The personalities and backgrounds of the three keynote owners were the reason the city's football faithful embraced the new group so eagerly. Forzani, a member of the Stampeders' 1971 Grey Cup-winning team, thinks and talks football. He grew up in Calgary; his first job was selling the Calgary Herald. When his playing career was done, he took a single sporting-goods store and turned it into The Forzani Group, the largest sports retailer in the country.
Hellard grew up here and sold peanuts at the Calgary Stampede for his first job. He played basketball at the University of Calgary and taught school for two years but his restless nature led him to his biggest success, Critical Mass, an Internet marketing company with a blue-ribbon client base (Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Dell, Anheuser-Busch).
Mitchell, whose first job was stocking shelves at a downtown Zellers store, has a litany of sporting accomplishments, from serving as the Calgary Flames' legal counsel to being CFL commissioner (1984-88) to establishing the BLG Awards for the nation's top university athletes. Mitchell also had control of $1-million from Ted Turner's failed bid to stage the 2005 Goodwill Winter Games in Calgary. Mitchell had a forfeiture clause written into the deal if the Games were scuttled and ticketed the money for a community project.
Individually, Forzani is the seasoned operator who chairs the owners' quarterly meetings, Hellard is the gung-ho, thank-god-it's-Monday enthusiast while Mitchell is the prime negotiator. Collectively, it's a power trio amped by the sum of its parts with Hellard being the most visible given he was with the club on a daily basis for two years.
The owners insisted on having Hellard on-site so he could re-energize the staff and hold them accountable. He asked people to think outside the norm and helped Forzani come up with a 100-day plan to address the problems created by Feterik. They held ticket prices for the first year and cut back on the 5,000 complimentary tickets that were being given out under Feterik. They also brought back two familiar faces: Jim Barker, hired and fired by the old regime, was rehired as general manager; Stan Schwartz, the former club president, was appointed executive vice-president. Barker helped sign free-agent quarterback Henry Burris and trade for receiver Jeremaine Copeland; Schwartz cultivated those eager to once again do business with the Stampeders.
"To be honest, this is a very basic business - win games, sell tickets, facilitate your corporate relationships and entertain fans," Schwartz says. "The owners had instant credibility. That's what made this work right away."
Adds Barker, now the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts: "[The Calgary owners]ran it the way they run their businesses. The only agenda was to win the Grey Cup."
Hellard's presence ruffled some feathers. He took in every practice, stood along the sidelines during games, involved himself in league affairs. But once John Hufnagel was appointed coach - and Scott Ackles, and now Lyle Bauer, took charge of the business operations - Hellard relaxed and withdrew into the background.
"We were starting from a collapsed entity," Hellard explains. "When I get something built, I kind of lose interest. I'm not a maintenance guy - not that we're there yet. We still want a more stable representation in the community."
Sapunjis, the former Stampeders slotback, sees Hellard as "a perfectionist," Forzani as "a great chairperson" and Mitchell "as our diplomat." That doesn't mean the Stampeders' ownership has been devoid of miscues. Its handling of coach Tom Higgins's dismissal was all thumbs. Even before the 2007 West Division semi-final in Regina, it was rumoured (but never addressed) that Higgins would be ousted in favour of a waiting Hufnagel. When the Stampeders lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Higgins was indeed dumped.
"That was a mistake," Sapunjis says of how the news of Higgins's impending departure became known. Still, all was forgiven when the Stampeders won the Grey Cup led by Burris, running back Joffrey Reynolds and Hufnagel, who was voted 2008 coach of the year.