Classic game a wild affair

, Last Updated: 11:02 PM ET

With apologies to Spinal Tap, moviedom's legendary mega-rock band, the Calgary Stampeders' volume can't be cranked up to 11.

Ten's the hair-raising intensity limit for any team, including the men in Red and White. Emotional fans urging the club to "turn it up a notch" to foil the hated Eskies in the fabled Labour Day Classic are way off the mark.

Players who have lived through one of the CFL's most lively battles point out the ferocity of the athletes has physical limits, although emotions often induce combatants to blow their tops.

Case in point was the helmet-swinging brawl of two years ago. Even last season, with the Stampeders banished from the playoff race before September, tempers were running hot on Labour Day. Tackle Jeff Pilon concedes the men sweating it out on the plastic grass can blow an emotional gasket in a hyped-to-the-hilt contest of this magnitude.

"Once you get into the game, you can feel it -- that energy, that flow that starts to happen," said Pilon, gearing up for his fifth Classic. "You can hear the crowd. It's great.

"It's not about the hype, it's the emotion and when you're in an intense game, the emotions sometimes get the best of people and stuff happens. This game is a really emotional game and there's a lot of testosterone on the field. When you have 24 men trying to be bigger, faster, stronger than the man in front of him, then the emotion of the game gets going, things are going to happen. Nobody says beforehand that we're going to fight in this game or that this or that is going to happen, it's part of the emotion of being a pro football player."

"It's just the whole atmosphere. That's what the fans get involved -- hating the Eskimos and the T-shirts that say 'Eskimos Suck.' They get extra hyped up for the game.

"In 2003 the helmet swinging brawl right in the middle of the field with coaches coming across -- that's pretty memorable. Last year, we had to hold guys back. It was a pretty wild game, too."

As for methodically turning up the dial for larger-than-life games like tomorrow's clash with the Eskimos, head coach Tom Higgins said it's a myth. That, or players were competing beneath their maximum output levels the first nine games of the CFL season.

Higgins was introduced to the Labour Day Classic as a Stampeders assistant in the mid-1980s and tasted the hatred the last few years as the Eskimos boss. He'll be working tomorrow to keep his players turned up to 10 and no higher.

"You crank it up too many notches -- people use that term -- you get to a point where you can't perform," Higgins said. "Everything falls, including execution, penalties come in and you will be offside, you will take dumb penalties, you will fumble the football, create turnovers. It happens on both sides. It's no different when you bring the Edmonton team down that you have to make sure that, if anything, you turn them down, not up.

"The floor of McMahon Stadium has rocked and has hummed with an unbelievable feeling. It's exactly what you'd like to have every time you play."

Higgins felt the hate when bringing his Eskimos into McMahon Stadium. He's now looking forward to enjoying the same vibe from the other sideline.

"It's not an easy place to play and win," Higgins said. "It has to be controlled. The only challenge we could have as a coaching staff is that the players are too high."

Adds sophomore receiver Nik Lewis: "This is a game for the fans, so it's hyped up for them and we have to go out there and put on a show for them. The fans want this game and this is the ultimate fans' game. Any rivalry game is the ultimate fans' game."


Videos

Photos