|1981 CFL season|
|East Champions||Ottawa Rough Riders|
|West Champions||Edmonton Eskimos|
|69th Grey Cup|
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.
The merger authorizes 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 have played at least one game home and one away versus every other team in the League since the 1981 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.
Note: GP = Games Played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PF = Points For, PA = Points Against, Pts = Points
|Winnipeg Blue Bombers||16||11||5||0||517||299||22|
|Ottawa Rough Riders||16||5||11||0||306||446||10|
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.
|November 8: Division Semifinals||November 15: Division Finals||November 22: 69th Grey Cup @ Olympic Stadium - Montreal, Quebec|
|East||E2||Ottawa Rough Riders||17|
|E3||Montreal Alouettes||16||E1||Hamilton Tiger-Cats||13|
|E2||Ottawa Rough Riders||20||E2||Ottawa Rough Riders||23|
|W3||BC Lions||15||W1||Edmonton Eskimos||22|
|W2||Winnipeg Blue Bombers||11|