new uniforms, folks: gold jerseys, blue shoulders; gold pants with a blue stripe down the back; gold helmets and blue stockings”
The Stampeders first game both with the new name and uniforms was an exhibition tune-up before the playoffs against the Regina Roughriders on October 20, 1945, at Calgary’s old Mewata Stadium. It was the first pro football game in Calgary in five years and over 3500 fans showed up to watch their new canary gold-and-blue Stamps shut out the Riders 12-0.
“They’re brilliant!” exclaimed the Calgary Herald in an article following the game, more in reference to their brightness rather than as a compliment. In their coverage of the game, Griffing revealed that the club wouldn’t be wearing the uniforms again for their playoff opener at Regina… no, not because they were gaudy, but because they’d get “too dirty” in Regina’s Park de Young which featured an all-dirt-field; the “canary pants”, he added, might still make an appearance.
The Stamps would go on to beat the Riders in their two-game total-point home-and-home semi-final before they dropped the WIPU Final at a snowy game in Winnipeg on November 10, 1945.
Calgary kept the blue and gold set for their first two full regular seasons in 1946 and 1947 before Griffing left and with him the uniforms. Red-and-white was adopted in 1948, reportedly it was simply just the first set of uniforms the team could get their hands on quickly. In addition to the new colour scheme, the new uniform also included a series of alternating red and white stripes down each arm.
The Stamps immediately took their new look all the way to the first Grey Cup victory in team history. It’s amazing what a championship will do for deciding a team’s forever colour scheme, eh?
The Stamps fiddled with their helmets, bouncing back-and-forth between a white shell and a red one, never with a logo on the side until a white Baltimore Colts-style horseshoe was added to the side of their red helmet in 1960, not lasting long before being replaced with each player’s jersey number in 1962 until 1967.
It was in 1968 that the Stampeders first added the white charging horse silhouette logo to the side of their helmet, and while there had been subtle changes over the next five decades to the striping, the facemask, and the shape of the helmet itself one thing remained constant – that white horse.
This weekend the Stampeders will battle the Ottawa RedBlacks in Edmonton for the 2018 Grey Cup championship, on the 70th anniversary of the team adopting the red-and-white (and their first title) and on the 50th anniversary of them adding the horse to the helmet. What a fitting way to celebrate a couple of milestone birthdays for the franchise.