Pictured Above: Milwaukee
County Stadium in
football mode in 1994.
Just a few weeks
after Brett Favre made a frantic headfirst dive into the County
Stadium endzone to beat the Atlanta
Falcons and close the book on the Packers playing in Milwaukee,
there was talk – serious talk – of a team relocating to Milwaukee
to replace the departed Packers and keep the Cream City
in the pro football business. Of course, no NFL team would be willing (or
allowed) to encroach on Packerland, but the Canadian Football League (CFL) was
more than willing – eager even – to plant their flag in Milwaukee.
writing was on the wall for Milwaukee NFL football by the early 1990s. With
expansions planned at Lambeau Field – including the addition of nearly 100 new
private boxes – it no longer made financial sense for the Packers to continue
their 60-plus year tradition of playing a portion of their home schedule in Milwaukee. The timing was
lousy in more ways than one for Milwaukee.
The Packers had finally reached the end of their quarter-century post-Lombardi
slump and were about to begin an equally-long run of success. The departure also
dealt a financial blow to the Brewers and ensured that the Packers would not
play a role in their quest for a new publically-financed stadium.
Pictured Above: Brett Favre celebrates after scoring the winning touchdown in the Packers’
final game in Milwaukee.
while the NFL regarded the Packers shift as a move in the right direction for
one of the league’s landmark franchises, the CFL saw it as an opportunity. An
exclusively-Canadian enterprise since its founding in 1958, the CFL limped into
the 1990s nearing financial disaster. Nearly every one of the league’s teams
were having money troubles by 1993, when CFL officials embraced the idea of
expansion into the US
marketplace as a summertime pro football league as a potential saving grace.
In 1993, the league expanded into Sacramento and, in 1994, added franchises in Shreveport, Las Vegas, and Baltimore. The Baltimore franchise –
unofficially branded as the reborn Baltimore Colts –
were by far the most successful of the American teams, averaging over 37,000
fans per game. The Las Vegas Posse, on the other hand, was a failure in all
respects. They drew fewer than 10,000 fans per game – including a low
attendance of just over 2,300. They finished the season with a record of 5-13
and were so financially strapped that they were forced to hold team practices
in the parking lot of the Riviera Hotel. By the end of the season, the
franchise was looking for a new home.
estate developer Marvin Fishman began making phone calls. Fishman had been
among the original owners of the Milwaukee Bucks and had tried to win an
American Football League franchise for Milwaukee
in 1965. He loved the idea of introducing Canadian football to Milwaukee
and CFL officials were similarly excited about the idea of moving into the Cream City.
Milwaukee had a built-in and eager fanbase
cultivated by the Packers and a high-capacity facility in County Stadium.
Just after the new year, the Milwaukee Journal reported that the only thing
standing in the way of Milwaukee
joining the CFL was the seemingly pedestrian finalization of a lease between
the new team and the Brewers. Fishman, who was poised to become a partner with
the existing Posse ownership, prepared to announce the move.
it was not quite so simple as that. For one thing, Milwaukee was a poor fit for Canadian football.
Literally. While the standard NFL playing field of 120 yards just fit onto the
grass at County Stadium, the 150 yard-long CFL field
would have required major renovations to the bleachers. But CFL backers were
confident that a waiver from the league could allow a Milwaukee franchise to play on a smaller-than-regulation
Fishman had overestimated the Brewers’ interest in sharing their home with a
CFL team. He had hoped that the Brewers might require only a token yearly lease
payment – something along the lines of $1 per year – in order to take in the
additional concession and parking money from nine CFL home games per year. But
the Brewers did not see it that way. Packers games had been regular sell-outs
and provided excellent concession revenues during the off-season. But the CFL
season ran July to November, meaning the Brewers would have to deal with the
bi-weekly wear and tear to the field for most of the summer and could
potentially lose out on lucrative weekend home series (CFL games were played on
Saturdays) to accommodate the football club. And looking to the future, the
Brewers wanted as few complications as possible with their plans for a new
baseball-only facility – one that would likely mean the demolition of County Stadium.
If a CFL team called the stadium home, an argument could be made for keeping it
standing after the Brewers left, possibly upsetting plans to built a new
ballpark near the present stadium site. The Brewers countered Fishman’s request
for free rent by asking for more than $40,000 per game in rent – a figure that
the Posse group could not hope to pay.
Pictured Above: CFL commissioner Larry Smith, who championed Milwaukee County Stadium as a site for CFL
relocation or expansion, even though the Canadian rules field would not fit on
its playing surface.
the spring of 1995, with the Packers gone and the Brewers out on strike, talk
lingered of the CFL in Milwaukee,
either through expansion or relocation. The Shreveport
Pirates – coached by former Packers head coach Forrest Gregg – were rumored to
looking at Milwaukee,
as were the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That August, CFL commissioner Larry Smith
toured County Stadium and proclaimed it a perfect site
for CFL football. “It’s a fantastic market that already has a football
tradition,” he said in a press conference in the stadium parking lot.
as he spoke, the CFL’s American experiment was already doomed. The Las Vegas
Posse, unable to find a suitable home after the Milwaukee deal fell apart, had
moved their operations to Miami and planned to rejoin the league in 1996. But
the 1995 season – in which the CFL featured five American teams, including new
franchises in Birmingham and Memphis – would be the last for the CFL in
US. Admitting that American interest in the Canadian version of the game was
too sparse, the league retreated north of the border for the 1996 season and
has since remained there. The 1994 Packers-Falcons thriller remains the last
pro football game played in Milwaukee.
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