Debut victory helping to fill Birmingham's bandwagon


No promotional strategy beats winning, as the Birmingham Barracudas are discovering.

One of the Canadian Football League's two American expansion teams, the Barracudas opened with a stunning 38-10 victory at Winnipeg.

Although Hamilton whipped Birmingham, 31-13, last week, the Barracudas were drawing some notable interest as they prepared for their home opener against Hamilton last night.

After losing a USFL team and two teams from the World League, Birmingham is skeptical about another pro franchise in town, as the Barracudas' microscopic season ticket sales of 2,500 reflect. But since the Winnipeg victory, which was seen on Birmingham television, ticket sales have improved. The Barracudas drew an encouraging 31,185 for their home opener, a 51-28 victory over Hamilton.

"The phones have not stopped ringing since the Winnipeg game," Wright said. "All of a sudden, it became 'we' instead of 'you all' on the phone.

"People have a wait-and-see attitude down here. We need to expose people to the product, and winning is the best way to do it."

The Barracudas also were hoping that quarterback Matt Dunigan's first game would draw more fans to Legion Field. Dunigan, the team's marquee player, fractured his right index finger on June 11. He missed the first two games, as well as the Barracudas' two preseason games.

RB Hall spurs Hamilton revival

It's still early, but Hamilton qualifies as a CFL surprise. Coming off a 4-14 season, the Tiger-Cats were picked to finish in the second half of the Northern Division and were installed as a 20-1 choice to win the Grey Cup.

By breaking out to a 2-0 start, Hamilton is already halfway to last year's victory total.

The recovery of running back Kalin Hall is a major reason for Hamilton's early revival. After missing most of last season with torn ligaments in his knee, Hall came to training camp with lukewarm expectations. Not anymore.

In last week's 31-13 victory over Birmingham, Hall was everywhere. He rushed 12 times for 56 yards and a touchdown, and caught nine passes for 110 yards.

Quarterback Anthony Calvillo has been just as outstanding. Before suffering a concussion in the third quarter last week, he threw for 338 yards and two TDs.

Hamilton's defense, led by Eric Carter (13 tackles) and linebacker Mike O'Shea, allowed only 29 points in its first two games.

Ex-convict breaks with past

The defending Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions, who began their 1995 season with a 37-34 victory over Baltimore, have their share of good players. But one of the Lions' more compelling stories is backup offensive lineman Garry Sawatsky.

Sawatsky, 33, served 10 years for manslaughter in a Winnipeg prison, after stabbing a man to death in a bar fight. He was paroled 18 months ago, and a Lions team official discovered him in the spring of 1994 working out in a Vancouver gym. He accepted an invitation to the B.C. training camp, then spent last season on the practice roster.

l This year, Sawatsky, 6 feet 3, 295 pounds, made the team as a backup, although Canadian law restricts him from crossing the border to accompany the Lions to American games.

"He's turned his life around completely," said Roger Kelly, the team's director of media relations. "Among the kids at our community events, he's one of the most popular players. He's also the strongest guy on the team."

Stampeders' sale on hold again

The on-again, off-again sale of the Calgary Stampeders is on )) hold again.

Owner Larry Ryckman has been trying to finalize a $6.5 million deal with prospective buyer Sig Gutsche for the past month. But the sale has been held up by Gutsche's desire to stage four concerts a year at McMahon Stadium. City law prohibits concerts there, and the Calgary Herald reported that Gutsche has tried unsuccessfully to secure a noise bylaw exemption from the city council.

While negotiations continue, the Stampeders have decided to avoid another self-imposed deadline to announce the sale. A prudent move, considering the first two deadlines of June 29 and July 10 passed without a deal.

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