Season's Grey-test tilt

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

In Henry Burris' mind, the Labour Day Classic is the regular-season Grey Cup game.

If that's the case, the Edmonton Eskimos are the defending champions, and that's not exactly sitting well with the Calgary Stampeders' pivot.

Even if the Battle of Alberta has lost some lustre in recent years as the Stamps have built better rivalries with the B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders, the annual meeting with the Eskimos at McMahon Stadium still means plenty to the veteran Stampeders players.

"From our perspective, it's still the same Classic," said Burris about next Monday's outing. "It's not a game you ever want to lose. It's a game on the schedule we look at and say we can't lose it. The aura of the Labour Day game is something else.

"It's the regular-season Grey Cup. That's how you have to look at it. Winning at home is the important part of the doubleheader this year."

A year ago, the Stamps weren't successful on Labour Day, as Burris left in the second quarter with a toe injury and Dave Dickenson also was removed due to concussion symptoms. The 37-16 defeat is a performance Burris considers an embarrassment.

After that disappointment, the Stamps went on a 8-1 run to end the season and win the West Division title, host the West final and win the Grey Cup in Montreal.

It might take a run like that for this team to repeat its success of a year ago.

At 4-4, the Stamps are a game behind the Eskimos (5-3) with three more meetings yet to go.

Because the Eskimos beat the Stamps 38-35 Aug. 13, the Green and Gold have an edge in the season series and one more win would make it must-win territory for Calgary.

So Burris feels the pressure this week, even with extra days to prepare.

"A win would allow me to sleep a lot easier," Burris said.

"It's all about the race now.

"When it comes to making a move, it's right now. We had a hiccup on Labour Day last year and maybe thought we weren't as special as we were. We buckled down and made a run at that point. This is a chance to right a wrong.

"The fact we didn't win it last year at home brings another level of intensity to the table and another level of focus. It's important for a few reasons. We need to play better. We want all sides to play consistent football. We haven't done that this year."

The Stamps must beat the Eskimos to finish the first half with a better than .500 record.

Heading into this season, no one would have predicted the Grey Cup champions would be just another middle-of-the-pack team at the midway point, but injuries have piled up and close losses have burned them.

There are some other factors that make Monday's game at McMahon a bit more intense than in previous years.

There will be a record Labour Day crowd expected as the extra seating for the Grey Cup in November is opened up, adding another 5,000 seats because this game was sold out weeks ago. The crowd should top 40,000 for the first time since 2000 when the Stamps last hosted the Grey Cup.

Burris and Ricky Ray set the bar high with their shootout of nearly three weeks ago when the teams combined for 1,040 yards, with Burris passing for 479 of his own.

The pivots traded go-ahead touchdown passes in the final minute, with the Eskimos getting the ball last for the win.

It's unlikely the teams can duplicate the pure entertainment value of that game.

Another factor in this outing different from year's past is the kickoff. The start time of 5:30 p.m. is three hours later than usual, but that should affect the Eskimos more for the back end of the home-and-home because they will get home late Monday.

"It's a change but it's just a couple extra hours with our eyes closed," Burris said. "Hopefully, we don't have any different elements to worry about."

IAN.BUSBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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