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Sports Alouettes franchise became a CFL powerhouse under former owner Wetenhall

16:45  07 september  2021
16:45  07 september  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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a man wearing a suit and tie: Robert Wetenhall died last Friday. He was believed to be 85 or 86. © Provided by The Gazette Robert Wetenhall died last Friday. He was believed to be 85 or 86.

Robert Wetenhall, who was instrumental in resurrecting the Alouettes franchise and turning it into a CFL dynasty, has died, the organization and league announced late Monday night.

Wetenhall died last Friday; the cause of death and other details were not provided. He was believed to be 85 or 86.

Born in Milwaukee, Wi., Wetenhall assumed ownership of the franchise in 1997 — one year after it relocated to Montreal from Baltimore — and ran the team until the end of May 2019, when, citing his age and some health concerns, he surrendered the franchise to the league in hopes of finding a new owner.

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The original Als franchise folded on the eve of the 1987 season and returned in ’96, owned by Jim Speros and Dr. Michael Gelfand. But the duo left a trail of unpaid debts that season, forcing the CFL to revoke the franchise and declare bankruptcy.

Wetenhall, an investment banker in New York and sports connoisseur, came to the franchise’s rescue, not only assuming ownership, but agreeing to pay all of the organization’s debts. Wetenhall previously had been a part owner of the AFL’s Boston Patriots and New England Patriots of the NFL. He also became involved with a North American Soccer League franchise in the 1970s.

With Larry Smith as president, general manager Jim Popp and such head coaches as Don Matthews and Marc Trestman — not to mention legendary quarterback Anthony Calvillo — the Als became one of the league’s flagship franchises, at one point announcing 105 consecutive sellouts at 23,500-seat Molson Stadium.

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Over an 11-year period between 1999 and 2010, the Als finished first in the East Division nine times, advanced to the Grey Cup on eight occasions and won three championships.

But the team went into a tailspin following Calvillo’s retirement in January 2014. The team missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, beginning in 2015 and, by 2018, most of the franchise’s day-to-day operations were being handled by Andrew, one of Wetenhall’s two sons.

Although the Als returned to the playoffs in 2019, season-ticket sales had plummeted to about 3,600.

a man and a dog walking on a field:  Montreal Alouettes owner Robert Wetenhall walks his dog Three across the field following practice at the Olympic Stadium in 2008. © John Mahoney Montreal Alouettes owner Robert Wetenhall walks his dog Three across the field following practice at the Olympic Stadium in 2008.

“Bob Wetenhall’s ownership of the Montreal Alouettes was a labour of love,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. “Bob was as charming and generous in private as he was successful and determined in public. Our league is grateful for his many contributions. The people in it are deeply saddened by news of his passing.”

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As news of Wetenhall’s death began circulating, tributes immediately began pouring in.

“Bob Wetenhall along with David Braley were true heroes of our league,” said Bob Young, owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. “Bob had a joie de vivre that brought optimism and happiness to everyone who knew him. I, and the CFL, just lost a great friend.”

“Bob touched so many and made us all feel so very welcome with each warm hug, handshake and his friendly demeanour,” said Matt Dunigan , a former CFL quarterback who now works for TSN as a commentator and analyst. “Bob treated the (TSN) panel with extra loving care and he’ll be missed dearly.”

Wetenhall was granted an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by McGill University in November 2011 in recognition of his work with the Als and the expansion of Molson Stadium. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

The CFL finally announced the sale of the franchise in January 2020 to Ontario steel magnates Sid Spiegel and Gary Stern. But the league announced in August of that year its season had been cancelled due to COVID-19 . Spiegel died last July , never having seen the Als play a game.

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