EDMONTON - It was like they were a crowd of 32,439 Jesse Lumsdens.
It was the first quarter of the first game of a highly hyped situation to start a new season and ... pffffftt.
It’s not every day you see a town so pumped up get so deflated by one game — a first game of a season — like happened to Edmonton with the empty effort by the Eskimos in the 25-10 lid-lifter loss Sunday against the B.C. Lions.
The fans, who had sold out a Grey Cup game in an exciting new environment with more than $110 million in improvements in and around Commonwealth Stadium, returned to being exasperated five minutes into the first quarter of the first game.
You can wrap a package with pretty paper and decorate it with ribbons and bows but when you open it and you discover it’s empty inside, you can understand the feeling.
You almost wonder if anybody involved understands it was much more than just one loss — the lack of emotion, passion and maybe more than anything the lack of any evidence of any intention to go vertical and become a go-for-the-gusto aggressive and entertaining team again.
Edmonton fans sat through the world’s most boring preseason game with the coaching staff insulting them by saying they gave zero consideration to entertaining anybody. Then, in the opener, the Eskimos didn’t produce a single big play. Two penalties and a sack turned what should have been a touchdown into a 55-minute air-out-of-their-tires rocky ride.
Head coach Richie Hall, after practice Friday, said he understands the effect it had on Edmonton.
“It’s about playing with emotion and passion and being mentally prepared,” he said. “That’s where our shortcomings were.”
So how did that happen?
“I wish I could answer that,” said Hall.
“We sat down for a day and a half trying to come up with that answer,” he said of the coaching staff. “With everything going on around here with the Grey Cup and the stadium and the belief that we’re getting to where we want to be with this team, maybe we forgot to go out there and earn a game. Maybe we thought we were a good football team and everything would look after itself. The fact is that we were a 9-9 team last year and lost our playoff game. We were an average team.”
Ricky Ray said the team feels the same way as the town.
“We’re just as down as the fans. We’re feeling what they’re feeling,” said the quarterback. “There was definitely a great feeling with all the things happening at the stadium and with a lot of guys coming back from last year and everything. It was a real let down for us, too. We had a good training camp but then the first game comes and ...
“We can’t beat ourselves. It’s hard enough to win trying to beat the other teams without having to beat yourselves, too. We need more of a killer instinct and to go out there and not try to be too perfect. When you try to be perfect you play tentative. First and foremost we need to go out there and play hard. We need more energy,” said Ray.
“And we need the big play. The CFL is big plays and turnovers. If you want to win in the CFL you have to have the big plays and win the turnovers. We lost both.”
Receiver Kamau Peterson said he understands the fans looking at the weapons on offence are expecting the return of big-play football to town.
“Six years ago when Ricky Ray was going deep all the time, the other teams in this league put in coverages because he was so accurate. The ‘Cover 4’ defences in this league were put in for Ricky Ray.
“There’s no way they’re going to keep us stymied that long with the offence we have this year. A lot of what happened against B.C. was because Aaron Fiacconi was out,” he said of the offensive lineman.
“It was definitely deflating.”
But are there enough tire pumps in town to get everybody pumped up again over there on Stadium Road to be able to beat the Grey Cup champions this Sunday?