1981 CFL season

The 1981 Canadian Football League season is considered to be the 28th season in modern-day Canadian football, although it is officially the 24th Canadian Football League season.

CFL News in 1981

The Eastern and Western Football Conferences, which had carried on as separate and autonomous entities since the founding of the CFL in 1958, agreed to a full merger prior to the start of the 1981 season.

With the merger, the Eastern and Western Football Conferences were dissolved and renamed as the East and West Divisions.

The merger authorizes the CFL to have full authority over decisions, including the adoption of a full interlocking schedule for both divisions. Teams played each other twice, once home and once away, regardless of division. Other than during the CFL's U.S. expansion era of the mid-1990s, the League's teams have played at least one game home and one away versus every other team in the League since the 1981 season.

In addition, the merger set up the CFL Board of Governors and the CFL Management Council to replace the Executive Committee and the General Managers Committee. After the 1980 season, after owning the team for over ten years, Montreal Alouettes owner Sam Berger retired and sold the team to Nelson Skalbania, who brought in high priced NFL talent that couldn't adapt to the Canadian game, bringing a terrible losing season to Montreal (they did, however, make the playoffs due to the weak division that year), and with it, a loss of fan support, and he lost money and because of the high priced talent he bankrupted the team. So the team folded after the season, but a year later, a new team, the Montreal Concordes, owned by Expos owner Charles Bronfman, took over the team's players and history.

The East was so weak this season that the Calgary Stampeders, despite being the West's fifth place team, finished with a better record than the second place Ottawa Rough Riders. Ottawa nevertheless upset the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and qualified for the Grey Cup despite winning only five games in the regular season finishing seventh overall.

The ensuing controversy over having a 5-11 team playing in the Grey Cup played a large part in eventually persuading the league to implement a cross-over rule permitting a fourth place team in one division to qualify for the playoffs in place of a third place team in the other division with a weaker record. Nevertheless, the current rule makes no provision to allow a fifth place team to make the playoffs even if its record is better than that of the second place team in the other division, although as of 2015 that particular circumstance has not recurred since 1981.

Regular season standings

Final regular season standings

Note: GP = Games Played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PF = Points For, PA = Points Against, Pts = Points

West Division
Team GP W L T PF PA Pts
Edmonton Eskimos 16 14 1 1 576 277 29
Winnipeg Blue Bombers 16 11 5 0 517 299 22
BC Lions 16 10 6 0 438 377 20
Saskatchewan Roughriders 16 9 7 0 431 371 18
Calgary Stampeders 16 6 10 0 306 367 12
East Division
Team GP W L T PF PA Pts
Hamilton Tiger-Cats 16 11 4 1 414 335 23
Ottawa Rough Riders 16 5 11 0 306 446 10
Montreal Alouettes 16 3 13 0 267 518 6
Toronto Argonauts 16 2 14 0 241 506 4

Grey Cup playoffs

Main article: 69th Grey Cup

The Edmonton Eskimos are the 1981 Grey Cup champions, defeating the Ottawa Rough Riders, 26–23, at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Edmonton won their fourth-straight championship on a last second Dave Cutler field-goal. The Rough Riders' J.C. Watts (QB) was named the Grey Cup's Most Valuable Player on Offence and John Glassford (LB) was named the Grey Cup's Most Valuable Player on Defence. The Eskimos' Neil Lumsden (RB) was named Grey Cup's Most Valuable Canadian.

Playoff bracket

  November 8: Division Semifinals     November 15: Division Finals     November 29: 69th Grey Cup @ Olympic StadiumMontreal, Quebec
  East     E2  Ottawa Rough Riders 17  
  E3  Montreal Alouettes 16     E1  Hamilton Tiger-Cats 13    
  E2  Ottawa Rough Riders 20         E2  Ottawa Rough Riders 23
      W1  Edmonton Eskimos 26
  West     W3  BC Lions 16    
  W3  BC Lions 15     W1  Edmonton Eskimos 22  
  W2  Winnipeg Blue Bombers 11  

CFL Leaders

1981 CFL All-Stars



Special teams

1981 Western All-Stars



Special teams

1981 Eastern All-Stars



  • DT – Ecomet Burley, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • DT – Mike Raines, Ottawa Rough Riders
  • DE – Grover Covington, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • DE – Greg Marshall, Ottawa Rough Riders
  • LB – John Priestner, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • LB – Ben Zambiasi, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • LB – Carmelo Carteri, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • DB – Leroy Paul, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • DB – David Shaw, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • DB – Harold Woods, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • DB – Larry Brune, Ottawa Rough Riders
  • DB – Randy Rhino, Ottawa Rough Riders

Special teams

1981 CFL Awards


Preceded by
1980 CFL season
CFL seasons Succeeded by
1982 CFL season
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