Kick 'em when they're down

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

Tom Higgins knows that sinking feeling. In 2004, then head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, Higgins narrowly averted sailing the CFL's flagship franchise onto the rocks for the first time since 1971.

Now the Calgary Stampeders boss, whose club handed the Eskies their seventh loss of the season Monday, says he can empathize with his former organization.

With a 3-7 record, last in the West, the Eskimos and head coach Danny Maciocia face the bleak possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time since before most of its players were born.

The Stamps on Labour Day ratcheted up the tension at the provincial capital, a feeling Higgins remembers.

"No matter what you say, there is a little bit of pressure within that organization and it seems like it's built-in, with such high expectations year in and year out," said Higgins yesterday, still basking in his team's 44-23 Labour Day win.

"To have just won the Grey Cup (in 2005) and to not have the strong start to the year that they were looking for... it's tough. I know the pressure's there and it's mounting and (will be) tougher playing at home Friday."

In '04, Higgins' Eskimos dropped three straight late-season games to fall to 7-8, sparking panic the club's unparalleled playoff streak would be snuffed out. Wins in two of the final three contests ensured a berth in the West semifinal, although a 14-6 loss to Saskatchewan signalled Higgins' demise.

Now the Stampeders, by claiming the rematch Friday in Edmonton, can almost ensure the Green and Gold's playoff run of 34 years -- a North American professional sports record -- is over.

The Esks already trail the third-place Saskatchewan Roughriders by six points. A crossover into the East is also a tough proposition, with the Esks still four points behind the third-place Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who they would need to pass in the standings.

"It would be a devastating blow to not only the team but the City of Champions," suggested Stamps d-lineman Rahim Abdullah, a former Eskimo (2002-04).

"(Esks CEO) Hugh Campbell would not like that at all ... It wouldn't go down well with the players, the organization, the front office or definitely not with the fans."

The 7-3 Stampeders, enjoying a four-game win streak, have visions of catching the 8-3 B.C. Lions for a chance to finish first. It would also avert a repeat of last November's semifinal loss to the Esks.

"We don't want to miss an opportunity to put Edmonton out," Abdullah said. "If you miss that, it's a huge mistake because if you see them again in the playoffs, if they get their attitude back to being the old Edmonton Eskimos, they can go out and beat you and all you have left are 'what ifs.' "

Abdullah recalls the pressure in Edmonton two seasons ago when the team avoided missing the playoffs.

"You don't want to be the guys on our watch who missed the playoffs," he said.

"I'm pretty sure that's what's going on in those guys' minds now, too."


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