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How do the Alouettes maintain high level of success?

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Paul Hoogkamp - TSN.ca
10/6/2009 2:06:16 AM
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Another year, another East Division regular season title for the Montreal Alouettes.

Last Saturday, the Alouettes clinched a playoff berth with a 27-8 dismantling of the struggling Toronto Argonauts. With five weeks remaining, the Alouettes can now prepare to host the East Final.

In the last 11 years, the Alouettes have finished first in the East Divsion eight times and have never missed the playoffs. Yes, they have only managed to win one Grey Cup over that span but their consistency from July to October is unparalleled.

While no one will mistake this year's edition of the East Division as a powerhouse, one cannot dismiss the consistent year-over-year regular season success of the Montreal franchise since the mid 90's. So how do they continue to set the standard by which all CFL organizations are measured?

Many point to 1996 as the beginning of the renaissance of football, not just in Montreal but the entire province of Quebec. That was the year the Baltimore Stallions picked up stakes and moved north to Montreal and the Alouettes franchise was reborn.

The following year, American investment banker Robert Wetenhall bought the struggling franchise and named former Alouettes' player and CFL Commissioner Larry Smith as president and CEO.

"He brought a breath of fresh air in terms of his financial capacity," Smith told the Calgary Herald. The pieces were falling into place.

In November of that year, the Alouettes were forced to move their playoff game to Percival Molson Stadium because the cavernous Olympic Stadium had been booked for a concert by Irish rock band, U2. The move turned out to be a stroke of genius as the crowds grew by leaps and bounds at the smaller venue in downtown Montreal. 

So Weternhall walked into a good situation but he has had the Midas touch since his arrival in Montreal. And he has had some help along the way.

When the Stallions moved north, general manager Jim Popp followed the franchise and was retained by Wetenhall and Smith. It would be a wise decision as Popp's ability to find both American and Canadian talent has enabled the Alouettes to reload each year.

The list of talented players Popp has selected over the years in the Canadian College Draft includes future Hall of Famer Ben Cahoon, Etienne Boulay, Bryan Chiu, Scott Flory and Matthieu Proulx.

However, his toughest job may yet lie ahead as quarterback Anthony Calvillo, another future Hall of Famer, is 37-years-old and the time to find an heir behind centre is running out.

Not only can Popp find talented players, he also has a knack for finding winning coaches. From Dave Ritchie to Charlie Taaffe to Don Matthews to Marc Trestman, the Alouettes have enjoyed a wealth of riches on the sidelines.

Taaffe won the Annis Stukus Trophy twice as CFL Coach of the Year, Matthews won it once and Ritchie won it as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. And Trestman appears destined to be honoured in the near future.

And then there's the players.

When the team moved from Baltimore to Montreal, Hall of Famer Mike Pringle came along for the ride. And in 1999, Pringle became the first player to break the 2,000-yard mark in rushing, finishing the season with 2,065 yards. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame last year.

After struggling for the three seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Calvillo began his career with the Alouettes in 1998 and has never looked back. He has thrown for more 5,000 yards five times, including a career-high 6,041 yards in 2004.

That same year, the Alouettes selected Cahoon in the first round of the draft. The BYU product has caught over 90 passes five times in his 12-year career and is on his way to eclipsing that mark again this season.

In 1997, current CFL on TSN analyst Jock Climie was awarded the Lew Hayman Trophy as the top Canadian player in the CFL's East Division.

And the list goes on and on.

So you can see the Alouettes have been clicking on all cylinders for many years in the regular season. But which area of strength is most key to their success in the last decade? Is it Wetenhall's stable ownership? Or Popp's ability to find talent? What about the long line of winning coaches? And, of course, the players have gotten it done on the field.

Let us know your thoughts in our Your Call feature and vote in our poll.

Anthony Calvillo  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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