“I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” Matt Dunigan looks back at his one season as the QB for the Birmingham Barracudas

Even though the Birmingham Barracudas were only a member of the Canadian Football League (CFL) for one season, they managed to create an everlasting impact on the gridiron.

Scott Player was the punter for the Barracudas that season. After his lone season in the CFL, the punter would move on to the National Football League, where he played for ten seasons and was selected to a Pro Bowl. He was also the last player to wear a one-bar face mask on his helmet.

Birmingham was also home to a few players that would go on to lengthy careers in the CFL. A couple of players that would later end up in Saskatchewan were quarterback Reggie Slack and defensive end Shonte Peoples.

Despite being in the league for one season, three members of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame played with the Barracudas. Two players who ended their careers with the Roughriders before their induction, defensive back Eddie Davis and offensive lineman Fred Childress.

But the face of the Barracuda’s short history was quarterback and future hall of famer, Matt Dunigan. On Wednesday, to mark the anniversary of Birmingham being awarded a CFL franchise, the former quarterback now broadcaster, joined Michael Ball on the SportsCage to look back at the many memories the Barracudas created in a short amount of time.

Jack Pardee was the only head coach in Birmingham’s history. The longtime coach joined the Barracudas after coaching the Houston Oilers for five seasons. Dunigan said it was a daily pleasure listening to the stories that Pardee would tell his team.

“Waiting on him every day listening to his stories, because he would always give us one.” He added the team would thrive on the energy that Pardee brought to the locker room.

After stops in Edmonton, BC, Toronto and Winnipeg, the two-time Grey Cup champion was excited about the opportunity to help grow the Canadian game south of the border.

“I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was really excited about the opportunity to carry a torch and teach people about our game and hopefully turn them on to it and love it as much as I did.”

One of the most memorable games in the Barracuda’s history occurred on August 18, when Birmingham visited the Calgary Stampeders. Heading into the contest, the Stampeders were undefeated at 7-0 and led by quarterback Doug Flutie.

The Barracudas would defeat Calgary to end the Stampeders winning streak. The Stampeders also lost Flutie to an injury which paved the way for Jeff Garcia to make his debut in the CFL.

“Garcia was quarterback and I said who’s this guy?” recalled Dunigan. He added, “You think you might have a better chance if Flutie goes down and then he (Garcia) steps up, boy it was a dog fight and we were fortunate to get a win on the road against Calgary.”

The American teams including the Barracudas had one advantage over their Canadian counterparts. The franchises located south of the border did not have to abide by the ratio of Canadian players on their rosters as teams like Birmingham played with no Canadians on their rosters.

Dunigan felt that was a big mistake at the time and feels a modification of the ratio rule today in the CFL would be a big mistake.

“The Canadian talent is good as it has even been.”

The venture south of the border only lasted three seasons (1993-95), with the final game of an American team in the CFL taking place at Taylor Field in 1995 when the Baltimore Stallions defeated the Stampeders in the Grey Cup. Looking back, the former Barracuda quarterback believes that CFL expansion in the United States could have been an everlasting success. He felt the lack of a television deal was one of the reasons for the undoing of the American teams in the CFL.

He added one group that was not thrilled with the success of the CFL in the United States at the time was the NFL.

“They knew what was going on and they tried to throw every roadblock our way.”

With the CFL continuously exploring ways to grow the game, Dunigan believes there is a market for fans south of the border to enjoy the Canadian game.

“I can tell you this, the Americans love Canadian football. ”

 

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