Mike Pringle - Running Back - 1993-2004 - Cal State Fullerton
At the half-time of the CBC’s coverage of the 1997 Grey Cup there was a video recap of the top 5 hits from the 1997 season. 4 of the top hits understandably came from defensive or special team players tackling a player with the ball. The exception was of a running back with the ball completely running over a defensive back attempting to tackle him – an offensive tackle. That running back was Mike Pringle.
Arguably the greatest running back in Canadian football, Pringle without argument can lay claim as the greatest back statistically in league history. Mike was pure power and speed in a compact package. His intensity and drive were legendary in all his CFL stops; Edmonton, Sacramento and most notably Baltimore and Montreal.
Mike Pringle was a dominant force in college while at Cal State Fullerton the alma matter of CFL legends Damon Allen and Allen Pitts. Pringle held an NCAA record for yards in consecutive games for a number of years. Mike was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL in the 6th round of the 1990 draft. He was the last cut of the club in the 1991 season. Mike spent some time with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1992 but was released, then with the Sacramento Surge of the WLAF and then the Sacramento Gold Miners in 1993.
In 1994, Pringle joined the expansion Baltimore CFL Colts. As the feature back Mike exploded with one of the biggest breakout seasons in league history. With 1,972 yards he broke Willie Burden's rushing record that had stood for 19 years, he added 13 rushing touchdowns. Mike also added 814 receiving yards for good measure the highest total of his career. Mike was the focal point of the Baltimore
offence and the team went all the way to the Grey Cup in their first season. Only a last second field goal by Lui Passaglia prevented Baltimore from winning the 1994 Grey Cup. The team vowed to return.
Baltimore would capture the Grey Cup in 1995 and Mike was dominant once again. With 1,791 rushing yards to lead the league and 13 touchdowns Mike captured the leagues Most Outstanding Player award breaking up a streak of 3 in-a-row for quarterback Doug Flutie. Baltimore defeated Calgary in the Grey Cup in Regina in 1995 to become the first and only U.S. based club to win the Grey Cup. Baltimore along with all of the other U.S. expansion teams would fold prior to the 1996 season. The remnants of Baltimore would move to Montreal but Mike had NFL aspirations to fulfill.
Mike would sign with the Denver Broncos in 1996 he was a late training camp cut and he joined the Montreal Alouettes late in August that season. With Montreal, Mike would have his greatest success over the next 7 seasons. Pringle was consistently dominant year in and year out with Montreal. In 1998 Mike broke his own league record for rushing yards set in 1996 and became the first and only running back in league history to break 2,000 yards rushing with 2,065. Mike was named the leagues Most Outstanding Player for the second time in his career in 1998.
Mike continued his unmatched success into the new millennium teaming with all-purpose back Thomas Haskins to form a potent backfield. Montreal lost to B.C. in the 2000 Grey Cup. In 2002, with Don Matthews as coach Montreal brought in NFL cast-off Lawrence Phillips to compete with Pringle for the starting running back job. Phillips would get the starts and an eventual injury to Pringle meant he would miss the entire season. Montreal with Phillips would go on to capture the franchises first Grey Cup in 25 years with a victory over Edmonton. Pringle was forced to watch the victory – cherishing the accomplishment but wanting to be an active contributor.
Feeling less than enthused with the confidence Matthews and Montreal had in him Mike moved west to play with Edmonton in 2003 for former Montreal assistant Danny Maciocia then offensive co-ordinator of the Esks. Pringle had 2 productive seasons with Edmonton capturing a Grey Cup in 2003. In 2004, his final season, Mike broke George Reed’s record for career rushing yards and tied the league record with Reed for career touchdowns 137 (since surpassed by Milt Stegall).
Mike signed a 1 day contract with Montreal to retire prior to the 2005 season. Montreal honoured Mike’s #27. The number is displayed along with other Alouette greats at Molson Stadium. Mike led the league in rushing 6 times in his career. In 13 seasons he was a CFL all-star 7 times and he holds numerous rushing records.
Mike Pringle was an incredible performer – above all of his physical attributes it was his determination and dedication that has cemented his status as one of the all-time greatest players in CFL history.