The Edmonton Eskimos are back in business.
Ricky Ray finding a new way to win more than paid his way this day.
In an, er, running tab sort of way, Ray was full value for his half-million dollar a year salary in more ways than one as the Edmonton Eskimos scored a 31-28 over the B.C. Lions Saturday in Vancouver.
The win put the Eskimos in prime position to salvage a playoff position out of their otherwise obscene season.
The win also made the last two home games relevant and gave the team a chance to still make something out of a season in which they’re playing host to the Grey Cup.
It also potentially avoided a season-ticket sale crisis in the off-season.
That’s a lot.
“We’re trying to salvage a season,” said Ray Sunday as he sat at home watching the now 11-4 Calgary Stampeders 34-26 win in Regina, making 9-6 Saskatchewan the most likely team the Eskimos would face in a Western Semifinal if they can manage to make the match by having some success against Saskatchewan in two of the three games which remain.
“We haven’t looked very good as a football team most of the season. But we’ve been playing better the last month,” Ray said of the team which has won three of the last four since the team lobster feast with the $4,477 tab in Prince Edward Island and the bonding trip to the Maritimes for Touchdown Atlantic in Moncton.
“We’re still making some stupid mistakes. We’re not a real good team again yet. But we did what we needed to do to accomplish putting ourselves in the position we had to be in today. It’s now up to us to see what we can do with the opportunity we’ve given ourselves.
“We haven’t really been able to talk about a playoff position seriously until now.”
But suddenly, in mid-October, that’s now possible.
The win gave the Eskimos a tie for third with B.C. in the Western Conference standings and the season series. If the two teams finish tied for the final playoff spot, the Eskimos advance.
The remaining schedule is interesting.
The Eskimos have two games at home to the Lions one.
Edmonton has a home game and an away game left with Saskatchewan after losing 24-20 in Regina and winning 17-14 here earlier this year.
The other Eskimos home game is against Winnipeg. The Bombers, who lost 22-19 in Montreal to all but eliminate themselves from any hope of making it as a crossover club, have yet to win a game on the road.
The Lions are in Calgary Friday, at home to Saskatchewan the following week and complete the schedule in Hamilton.
If they’d lost in Vancouver Saturday night the Eskimos tragic number would have been one — any combination of one Eskimo loss or one Lions win and they’d have been eliminated.
That’s two totally different scenarios.
Saturday’s overtime victory in Vancouver was a big win in more than just the standings.
It also could have a very positive affect the bottom line for the Eskimos.
As bad as this season has been on the field it’s been a business bonanza.
You can give CEO Rick LeLacheur all the grief you want for making the mistake of giving Danny Maciocia the promotion to general manager, but the Eskimos with $110-million of improvements to Commonwealth Stadium are surviving the second coming of the 1960s quite well as a business.
With the Grey Cup game sold out before the first pre-season game, the organization is likely going to make about $5.3 million by the time the party is over.
But there’s now a chance to create another monster crowd for Saturday’s home game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Eskimo fans now have a reason to join the Rider pride people in the pews for a meaningful match.
Earlier this year the first visit by Saskatchewan produced a crowd of 47,829. Last year the two teams set a regular-season attendance record of 62,517.
Considering the shabby season they’d had, many might find it surprising that the Eskimos have a healthy league lead in average attendance. Edmonton sits at 34,949 going into Saturday’s Saskatchewan game. Next closest in average attendance is Calgary at 31,534 and Saskatchewan with 30,048.
But it’s next year’s numbers which are the big thing in play here. The Eskimos were likely to take one hell of a hit if they didn’t find a way to at least give their frustrated fans hope with a playoff game on a Grey Cup hosting year.
Now there’s hope. And if the season ends with the Eskimos doing something with that hope, all will be well that ends well.