Noose is loose for Esks

Eskimos' quarterback Jason Maas gets his eyes examined by Dr. Brent Saik during the veterans'...

Eskimos' quarterback Jason Maas gets his eyes examined by Dr. Brent Saik during the veterans' medicals at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday. (Perry Mah/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Usually, the pressure begins on the first day of training camp then builds until it strangles you.

From the first day of camp the story is about the pressure on the team from the Grey Cup host city having to get to the game. Then the team gets a little more uptight with every day during the season as the noose tightens around their necks until the team eventually expires and has to make way for a hated rival to take over their dressing room for the big game in their own stadium.

Happens every year.

Happened last year to the Calgary Stampeders.

Veteran defensive leader Dario Romero has been around the league long enough to have seen it again and again. But as the Edmonton Eskimos main camp opened with medicals Saturday he said all that's for later not now.

“That pressure will be there at playoff time. We'll have to deal with it then. When we get toward the end of the season the urgency and the pressure will definitely be there.

“But right now it's exciting. We could be playing a Grey Cup at home. We're all coming in excited. It would be awesome to play a Grey Cup at home, especially with everything going on around here this year.”

If you're looking to find people who feel pressure to get to the Grey Cup right now, Romaro says don't look to the employees, look to the employers who have the game sold out before the season even starts.

“The urgency is upstairs to make sure we have a good team because we are hosting. But there's an excitement there too because finally there aren't wholesale changes and the ones they've made are good ones. I'm excited to get the season going to see what kind of team we have. All that other stuff can wait for later.”

Only one team has won a Grey Cup game at home since the Eskimos began their five-in-a-row run in 1978 — the B.C. Lions in Vancouver in the 1994 Grey Cup.

Only four other times in that span has a Grey Cup host city team even managed to get to the game — Montreal losing it in 2008, Edmonton in 2002, Vancouver in 1983 and Toronto in 1992.

Only two players — quarterbacks Ricky Ray and Jason Maas — were members of that team when the Eskimos lost the 2002 game in Commonwealth Stadium to the Als on head coach Tom Higgins decision to try a fake field goal.

“There's a lot of added pressure having it here,” said Ray. “You can't pretend it doesn't exist. The fans are going to be talking about it, the media is going to be talking about it and you are going to be reminded about it every day throughout the whole year.

“But to me it's good pressure. I mean you want to be there. You can look at it as negative pressure in a lot of years for a lot of host teams but here this year I think it's real positive pressure.

“It was different for me in 2002 because it was my first year and I didn't know what it was all about. The team had lost the Western Final the year before and felt they should have won that game. That Eskimos' team year was on a mission.

“And the expectations were much higher. It's different this year. We haven't really been knocking on the door since we won those Grey Cups in 2003 and 2005. When I first came into the league if you didn't win the Grey Cup in Edmonton it was a bad year. We haven't been contenders like we want to be lately. Hopefully this is the year to get back to having consistently high expectations.

“Players arriving to camp can feel the super excitement. You can tell how excited the fans are.”

For Ray personally he had the chance to win a Grey Cup at home in his first year. Now he wonders if it will be his last chance.

“Home Grey Cup games don't come your way that often. Who knows if I'll still be playing the next time Edmonton will be playing host to the Grey Cup.”

Mass is probably in his last season before becoming a coach here. And he sounds like a coach in talking about dealing with the pressures involved.

“What we do is address it at the beginning of camp and then don't talk about it the rest of the year.

“I think we just need to let the excitement that's already around the city build and let it help carry us. We just have to look at the facilities they're building and everything around us and come together as part of it and make it the ultimate year,” said Maas of the more than $100 million in improvements with a new state-of-the-art dressing room, FieldTurf, field house, offices, meeting rooms, etc. which will be the envy of most NFL teams.

“With all of that and the Grey Cup sellout before the season even starts, everything just adds to the journey. We can use all that to make it one whale of a year here.”

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos