The Baltimore Stallions celebrated their Grey Cup championship Sunday night in the West Village Commons Building at Towson University.
It had been 20 years in the making.
The Stallions spent two years in Baltimore — 1994 and 1995 — winning the Canadian Football League title in their second season, but left before the Ravens arrived in 1996. The team never had a chance to commemorate their championship victory with the city to which they brought the title.
The team's 20-year reunion on Sunday was the first time many of them had seen each other since the days after the 1995 Grey Cup. Star defensive end Elfrid Payton said they "really didn't have closure.
"Tonight can serve as that," said Payton, who recorded 18 sacks in 1995. "We have an opportunity to get back to a reunion type thing. The sad thing is we don't have everybody."
Twenty players from the Stallions' short stint in Baltimore made it to the reunion in addition to former coaches, equipment managers and cheerleaders. After the players were introduced before dinner, others in attendance gave them a standing ovation as Queen's "We are the champions" played.
Former general manager Jim Popp, who now holds the position for the Montreal Alouettes — the team the Stallions became after leaving Baltimore — has won three Grey Cups since 1995. He experienced the parties in Montreal after the victories and said each left him thinking about what the Stallions missed.
"Knowing in Montreal when we won a Grey Cup, the parades we have had have garnished more than 300,000 people coming out in the streets just like the Ravens have," Popp said. "It probably wouldn't have been any size like that, but to have a big party and build off that for another year would have been special."
Despite playing just two seasons, the Stallions left their mark on the record books. Their 18 victories in 1995 are the most ever by a CFL team. They are the only American-based CFL team to win a Grey Cup. And they sent three players and their head coach to the CFL Hall of Fame.
"This team never truly got the sendoff that it should of," owner Jim Speros said before listing the team's noteworthy accomplishments. "It's the greatest team that ever played."
Speros urged those in attendance to use Sunday night as a chance to celebrate what they achieved. For some, the reunion had started the previous night at the hotel where many former Stallions stayed.
Running back Mike Pringle, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008, said some former players gathered in the hotel lobby for about six hours Saturday night.
"We were talking all football. It was football all night," Pringle said. "We talked about all the crazy things we did off the field; all of the success that we had on the field; all of the talent that was there. How we dominated teams."
Pringle had been in Baltimore for Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis' final game at M&T Bank Stadium 2013. For others like kicker Carlos Huerta, who lives in Las Vegas, it was just his second time back since the Grey Cup.
About 10 years ago he brought his son to Baltimore on a family vacation and showed him the Inner Harbor. This time, Huerta tried to relive some of his past activities. He used to live in Towson and did his workouts in the area.
"I did my old run," Huerta said. "I've driven down Charles Street. It's just really neat."
Despite the lighthearted atmosphere at the reunion, the Stallions were left with a sour taste in their mouth 20 years earlier. Huerta recalled Pringle putting name tags of Cleveland Browns players on the Stallions' lockers in the last week of the season and telling his teammates they wouldn't be there.
"At the time, we felt like we started something and somebody got to end it," Huerta said.
The Stallions led the CFL in attendance in their first season by an average of more than 7,000 fans. Popp said outsiders started to take notice of the city's passion for football.
"It showed the people looking from the outside, 'We better get back in there because it's silly that this city doesn't have something.'" Popp said.
Art Modell capitalized by moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. The Ravens have since won two Super Bowl championships — one with senior advisor to player development O.J. Brigance, who also won the title with the Stallions and led the team in prayer Sunday night — but there is no doubt in the Stallions' minds what allowed the Ravens to come to the city.
"Baltimore ultimately got what they wanted," Speros said. "They got the NFL. But it would've never happened without this Baltimore Stallion football team."