1981 CFL season
East championsOttawa Rough Riders
West championsEdmonton Eskimos
69th Grey Cup
DateNovember 22, 1981
ChampionsEdmonton Eskimos
CFL seasons
← 1980
1982 →
Canadian Football League team locations: West, East

The 1981 CFL 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 authorized the CFL to have full authority over decisions, including the adoption of a full interlocking schedule for both divisions. All nine teams played each other twice, once home and once away, regardless of their affiliated division. Other than during the three seasons of the CFL's U.S. expansion era from 1993 to 1995, the League's teams played at least one game home and one away versus every other team in the League since the 1981 season; this continued until the 2021 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 who did not 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, which occurred in 2018.

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
Team GP W L T Pts PF PA Div Stk
Hamilton Tiger-Cats 16 11 4 1 23 414 335 6–0 W1 Details
Ottawa Rough Riders 16 5 11 0 10 306 446 3–3 L1 Details
Montreal Alouettes 16 3 13 0 6 267 518 2–4 W1 Details
Toronto Argonauts 16 2 14 0 4 241 506 1–5 L2 Details

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

CFL Leaders

1981 CFL All-Stars



Special teams

1981 Western All-Stars



Special teams

1981 Eastern All-Stars



Special teams

1981 CFL Awards


  1. ^ "CFLapedia".