'Wealthly expectations

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:00 PM ET

EDMONTON -- The last time the Edmonton Eskimos started 0-2, their head coach eventually got fired.

The year was 2004 and the man shown the door was none other than Tom Higgins, who held onto his job until losing the CFL West semifinal that autumn.

Days later, he was in the unemployment line.

That's not to suggest Esks boss Danny Maciocia's paycheque could be in jeopardy should the Green and Gold fall to the visiting Calgary Stampeders tonight (8 p.m. TSN) for their second-consecutive loss.

After all, he is the coach of the defending Grey Cup champs. But crazy scenarios can play out in the land of the Eskimos where mediocrity is simply not tolerated and the pressure is already building.

History shows Higgins, now in his second season as the Stamps' head man, was also sporting a spiffy new championship ring the season he was exiled from The Firm.

Such is life in the Igloo, where they haven't missed the playoffs since 1971 and expectations are as high as the price of oil.

"No panic," Higgins said of the Eskimos' sluggish start, realizing better than anyone winning here is demanded. "When you understand that you're good -- that's a good football team here, they've got a lot of good people in the locker-room, so it's only a matter of time.

"The challenge this season is that all the other teams in the CFL are also better and I like to think (the Eskimos) are playing a pretty good football team."

A crowd of more than 40,000 is expected at Commonwealth Stadium where the Eskimos plan to avenge the 24-14 loss to the Stamps last Saturday at McMahon Stadium. Those two points were gift-wrapped for the Horsemen after the Eskimos turned the ball over six times and were flagged for 91 yards in penalties.

"We're not going to go out there and act like a bunch of buffoons taking penalties," Maciocia insisted yesterday on the eve of his club's home-opener.

"I think it's exactly what this football team needs right now. Go out there in front of a big crowd, get cranked up and play 60 minutes of Eskimo football."

That may be more difficult than the Esks would like.

The Stampeders have been pencilled in by many as Cup contenders and Calgary would like nothing more than a four-point head start over their provincial rivals.

QB Henry Burris contends, although the offence struggled in last week's win prior to marching to two late touchdowns, the unit is already in mid-season form.

"A year ago, we really didn't have the kind of confidence we have now," Burris said.

"Even when Edmonton had us down last week with four or five minutes left to go in the game. Last year at this time we would have lost that game. This year, the team is confident we can come back."

As for the Eskimos, No. 1 pivot Ricky Ray is also confident a revamped offence will prove successful, not only tonight but throughout the season.

Ray will have tailback Troy Davis, a late acquisition in 2005, in the backfield all year. His offence also gave the Stampeders a first look last week at how Ray plans to elude the pass rush this season.

"I think last year what hurt us a little was just getting into the rhythm of drop back passing," said the 2005 Grey Cup MVP.

"So far this year, we've done a good job of mixing the run, shovel pass, play-action pass, moving the pocket, sprinting out of the pocket.

"We're not just allowing other defensive lines the heads up the quarterback's going to six or seven yards back in the pocket so pin your ears back. If we can continue to move the pocket and mix it up, we'll benefit from that."


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