Mike Pringle and Don Matthews won a Grey Cup together with the Baltimore Stallions in 1995. The pair reunited with the Montreal Alouettes in 2002, but it wasn’t the happy reunion that one might have anticipated.
“We always had not necessarily the best relationship,” Pringle said on TSN 690. “Never any arguments or anything like that. I don’t know what exactly was the issue, but I always knew that somebody had to be lobbying for me.”
In Baltimore, the person advocating on Pringle’s behalf was the team’s starting quarterback and future Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee Tracy Ham.
“Tracy Ham was one of my biggest cheerleaders and I’m so grateful for him because he’s the one that made me able to have the career that I had because he spoke up for me and he rooted for me and he lobbied for me when nobody else was doing those things,” Pringle said.
The Stallions moved to Montreal for the 1996 season but Matthews didn’t remain the head coach of the team. He won back-to-back Grey Cups as the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts in 1996 and 1997 before a two-year stint with Edmonton in 1999 and 2000.
The Alouettes were looking for a new head coach going into the 2002 season and ownership asked Pringle if he thought Matthews would be a good fit for the job.
“I have a real good relationship with Bob Wettenhall and I lobbied to get Don to Montreal. That’s what’s so funny about it — I actually lobbied for him. Mr. Wettenhall asked me what did I think about Don and I lobbied for him,” Pringle said.
Matthews arrived in Montreal wanting to replace the 34-year-old running back with former NCAA star Lawrence Phillips.
“For [Matthews] to come there and rally to get me up out of there, I thought was kind of strange. With that said, it didn’t matter. He came in, brought somebody with him that he wanted and I outplayed him,” Pringle said.
“I knew I had to compete against whoever they brought in there and I think I had a really good camp, but it didn’t happen in his (Matthews’) eyes. They made Lawrence the starter real fast.”
“I knew I was going to not be starting one of the preseason games. [Matthews] said I was going to be going in there in the second series and I said, ‘That’s fine.’ So I’m going in there in the second series and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m about to prove to him that I’m the best back around.’
“Not paying attention, I’m in the huddle and I look around and I’m like, ‘Who are these people?’ I’m looking at the offensive line and there’s no starters in there. I’m looking at the receivers and there’s no receivers in there. I’m looking at all the number twos and number threes in there and I’m in there with a quarterback that never played football and I was like, ‘I’d be damned.’
“I thought it was funny. I scored two touchdowns in that preseason game, too.”
Pringle played six games in 2002, rushing 39 times for 227 yards (5.8 yards per carry). Phillips recorded 187 carries for 1,022 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns as the team defeated Edmonton in the Grey Cup by a score of 25-16.
His 1,000-yard rookie CFL season did not launch Phillips to long-term success north of the border. Plagued by off-field issues throughout his life, he was released by Montreal in 2003 after being charged with sexual assault.
Phillips died on January 13, 2016 after hanging himself in prison. He was serving a 31-year prison sentence for felony assault with a deadly weapon, great bodily injury, false imprisonment, making a criminal threat, and auto theft. The 40-year-old had been charged with the first-degree murder of his cellmate, Damion Soward, four months prior.
In 2002, however, Matthews wanted to play Phillips over Pringle. Though the team captured a championship, it led to a fracture moving forward.
“I always had to stay on guard, but that’s part of football and I knew that,” Pringle said. “I never wanted the leave the field, I never wanted to have a bad game. I wanted to make sure that I was always the best out there because if I didn’t, coaches were looking to have somebody take my job.”
Pringle left Montreal after the 2002 season, signing with Edmonton. It was a tough decision, but paid off in spades as he rushed for another 2,517 yards and 21 touchdowns over his final two CFL seasons. Pringle even got to play Matthews and the Alouettes in the 2003 Grey Cup and won by a score of 34-22.
“I’m an Alouette to my heart … When we played [Montreal] in the Grey Cup, it wasn’t the best Grey Cup but it was the most satisfying. It wasn’t the best experience of my football career, but it was one of the most satisfying games of my entire career to be part of a team that beat the Montreal Alouettes because of the way that it happened.”
Though he took satisfaction in beating his old team, Pringle remains thankful that he was able to sign a one-day contract with the Alouettes in 2005 in order to officially retire with the team.
“That meant a lot to me because the fans there in Montreal were so gracious to me all the years that I was there. Not just to me but to my family and everything,” Pringle said.
“My daughter, she was born in Mississippi, but if you ask her today she would tell you that she is Canadian and she would tell you that she was born in Montreal. You guys treated me and my family great and the experience is something I wouldn’t change for the world.”